Lynton Crosby has excelled himself here. Remember, he’s Boris Johnson’s Australian political guru (the one before Dominic Cummings) who invented – or at any rate is associated with – the strategy of throwing a dead cat into the room to divert attention away from more difficult topics. Coronovirus may seem a rather drastic version of this wheeze, and I don’t think any of the current conspiracy theories surrounding the new plague has claimed it as a deliberate distraction on the part of Brexiters; but it could have this effect. At its simplest level, it means that any future damage to the British economy that could otherwise reasonably have been ascribed to Brexit can now be blamed on Covid-19. With one bound – or, rather, a shudder and a cough – Boris is free.
It may seem insensitive to be speculating about its effect on politics at this time when people are obviously more worried about their health and that of others, but as one of those in two of the most vulnerable groups I feel I’m entitled to. All those who have so far died of it in Britain were in their 70s, and with pulmonary problems. That’s me. But that has political implications too. If the virus is mainly targeting oldies, it could have a crucial effect on the electoral demography of the country. Brexit was only passed – narrowly, you’ll recall – because older people voted for it in significantly larger numbers than the young. Kill enough of that generation off – sparing me, hopefully – and the balance is reversed. By rights, we ought to run the Brexit referendum again, to reflect the views of the survivors. Otherwise we’ll be being ruled by corpses.
For myself, I’m self-isolating as much as I can. We over-70s are being advised to, even if we haven’t been diagnosed with the virus yet. Don’t go shopping, we’re told; get your children to do it for you. (Youngsters are less at risk.) Mine are in St Albans, Manchester and Melbourne, so that’s a big ask; but I’m OK with Tesco deliveries. I had to attend my doctors’ surgery yesterday – probably the unhealthiest place to be – but I sat at the back of the waiting room, the regulatory two metres away from anyone else. I have my local painter and decorator in just now; he seems OK, but I’m listening out for the slightest cough. My most serious problem is that Kajsa can’t join me from Stockholm – they’re advised not to travel, especially in planes, hothouses of infection – and she has the same vulnerabilities as I have. Likewise, I can’t go there. If we’re going to die, it would have been comforting to do so in each other’s arms.
It’s all feeling like the early stages of one of those SF disaster movies I’m so fond of. Maybe it will wipe us all out. Which I’m sure we deserve as a race. So long as our greatest artistic achievements are somehow preserved, to tell visiting aliens how we might have been.
But of course there’s nothing to fear. Donald has told us so. And Boris: ‘Take it on the chin.’ Actually, underneath all my mock panic, that’s how I feel. I’m not really as worried as this blog post may suggest. Not for myself, in any case. And that’s despite being told by the experts that if there aren’t enough medics to treat all the victims (after Tory cuts to the NHS, of course), they’ll concentrate on those who could still have some years of active life left. It would also have the effect of reducing the NHS’s elderly workload. There’s a certain logic to that.