Need to deliver the vaccine? I’ve got a mate who can help you with that.
Posted on December 4, 2020
Just when you think that Gavin Williamson must have reached the outer limits of his own dimwittery, he manages to confound us all. The reason Britain is at the forefront of rolling out a vaccine before France, Belgium or the US is because, according to Gav, ‘we are a much better country than every single one of them’.
Was he joking? Was it one of those chilling moments at a social gathering when the jest falls horribly flat? It’s difficult to know. Williamson, lest we forget, does have something of a runaway tongue. He was, remember, sacked by Theresa May because she was pretty certain that he’d let slip the odd state secret or two as defence secretary. It’s a measure of how we’ve become accustomed to a discourse of catastrophe that we’re no longer entirely appalled that this clownish figure was once entrusted with the defence of the realm, potentially controlling military deployment and lethal weaponry. You might argue that we should take solace in the fact that fouling up the country’s examination system couldn’t have accidentally triggered mass slaughter. So, determining whether this was Gav’s idea a jolly quip is a tricky business.
His buddy, Matt Hancock, had paved the way for his crass stupidity a day earlier, telling us that the rest of the continent just wasn’t quite up to speed. The UK, according to Matt, had a definite edge which was down to ‘the pace of the Europeans who are moving a little bit more slowly’. The dullards. Thank goodness we won’t be having anything to do with them in four weeks’ time as we wave them goodbye and make our own way in the world.
Talking of buddies, Matt’s been able to send a little business the way of one of his own. His mate, Alex Bourne, used to run the Cock Inn at Thurlow in Matt’s constituency and although Alex now denies they were anything like chums – despite being pictured cheerily pulling a pint together – he knew him well enough to send him a WhatsApp message in March offering his services to the NHS. Not to volunteer, you understand, or anything so public spirited. Alex had moved on from his boozer and now ran a firm making plastic cups and takeaway boxes. Maybe there was an opening for him in this time of crisis?
And, hey presto, so there was. After a bit of toing and froing and one rejected application, Alex’s Hinpack firm was awarded a contract to supply test tubes and vials, even though this his firm had never produced such items. Now, I’ll be clear. I’m all for repurposing of industrial production and it’s one of the things that will be vital in the post-Covid economy if we’re not going to incinerate the planet. But you’ll just have to forgive me if I’m a touch sceptical about whose number actually gets called when it comes to handing out the work. As it also happens, Alex’s relationship with the whole truth is occasionally a touch fragile. Although his lawyers vehemently denied any contact between their client and Hancock, poor old Alex was then forced to admit that he’d exchanged plenty of texts and mails with the minister. Nice to do business with you, boys.
None of which is to deny the relief and optimism that the news of the vaccine brings. But leaving aside the ramblings and rantings of the barmy anti-vaxxers – polio, anyone? TB, perhaps? – why has this astonishingly good news been met with wary reserve by so many of us? For the avoidance of doubt, it’s important to distinguish between perfectly legitimate concerns about testing, development and long-term effects from the idea that Bill Gates is in cahoots with the mad scientists as they brew up the microchip with which we’re all going to be injected. The reason for the hesitancy is obvious.
Set aside the allowance that even a government at the top of its game would have made mistakes when faced with the pandemic. That’s no excuse for making them habitual. Tardy initial lockdowns, bungled PPE contracts, blasé handshaking, crazily mixed messages and the utter farce of track-and-trace have all contributed to a sense of public mistrust. The fact that there is now a website dedicated to the cronyism that corrodes public life as conducted by Boris Johnson and his band of slapstick clowns, tells us all we need to know.
And the reason we don’t trust them is because we know what we experience every day. Want to know why local authorities are struggling to keep up with the private sector and so are unable to ‘win’ the contracts for the services needed for the public good? Want to know why, despite the humanity and expertise at its human edge, the NHS has to run to keep up? Want to know why science labs that work for knowledge and not for profit are not even on the radar of the Williamsons and Hancocks of this world? Because we’ve entrusted the great offices of state to blank-minded ideologues who wouldn’t understand the notion of not-for-profit public service unless it coughed all over them.
So let’s enjoy the prospect of a brighter future and just trust to the fact that when it comes to distributing and administering the vaccine, neither Matt not Gav gets to enjoy a pint with some bloke who once ran a mini-cab firm. An English bloke, of course.
As well as writing this blog, I’ve recently written a couple of books about football. One is about the burden of being a lifelong supporter of a club that can only dream of achieving mediocrity, the other about football in a post-pandemic world.