Clearly it was somewhere in the small print of the roadmap. From Monday 17 May, not only would restaurants and pubs be fully reopened, but the very government itself would roll back the shutters, throw open the windows and, after a long wait, finally let everyone see the alternative reality in which they have been living.
We begin with moderately famous blogger Dominic Cummings, who, it transpires, is equally at home in the 25,000 word format as the micro-blog, and the well known micro-blogging host website, Twitter.
Of course, Dominic Cummings is no longer involved with the government, after, according to his own version of events, a thermonuclear row in Downing Street led to him leaving his job on the day he was always planning to leave it anyway. But what was not known before today is that, in fact, he has never been involved in it at all.
Though his job title was once “adviser”, we now know that he was there simply to give advice to which no one listened. (It would, at this point, be remiss to not point out that such was the quality of his untaken advice that he was also deemed worthy of a 40 per cent pay rise, a rate significantly higher than the 1 per cent rise offered to NHS workers, including the ones in Durham who may have been exposed to Covid by the Cummings family, when they should still have been in London.)
A little tweet thread by @Dominic2306, which really is him, broke the May gloom around lunchtime. He was here to tell the world that lockdowns work. Dominic, we now know, is sick of “UK political pundits obsessed with spreading nonsense on lockdowns”.
He continues: “One of the biggest misunderstandings, spread by political pundits even now, is the ‘trade-off’ argument.”
He is, of course, right about this. The idea there is some trade off between health outcomes and economic ones, that keeping the economy open so that everyone who might spend money dies prematurely was always garbage.
Mr Cummings doesn’t make clear which pundits he means. He’s a busy man. He may have forgotten which pundit came out with the following: “There is a risk that new diseases such as coronavirus will trigger a panic and a desire for market segregation that go beyond what is medically rational to the point of doing real and unnecessary economic damage.”
Said pundit was, it brings me no pleasure to report, the prime minister. It’s not clear whether this speech, in February last year, was given before or after Mr Cummings’s 40 per cent pay rise, so we cannot quantify the precise amount of taxpayer cash that was being given to Downing Street’s most senior adviser in order to provide the kind of advice that, arguably, the prime minister might have liked to have heard last February, rather than, say, people on Twitter, 15 months on. But let’s not quibble.
Of course, the only in any way reputable journalistic outlet for the most extreme “lockdown sceptic” garbage was The Spectator, and principally its fact-free funster columnist Toby Young. It may be that Mr Cummings wouldn’t want to jeopardise any future paid blogging work for the magazine that hosted his cheerful colour pieces last year, about life in lockdown, which we would learn a while later had omitted a fairly significant bit of colour – ie that he was in Durham, not London, but never mind.
But it wasn’t just those pundits that had got it all so hopelessly wrong. “Remain/Leave, Rt/Left = totally hostile to learning from East Asia,” he explained. Yes, that’s right. The whole of the pundit spectrum were, at least on the branch of history where Dominic Cummings lives in his little land of make believe, united in their lockdown scepticism. Nobody really believed that lockdowns actually work. Which was why, when Mr Cummings broke the UK’s nationwide lockdown by driving his family to Durham and then lying about it at great length on national television, there was comparatively little fuss. No one cared.
It’s almost nostalgic to look back on, isn’t it? Those sunny days last spring, when Dominic Cummings did that thing and no one really minded because what harm did it really do? There was some minor quibbling over whether the spirit or the letter of lockdown had been breached. But the fact that the government’s most senior adviser had knowingly taken a deadly virus from an area of high infection to an area of low infection, and exposed other people to it, breaking the entire point of lockdown? So what? No big deal.
Mr Cummings, alas, wasn’t done there. “Pseudo lockdowns without serious enforcement are hopeless.” At this point, you can only really stand and applaud. These words, said by the man who broke lockdown, and then the entire cabinet made complete fools of themselves when they were forced to defend the indefensible.
Of course, when the public inquiry eventually happens, we will no doubt learn that Cummings was telling Boris Johnson to lock down for weeks but the prime minister took no notice. Cummings’s own personal transgressions are a sideshow. (Though it shouldn’t be forgotten it was not about a point of principle. It was not merely a case of someone not living by the rules they set. It was actual, real, negligence that really did endanger other people, in an entirely concrete, not abstract sense.)
At this point, no doubt, Cummings will be further vindicated. The appalling death toll will be the heavy price the country had to pay for allowing “Oxbridge egomaniacs with humanities degrees” (Cummings, 2014) like Boris Johnson in to run the place, as Cummings has dedicated most of his adult life to pointing out. It’s just a pity that his entire life’s work has achieved little else beyond putting the very worst of this kind in charge at the very worst possible moment.
All of which gives us precious little time to point out that, elsewhere, in fantasy land, the chief Brexit negotiator Lord Frost would breezily tell a House of Commons committee that the government was hiring an external adviser to try and find some of the “opportunities” made available by Brexit, because they’ve only had five years and haven’t stumbled upon any themselves.
Still, there’ll be a time for that rather slower burning farce later down the line, by which point we’ll be even further past the point at which it became too late to do anything about it. But who knows, maybe we’ll have some entirely auto-parodic Cummings tweets to ease the very considerable pain.