I am agonised to learn that the Daily Telegraph has been censured for a column published last July, in which Toby Young declared that having had a common cold could give people immunity from Covid-19, and that London was “probably approaching” herd immunity. You really can’t say anything these days – and then they go and tell you that you can’t say the things you have said, albeit many months later. Toby’s the journalistic equivalent of an Only God Can Judge Me tattoo, the Galileo of doing opinions for coins, and history will take a very dim view of all the doctors and nurses now lying about their hospitals breaking under the weight of the “second” “wave”, and all the ordinary Britons now lying about having their surgeries “cancelled”. Shame on them. They don’t know the meaning of cancelled.
There are different variants of being cancelled doing the rounds, of course, but I think the one where you still get to dispense virological advice in a high-profile column and on TV is definitely the one to catch. It seems to give you complete immunity from meaningful consequences. I very much enjoyed Toby’s recent Newsnight appearance, where he was confronted by Emily Maitlis with his grimly debunked claims that there was never going to be a second spike – and proceeded to deal with this massive, cosmic bollock-drop only parenthetically. Let’s see it in action. “Well – hands up, I got that wrong, Emily – but let’s not forget that was during the summer …” What’s not to love about that split-second concession, the sort of “hands up” that counter-terrorism police will tell you is usually the prelude to some nutter reaching for his next concealed explosive.
I now read that Toby has deleted all his tweets from 2020, perhaps because his policy of appeasement of the coronavirus has not worked. This, incidentally, was the precise rearguard action tried by Neville Chamberlain, who is only remembered unfavourably because it turned out there was this one screenshot of him holding this one piece of paper. The subsequent witch-hunt got him cancelled from being prime minister.
If I do have one question for the provisional wing of the lockdown sceptics – other than “Have you suffered a recent head trauma?” – it would only be a tiny one. But I can’t help wondering: how do they think the coronavirus is transmitted? Given that its transmission is not affected by lockdown measures (even though it patently and evidentially is), do they believe it spreads by some means other than respiratory droplets and contact? Do you catch it from self-reflection, perhaps, or not having a media platform? If not, could a sympathetic someone try to get the salient facts on Covid transmission inside Toby one way or another, even if they have to be written in crayons on sandpaper and administered as a suppository?
Anyway, that’s the freedom of speech news. Now, on to the other great freedoms on which our nation was built: the freedom to control our waters and our borders, and the freedom to carry round a cup of coffee at all times like a security blanket. We’ll deal with the latter first, with the puzzling news that the government is reportedly planning an advertising blitz to warn people that “grabbing a coffee can kill”. In which case, why have they left the coffee shops open? You can’t permit people to do something and then shame them for doing it – though naturally that is what Johnson’s administration has spent all week doing, as part of its drive to blame a tiny minority of rule-breaking individuals for the avoidable scale of the current deaths, as opposed to its own policies from several weeks ago.
Then again, why are we even looking for consistency? A government whose most senior personnel have spent years banging on about having control of our borders have been supremely relaxed about letting anyone arrive via airports for many of the most dangerous and significant months of the pandemic. Meanwhile, this morning found Grant Shapps addressing people wondering if they could book a summer holiday: “I’m the last person you should take this advice from … don’t take travel advice from me.” Thanking you, transport secretary.
As for the government’s other much-vaunted obsession, control of our waters, the post-Brexit red tape that is currently confining many boats to harbour and leaving unsold fish rotting on the docks suggests Johnson’s triumphant deal for fishermen may be beginning to stink. Indeed, the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations has written furiously to the prime minister and accused him of sacrificing the industry, then lying to both them and then public as to what he had negotiated.
“You have tried to present the agreement as a major success,” runs this letter, quoted in the Times, “when it is patently clear that it is not.” I guess “landing a whopper” meant something different to Boris Johnson than it did to your average fisherman, and they couldn’t both be right. Or, as Jacob Rees-Mogg put it to the Commons on Thursday, of the wasted seafood and the claims the industry is now losing a million quid a day: “The key thing is, we’ve got our fish back. They’re now British fish, and they’re better and happier fish for it.” The fishermen seem less so. “It would be much better,” thunders their letter to Johnson, “if you, with humility and honesty, conceded that you tried but failed – rather than implying that you had handed us the keys of our liberation, when you have not.”
It WOULD be much better, wouldn’t it? Just as it would be much better if all the Covid grifters took the scale and horror of the second wave crisis we’re currently in the middle of as their cue to stop making entirely debunked claims that they can’t back up. I must admit I did think that the sheer numbers of current deaths, and the overwhelming of the health service by any reasonable yardstick, might give them at least momentary pause. But – how to put this? – hands up, I got that wrong.