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Johnson, Gove – we’re listening. And we’ll be holding you to it.

Posted on April 3, 2020

Clap for carers

(Edit: this was written on April 3rd when it was reported that the Prime Minister’s health was improving)

Everybody out again on Thursday night down my street. If anything, livelier, noisier and with the variation of a few musical instruments thrown in as well. We’re waving at neighbours, some of whose names we know only because we’ve taken in the odd parcel for them. When we go back in, I’m sure we’re not the only ones who think that we ought to have a street party once this is all over.

We’re told that the Prime Minister ventured out to add his applause. As much as I despise him, his background and, above all, his political actions throughout his career, I can honestly say that I’m pleased that he’s recovering. I don’t say so to sound noble; I do so because I’m a human being who doesn’t like to see people in distress. All the same, I really do hope that he and his health secretary have learnt some humility through their affliction.

On Sunday evening he croaked out a very deliberate message to us all. I’m surprised more hasn’t been made of it, but there is, to be fair, plenty of other stuff going on. Johnson praised the collective efforts of our key workers; let’s hope he made a note to self to remember who they are when this comes to an end. He thanked us for being compliant. And then he scratched out his view that ‘there is such a thing as society’ and that we were all part of it.

It’s possible that younger readers may not have heard any echo, so a word or two for context. Back in 1987, after nearly a decade in power, Margaret Thatcher famously expressed the view that there was no such thing as society, just individual men and women pursuing their own best interests. As a catchphrase for an era, it was perfect.

Thatcher and her closest allies encouraged greed, selfishness and individualism as a political creed, all disguised under the cloak of opportunity and reward for endeavour. Her supporters lapped it up as the country sold off its assets and prime resources to the highest bidders; it was full-blooded Toryism on steroids – and her party loved it.

Never mind social distancing. What Johnson was doing, albeit by trying to slip it under the radar on a Sunday evening, was disassociating himself from the hardliners in the Tory party – those, lest we forget, who led their party down the garden path to Brexit – and oh, how we all yearn for the simplicity of Brexit, by the way. If Thatcher was doing a twirl in her shroud, some back-bench Tories really must have spent the past few days thinking that as well the pandemic, they were experiencing a meltdown of all that was solid and knowable.

It appears that the state is, after all, capable of intervening on a massive scale to ensure the welfare and safety of its citizens. It seems that manufacturing industry is capable of adapting to meet the needs of people rather than looking solely for massive dividends for shareholders. And all those public servants, greedily squeezing the public purse for decent wages, conditions and pensions are, after all, quite important.

Then, just as we enjoyed a quiet smile over Johnson’s manoeuvre, we had Tuesday evening’s briefing. And on the podium this evening we have……Michael Gove. I apologise to John Crace from The Guardian for stealing his brilliant line about Gove being a man you wouldn’t trust to stab himself in the front – but you’ve got to be a bit alarmed when he’s the best the government can wheel out.

At the end of a particularly mixed set of messages about testing and data, Mikey concluded by saying that the government continued to take advice from scientists, health professionals and trade unions………..

Wait, wait, wait!! Trade unions? You, Michael Gove, and your colleagues in a Tory government, are going to listen to trade unions? Let’s be gracious and leave aside your track record and let’s also wait to see if and when this happens. For the moment we’ll just rejoice in the salvation of a lost soul. Whether it actually happens or not, let’s just pause for breath. The importance of organisations established by workers to protect their interests has been acknowledged by a leading figure in a hard-line Tory government whose leader has just ditched one of its historic icons.

Are we to believe that the likes of Johnson and Gove have seen some sort of light? Probably not, of course. So much of what is being put in place is as much about ensuring that the economy survives (and make no mistake, they’ll want us to pick up the bill eventually) as it is about saving lives. But at a time when we’re all paying a bit more attention, we’ve got to hope that memories are being stored.

Along with the fire that awaits Mike Ashley, Richard Branson and Tim Martin, we’ll need to remember that Boris Johnson wants to be part of a wider society and that Michael Gove wants to listen to trade unions.

When we’re out banging saucepans next Thursday, applauding and respecting those who are working selflessly for us, let’s just make sure we don’t forget things that were said when the heat was on – and be prepared to remind those who said them.

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(For a bit of light relief, those of you who like football may just enjoy this temporary blog set up for these sport-less days)

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