There was a time when press conferences were designed to unveil something new. Theresa May did much to pioneer the novel concept of the news-free conference, featuring a set of well-worn and utterly familiar facts.
Regardless of the level of Tory-on-Tory bloodletting, manifesto blunders or latest woeful showing at the negotiating table, she’d invariably return to the podium with a glazed expression. “Nothing has changed!”, she’d bark, like a Dalek on the warpath.
And today, there was more than a touch of Dalek about the PM. The audio technicians were clearly as absent as Matt Hancock’s grip on reality, or had aliens simply commandeered the sound system? The PM’s voice echoed menacingly, hailing “the long and hard road back to normality”, though he peppered this Mayite throwback with the occasional reminder of the Cameron era.
His mid-Atlantic mockney twang – “I wanna thank” – was pure George Osborne.
It was tempting to take the time-honoured escape route from Dalek invasion: running upstairs. But with a deadline to meet, I had no choice but to listen, transfixed, to the PM’s robotic chanting. “Ext-aiiiirminate the virus, protect the NHS, save lives!”
We heard equally familiar refrains – the long-awaited “roadmap to freedom”, endless thanks to every imaginable cog in the supply chain; delivery drivers, warehouse operatives, tap dancers, basket-weavers, lavatory monitors and so on. All were ‘fantastic’ or ‘amazing’, especially those volunteers who dug out the snowed-in medical centre in Leeds last Saturday.
He even took a kid-glove approach to those on the naughty step – the two million invitees (“a population twice the size of Birmingham”) – yet to take up their vaccines. Words like ‘gullible’ or ‘irresponsible’, though close to the surface, were carefully suppressed. The PM’s conciliatory tone seemed alien to the decade-long jail sentences, teeth-rattling fines and breakdown of parliamentary protocol in evidence elsewhere.
Through the booming mic, Sir Patrick Vallance’s voice rang even deeper and more terrifying, Mysteron, rather than Dalek. Though bearing glad tidings of reduced hospitalisation rates and effusive gratitude to friends and colleagues in the NHS, he urged further caution and “more data”.
The chief scientific officer anthropomorphised the virus, speaking of “variants [it] likes to have”, like “increased transmissibility or severity”.
“The virus isn’t going to be particularly interested in dates,” he retorted, when asked about the estimated timetable for reopening. Sad news for anyone hoping for a single-rose Valentine’s supper with Covid-19 this weekend.
Other journalists asked about Ministerial mixed-messaging on summer holidays. As always, the PM insisted it was “too soon” to say. “Urghh, didn’t answer my question” groaned Laura Kuenssberg, after further waffle.
She was evidently unaware that she was still audible, though with the busted mic, it sounded like a second Mysteron had breached the BBC’s sound system and was (for once) reflecting the mood of the nation.
Some news emerged on the latest ‘variant of concern’, this time Made in Bristol. If nothing else, it was a heartening reminder that Global Britain hasn’t entirely lost its homegrown manufacturing capabilities. We may be over-reliant on China for our viruses, but we still have a few effective mutations of our own.
Then an uxorious question from Uxbridge – James wanted to know if lateral flow tests could allow weddings to take place, as well as keeping workplaces open. The PM was characteristically non-committal.
How comforting that some things never change, even in the grip of the New Normal. So next week, I’m looking forward to another non-news conference in which the PM imparts such earth-shattering developments as the Pope retaining his customary allegiance to the Catholic faith and bears still preferring a sylvan habitat for their defecatory needs.
— to www.telegraph.co.uk