The political turbulence of the last four years – the rancour and bitterness; leadership plots; de-selections, elections and the rest - was behind us. The waters ahead looked smooth and easily navigated. We had left the EU and were getting on with Ministerial appointments, select committee work, routine Parliamentary activities…
And then - out of the blue from a little heard of part of China called Wuhan - came Coronavirus. (Why has it been renamed Covid-19?) All of a sudden, we are facing a Pandemic (expect that to be declared any day now), 20% of the population infected, many sad deaths, schools and businesses closed, even talk (incorrect I hope) of sending Parliament home for 5 months. Flybe’s bankruptcy was probably predictable, and only peripherally connected; but there will no doubt be other economic and businesses consequences, not least because of the enforced isolation of China. No-one can predict what the next few months will bring, just as not a soul predicated Coronavirus in the first place.
The public and commentators seems to risk falling into two fundamental errors over all of this. First, it is in fact not the Black Death, nor Typhus nor Spanish Flu. There will be casualties for sure; but then we have many deaths every year from ordinary flu. Some of us love a crisis and are succumbing to a thoroughly self-indulgent little panic over it all. Do not. It may be a bit unpleasant for a bit, but it’s not the end of the world.
The opposite is equally wrong. There are those robust souls around ready to say: “pull yourself together, nothing to worry about. Bit of infection never did anyone any harm.” I have some sympathy; yet they risk belittling what could well be a very serious Pandemic. It’s not a catastrophe, but it’s not ‘nothing’ either. So I think the Government have for now got it just about right. Keep taking all sensible precautions - lots of handwashing (didn’t we do that anyhow), self-isolation if you have been in contact with a sufferer; cutting back on needless handshaking and kissing. (All in favour of that anyhow.) It will all be over by the summer, so for now let’s just keep the panic under control. Keep Calm and Carry On.
Rather the same applies to Priti Patel. She certainly is a feisty character. But then you have to be to be a successful and effective Home Secretary. The campaign against her - by senior civil servants and the Labour Party - really does amount to the forces of darkness. So many Home Secretaries have been assassinated by them before now, and we must not allow it to happen again. Law and Order, Policing, Immigration- these are tough and controversial portfolios. Priti Patel’s approach to them is definitely at odds with the Liberal minded North London elite who run the civil service. That is precisely why she must be allowed to get on with it without let or hindrance.
And as to the Prime Ministerial engagement and imminent fatherhood – happy events indeed; and events which must not cut across the serious business of Government.
Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water……