In mid-January, Britain achieved the gruesome distinction of becoming the world leader in the Covid-19 death rate. No other nation is seeing a greater proportion of its people die of the disease, not even the Covidapalooza of the United States. It is now beyond any doubt that Boris Johnson’s Tory government has been following a stealth “herd immunity” strategy from the beginning: one which accepts (even welcomes) mass death on a horrific scale while doing the barest possible minimum of mitigation to keep health services from being completely overwhelmed.
Johnson signalled this at the very start of the pandemic, openly mulling the idea of “taking the blow,” letting the pandemic sweep through the country while keeping the economy open, unlike those loser nations such as New Zealand and China with their timorous lockdowns. Britain would then emerge “like Clark Kent turning into Superman” (he actually said this) to lead the world as a “champion of free trade.” But when his own scientific advisers pointed out this “strategy” would lead to at least 100,000 deaths or more, the public outcry forced Johnson into the stealth strategy he is still employing. The result has been an erratic minimalism, characterized by seemingly bizarre reversals and stupefying cock-ups, which have plunged the country into a spasmodic cycle of lockdowns, ever-deepening economic ruin and a death count of … yes, 100,000, and rising.
But there is nothing really bizarre about the seeming inability of the Johnson jokers to suppress the virus. Because they aren’t trying to suppress the virus. They lurch from one ineffective approach to another because there is no central plan – and no desire – to combat Covid. Their “policies” are mostly a series of feints and dodges designed to keep the NHS from collapse while waiting for the deus a vaccinum to save the day. Meanwhile, they are doling out tens of billions of pounds in no-bid government contracts to cronies, donors and old university chums for “pandemic response” programs that have been astonishing, catastrophic failures.
The herd immunity strategy appeals to the extremist libertarian views of the Tory leaders (and their US counterparts). A full-scale attack on suppressing the virus, as seen successfully elsewhere, requires an enormous outlay of money and government organization to keep businesses and individuals afloat and to provide proper quarantine measures during relatively brief but rigorous lockdowns. For the Tory ideologues — as fanatical in their brutally destructive beliefs as any ISIS operative – this is literally anathema. They believe the only legitimate function of government is to maintain the dominance of the very wealthy – because in their barbaric doctrine, money is the supreme measure of moral worth. They begrudge every single penny spent on those who lack this “moral” stature; they genuinely believe that those who are not rich are not as worthy or valuable as those who are.
They have demonstrated this with their policies and pronouncements for years, not least with their savage “austerity” policies, which have gutted the infrastructure of public life and ravaged millions of private lives: a vicious war waged on the British populace by the ruthless adherents of fanatical doctrine. (Islamic terrorists could never have conquered Britain, but these libertarian extremists have sacked the country like the Viking invaders of old.) They wouldn’t take the necessary measures to suppress the virus, as New Zealand and others did, because they didn’t want to spend the money it would take for proper support.
But this was not because of some inherent sense of “thrift”; they have no objection at all to spending billions of dollars in public money, as long as it’s shovelled to their favorites or used to build weapons which they can sell to repressive regimes, or employ in their tail-wagging wars when Washington gives the order. No, it’s not the expenditure they object to: it’s the very idea that government can be used to advance the greater common good. They viscerally cannot bear the thought that people might start to see government as a common endeavour for the benefit of all, that ordinary citizens might look to government for help in making a better life.
This is not even a secret; you can read the articles and books and academic treatises and position papers of this bizarre transatlantic cult, and they will spell it out for you plainly. The rich and powerful are more worthy and should not be restricted, limited or held accountable in any way, because they possess more of the cult’s fetish object: money. Government should be kept to the barest minimum that will keep the unworthy rabble docile or cowed.
But because we still live in (very notional) democracies, the extremists have to disguise their doctrine and their genuine aims with lies, hypocrisy and constant deceit. What we are seeing with the pandemic is the same approach they’ve taken all along. As with austerity, they are advancing their extremist agenda no matter what the human cost. They are cloaking their agenda with deceit while doing the barest minimum to keep society from collapsing altogether. (Because that might rouse the unworthy to rise up against their morally superior betters.) The result of their modified herd immunity strategy has produced the worst of all possible worlds. The disease has not “burned out” but keeps spreading, and mutating as it runs wild. The economy is still in free fall, taking the lives and livelihoods of the people with it, along with the future of the nation’s children.
The vaccines might finally stem “the blood-dimmed tide” of Covid; but even here, the hatred of “experts” and government fuelled by extremists like Johnson and his Trumpist sideman, Michael Gove – and taken up by their fellow travellers in conspiracist circles – threatens to undermine the vaccination programmes through lack of sufficient participation. Even this – the last, best hope for recovering even a semblance of the ordinary daily life we once knew — is being damaged by the extremists in power, by their decades-long assault on the common good, by their deliberate embrace and use of lies and fantasies to undermine all sense of a shared reality, the better to keep people divided, confused and at each other’s throats.
They are eminently respectable folk, these extremists. They dress in fine clothes, speak properly in posh accents, bear credentials from the most august educational institutions in the world. But in practice, in power, they are as vicious and heartless and mindless as a pack of rabid dogs tearing a child to pieces in a gutter.