For MPs to blame Boris for the lockdown is like Kevin the Teenager blaming every misfortune on his parents. Imagine for a moment that you were in No 10. Your advisers want to keep the country under house arrest. The media stubbornly refuse to recognise the difference between preventable deaths and deaths per se. Opposition parties clamour for tighter restrictions – and, in the parts of the UK that they run, apply them. The healthcare system is weaker than many of its European rivals, but no one is prepared to admit it. Every fatality is deemed to be your fault.
Few voters are worried about rising unemployment or falling living standards. Many of them imagine that “the economy” is some sort of ATM-machine for the rich, rather than the name we give to the voluntary transactions through which people improve their lives. Lockdown junkies snatch at the intellectually empty but emotionally powerful notion of the precautionary principle. (“Can you be certain that long Covid won’t be serious?” Nope. I can’t be certain that the country won’t be overrun by killer hornets, either. No one can prove a negative.)
Despite all these pressures, Boris is shouldering the door open. He has defeated the teaching unions’ attempt to keep schools shut. Unlike in the devolved regions, next year’s exams are on track. Gyms, hairdressers, airports – all are back in business. I know this is thin consolation to people who run pubs, many of whom were having a hard enough time before the coronavirus. Still, look across the Channel. Germany has closed all bars and restaurants until December 20. France has closed them until January 20 and is about to impose a curfew – as are Italy and Spain.
Yes, the new tiers were a shock. My corner of Hampshire, like most of southern England, is subject to harsher restrictions despite having fewer cases. We look enviously across the Solent, longing for Wight Privilege.
But there is no point in moaning. Having lost the lockdown argument, we should focus on immediately achievable goals. How can we accelerate full liberalisation? For example, quick tests might allow us to reopen venues with limited entry points. Theatres could screen audiences on their way in. Airports could test travellers at the door, allowing terminals and flights to be mask-free.
What about schools and universities? If we prioritised vaccination for their staff, surely students could enjoy a normal experience as early as next term: no masks, contact sports, drama, the works.
Those of us who argued that we should shield the vulnerable, rather than confining the entire country, were told that it was impossible because of multi-generational households and the general seepage of the virus across populations. Whether or not that was true then, it is plainly possible now to shield the vulnerable through selective vaccination.
The restoration of normality for the groups least at risk should happen in parallel with the roll-out. There is no need to wait for the majority of the population to be covered. In other words, we should realistically aim to start unlocking things in January. I know that ministers don’t want to repeat the mistake of being over-optimistic, and it is always better to come in ahead of expectations, but I’d be astonished if we need to wait until Easter before things feel normal.
Is this really the moment to go wobbly? When, after so much ghastliness, liberation is just around the corner? Who would lead us there more quickly? Keir Starmer? Nicola Sturgeon? You only have to put the question.
— to www.telegraph.co.uk