JANET STREET-PORTER: Washed out Boris may have seen off Burnham but if he wants to carry the country with him through his incomprehensible covid policy he had better find some b*lls. Has he considered a testosterone supplement?
‘Bambi’ Burnham versus warrior ‘Winston’ Johnson was never going to end well. A bitter face-off between the Mayor of Greater Manchester and the Prime Minister – two giant egos, two men who both dreamt of leading their party – but only one achieved it.
North versus South, posh old Etonian versus an ambitious local leader claiming to speak for hard working minimum wage earners.
Now, victory (if we can call it that) for Boris has come after ten days of bickering during which thousands more innocent citizens have become infected and hundreds are lying in hospital beds throughout Greater Manchester.
It’s dick on table time, with victory to the Prime Minister who has ordered the bars, pubs and clubs of Manchester to shut their doors – or serve big meals with all those trendy cocktails. Travel in and out of the area is not recommended and households can’t mix indoors or outside.
Over the past week the posturing and posing by these masters of media manipulation seemed more like scenes from a spaghetti Western than a serious debate about the best way to control a virus which seems to be unstoppable. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. The prize? Two fistfuls of government cash?
‘Bambi’ Burnham versus warrior ‘Winston’ Johnson was never going to end well. Pictured: Manchester mayor Andy Burnham speaks to media about the breakdown in talks with the government over financial support for the city
Eight days ago, as the number of Covid infections seemed to be doubling in days, Boris unveiled his new plan – dividing the country into tiers with restrictions rated from one to three. The new rules would be applied ‘locally’.
Liverpool was immediately placed in the top category and given £30 million of government cash to sweeten the burden by funding test and trace on top of the existing government support schemes. Liverpool’s economy has subsequently gone into free fall and the locals are mutinous.
With Manchester next in line, Andy Burnham started pleading that the city was a special case and that infections had peaked.
That’s partly true – infections in the age groups under 30 have levelled out – but that could be because young people are not getting themselves tested. The rate for those over-65 has risen fast, although it remains much lower that at the peak of the pandemic in April.
Bambi Burnham has spent 10 days claiming that shutting down nightlife and entertainment will decimate Manchester’s economy, and that workers who are subsequently laid off should be entitled to 80 per cent of their salary (as they were at the start of lockdown), not the 67 per cent currently on offer.
It’s dick on table time, with victory to the Prime Minister who has ordered the bars, pubs and clubs of Manchester to shut their doors – or serve big meals with all those trendy cocktails
He rightly points out there’s no guarantee that the restrictions won’t go on for months, and who can live on two thirds of the minimum wage? Poverty, debt and homelessness will inevitably follow, if rents and mortgages can’t be paid in the run up to Christmas.
The city could also be placed in an even higher level of lockdown with people not allowed to leave their homes if the R rate doesn’t come down.
This wasn’t just a battle over cash, it was a chance to moan that the north is being treated unfairly, penalised by a bunch of public school boys based in London.
Now, the government will bypass Burnham and negotiate with the ten local council leaders in the Greater Manchester area, in the hope that they will accept more cash (although less than the £65 million that was originally demanded) and encourage their neighbourhoods to comply with the new rules.
Watching Boris announce his ‘victory’ was depressing. There’s no fire, no grasp of detail – he seems tired and looked washed out after 30 minutes. There was endless thanking of NHS workers, of everyone who has ‘made sacrifices’ but no real fire in his belly.
He failed to answer a local reporter who asked if he’d actually visited the area. If he wants folk to go along with his plans, he’ll need a better script. In Liverpool, young people are gathering on the streets every night to protest and the same will happen in Manchester.
Bambi Burnham has spent 10 days claiming that shutting down nightlife and entertainment will decimate Manchester’s economy, and that workers who are subsequently laid off should be entitled to 80 per cent of their salary. Pictured: The Duke of Wellington pub in Manchester
A week ago, Boris had the opportunity to enforce a simple short nationwide lockdown, as proposed by Sage on September 21 and endorsed by Labour leader Keir Starmer. Andy Burnham agrees that this is preferable to local restrictions which constantly change.
Now, nearly a third of the country is in one of the top two tiers and goodness knows what new rules will be in place by the weekend. Some areas, like the South West, East Anglia and Kent have extremely low rates of infection, so is it fair to penalise them along with hot spots like Liverpool, Manchester (and probably) London?
In the meantime, the leaders of Northern Ireland and Wales have flexed their muscles and imposed their own ‘firebreaks’.
Boris is resisting a national lockdown, claiming that his ‘local’ strategy is similar to measures being adopted all over Europe.
He reckons that a targeted approach is the best way to stop old people dying and protect the NHS from being overloaded. But is it? The vast majority of mortalities are people over 65 who had other underlying conditions. Meanwhile, as Prince William pointed out this week, closing pubs and banning socialising will have a severe impact on mental health.
A week ago, Boris had the opportunity to enforce a simple short nationwide lockdown, as proposed by Sage on September 21 and endorsed by Labour leader Keir Starmer. Andy Burnham agrees that this is preferable to local restrictions which constantly change
And it’s not just the young who feel picked on – as a single woman living alone in London, the only way I can have a meal and meet someone is to invent a ‘bubble’ – something most of my friends just ignore.
Rules of six are being routinely flouted in city centres every night, and now the police are expected to patrol them and enforce civil obedience. Tiers and curfews only delay the inevitable path of the virus until there’s a vaccine freely available.
There’s now a huge danger that a second rate opportunist and failed politician (Andy Burnham) will emerge as a challenger and leader for the (rightly) cheesed off folk in a huge swathe of the country.
Its has echoes of the 1980s all over again. North versus South. Social cohesion down the drain.
With Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland already in the highest states of lockdown, perhaps it might be better that we all be miserable together for two weeks of a UK-wide ‘circuit break’.
Covid has gone from being a threat to our way of life to a chance for politicians to polish their credentials and appear in control. Nicola in Scotland, the little guy in Wales, are all vying to prove they can be stricter and more decisive than Boris.
The PM may have won Round One versus Burnham, but he doesn’t look capable of going the whole distance. Now he will have to go through the whole rigmarole, council by council as the lockdown creeps south.
When a deadly virus becomes just an excuse for chancers to score political points, there’s only one set of losers – the public.
If Boris is to persuade us to comply with his ever-increasing mess of rules and regulations, he had better find some fire in his belly. Has the great lothario considered a testosterone supplement?
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