“Unhappy is the land that breeds no hero!
No, Andrea....unhappy is the land that needs a hero.”
-Bertolt Brecht, The Life of Galileo
The UK has been reliving the darkest days of COVID this week. A prade of curiously candid participants gave evidence to the inquiry set up to examine what happened. To nobody's great surprise, it turns out that electing terrible people leads to terrible decision making, resulting in terrible outcomes.
More unexpectedly, it also turns out that the people who run the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland do have one redeeming feature. They are baroquely talented at swearing.
Regrettably the inquiry has demonstrated the limits of this genuine talent in dealing with an infectious disease. When faced with a crisis, all they knew how to do was Fuck about.
At the heart of the problem was Boris Johnson, a Prime Minister described by his chief scientific advisor as "weak and indecisive". As the week's evidence piled up from civil servants and advisors of all shades, this seemed to be too generous. It became clear that, at a moment of national peril, the Tory party had left the entire nation in the hands of Mr. Toad of Toad Hall.
In March 2020, Johnson's attention bounced about from his alimony-funding book on Shakespeare to getting away on a mid-term break. He couldn't make a decision, and when he did make one, he couldn't stick to it. At the inqury his chief of communications, Lee Cain, complained that Johnson thought too much about what the papers would say if he made life-saving decisions based on fact. There's a problem when your PR guy complains you're worrying too much about the press.
When it came to making decisions based on scientific fact, Johnson had a similar love of bullshit as in the rest of his life. At one stage the Prime Minister forwarded a YouTube video of a man claiming to cure covid by blowing a hair dryer up his nose to the Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Advisor and asked them what they thought. In messages amongst his advisors, his directionless careening from one position to another resulted in Johnson being referred to simply by an emoji of a shopping trolley.
Johnson's political purpose was Brexit. He surrounded himself with people- as advisors and cabinet ministers alike- who were willing to support that project. But using Brexit, a deeply stupid aim, as a litmus test for employment was sure to result in an historic collection of "useless fuckpigs, morons [and] cunts", as Dominic Cummings described them.
Giving evidence at the committee this week, Cummings said that the events of 2020 now persuaded him that he had "understated the position". What he didn't do was reflect on his part in creating that situation. If the British Cabinet was staffed by "fuckwits", it was because he, Cummings, had insisted that only people who supported Brexit's fuckwittery would be appointed. Unsurprising then that the same bunch of people were unfit to deal with a national crisis, resulting in the avoidable deaths of thousands of people. They were unfit to deal with anything. This was a group of people who would have burnt a swimming pool down if left in charge.
Johnson is an empty shell of a person. Somewhere in the internal void of his being he seems to have understood that. In response, he surrounded himself with people who were even less competent, intelligent or moral than he. This is the group that still runs Britain today. This week, for example, one of his Peter Principle policymakers announced they would criminalise giving shelter to homeless people.
Meanwhile the same Government announced plans to redefine the term Extremism to cover any ideology which "aims to overturn or undermine the UK’s system of parliamentary democracy, its institutions and values.”
From the evidence we've seen so far, this may be the first case of a government party outlawing itself.