DAY 82: Wed 3 June

An oppressive day in more ways than one

There were rumbles of distant thunder as I went bed last night, and today the atmosphere is very heavy. It may explain a certain lethargy today. and a bit of a headache especially around my right eye. Rain is imminent,

I treated myself to a long, hot bath this morning while listening to the Today programme. Nick Robinson’s interview with Charnwood MP Edward Argar, supposedly a health minister, took my esteem for the current government to a new low. It was astounding. Argar was patently incapable of answering questions, despite Robinson repeating several simple, direct questions THREE times. The MP was being asked for numbers relating to the much vaunted Test and Trace scheme (or Trick and Treat, as I prefer to call it) which is supposed to be saving us all from a fresh peak in coronavirus infections. This is a matter of public health and mortality for which he is supposed to be responsible, but he either did not have or was not prepared to give answers.

In my view it makes him both incompetent and criminally liable should the virus continue to spread now that the government has relaxed the rules about social isolation. This former ‘Head of Public Affairs’ for the notorious Serco outfit (now enjoying another lucrative contract from his own department) failed to win the support of Tories in five constituencies before he was inflicted upon the voters in the safe seat of Charnwood. I trust his Leicestershire constituents will show him the boot next time around. 

Inevitably my coffee date in the front garden with a celebrated historian was postponed as the rain made a drizzly appearance this morning. We made up for it by phone with a lengthy deconstruction of Shtisel, the peculiarities of ultra Orthodox Jewish sects, and the brewing civil war in America. 

Before that I had a long chat with an Italian friend London who has been cooped up on the third floor of a somewhat dilapidated block of flats in Stepney Green since March. Though one of the officially ‘shielded’ citizens, she has received none of the support that is supposedly in place, including food parcels. She did receive a call from Tower Hamlets Council last week checking she is alright, and was given a number to ring should the state food parcel not appear within the next four days. She rang it this morning, The immediate response was “How did you get this number?” When she explained how and why, she was told “Oh, if you’re registered with the central government scheme, that is nothing to do with us.”  Luckily her friends have kept her supplied, or she might have starved to death by now.

One of her friends has been in touch to say he is now living in a hotel room with only the clothes he is standing up in. There was a fire in the roof of the block of flats he lives in just up the road in Whitechapel. The residents were given minutes to just get out, and have had no chance to properly retrieve items from their flats. However the fire has exposed the additional risks of those who were merely subletting from original tenants, since the council has no responsibility for them. I trust my old paper the East London Advertiser is onto that story.

It was nice to smell the rain today, but even that couldn’t lift my lethargy so I ended up watching The Bookshop on Netflix this afternoon. It tells of the nastiness that lurks beneath the surface in English villages – this one in the 1950s – not to mention class prejudices. It reminded me of the hostility I experienced when teaching in the Buckinghamshire village of Great Missenden, in 1969-70. While there were progressive forces in the village, especially among the young people, the establishment was determined to stamp out anything which ‘rocked the boat’. But that is another (quite shocking) story and would make a good film in itself.

Equally shocking are the games the government plays with figures. We are bamboozled with statistics each evening, so many it is difficult to keep track of them especially as they are subtly recalibrated from time to time, and it is not always clear how and why they have been calculated. Today however, we got a sudden break in the clouds of unknowing. Chief scientific advisor Patrick Vallance admitted that the official figures of more than 1,800 people who tested positive today, was likely to be a mere 25% of the actual number – some 8,000 people infected today, Our anxieties are supposed to be assuaged by the ‘official’ totals, even though no-one can tell us hw many people were then contacted and what percentage of these will eventually prove positive. No amount of bluster and arm waving by Johnson will convince me that he really knows the true situation or whether his supposed strategy makes any sense. He and his cronies are literally playing with our heads and our lives.

And today we had another example of his Trumpian two-facery. He announced to the world that he would make its easier for democracy campaigners in Hong Kong to firm up their British credentials and pretty much promised that some 3 million would be able to find sanctuary in the UK. All very laudable, especially from a man who heads a government committed to reducing immigration. Yet it is an administration also committed to creating a hostile environment to keep migrants out while  reducing UK citizens’ freedom of movement across Europe. And if the Hong Kong Chinese in fear of repression from the Communist Party are guaranteed a home in the UK, how come a similar generosity of spirit is not shown towards the refugees and unaccompanied minors fleeing war and repressive regimes elsewhere? Many are from former British colonies who see ‘the mother ship’ as their best hope for safety and security.

Their nemesis these days is the dreadful Priti Patel, herself the child of immigrants who found safety and security in the UK. The worst Home Secretary we could have today announced the introduction of a fortnight’s quarantine for those flying into Britain from next week. She will  be selective about who must self-isolate at risk of £1,000 fine. The very rich will have nothing to worry about, of course, health and construction workers too, and the farm labourers she needs to pick fruit and vegetables for the rest of us. (I wonder what happened to the the recruitment drive to get British workers to labour in the fields?)

It is especially tiresome to hear leading politicians mouthing that Black Lives Matter while obscuring the reasons why Black and Asian people are more likely to die from COVID19 than their white counterparts. We are still a long way from properly recognising racism, let alone eradicating it.

This evening photos appeared of huge queues of cars blocking the Fishponds Road as the McDonald’s Drive-through reopened. We NoMacInF campaigners warned the Planning Inspectorate about such repercussions but this government prefers to give the go-ahead to conglomerates rather than listen to local communities. My house guest is making our own giant halal burgers tonight which we shall consume while watching a heist movie – his favourite genre. I have remained quite fatigued all day (maybe starting with a hot bath is to blame) so I shall go to bed as soon as the movie is over.

Mike J

Journalist, trainer, editor; storyteller; amateur historian.

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