April 25, 2020
Author: Ralph Berry
At this time of stress, I turn to the King in Blackadder 1: ‘I like not this news! Bring me some other news!’ And being King, he does indeed get the better news that he has ordered. (Lord Wessex is not dead.) We are all hoping for a stay of execution on the symbolic Lord Wessex, which is the entire economy of the United Kingdom on its deathbed, but since Boris is bed-blocking that site the real-time news is not good. *
Let’s start with an observation from Salisbury Review. The old Soviet joke was that ‘under capitalism people were paid to work; under communism people are paid not to work’. This is startlingly apt for Britain today, when the pop star Chancellor Rishi Sunak has made unlimited money available for ‘furloughs’, when unemployed workers are to receive 80% of what they would have earned. Self-employed workers are not so lucky. Since the State has already taken upon itself the duty of chiding people for sunbathing in their own back gardens, the signs of the coming politics are ominous.
However, Pravda is turning. Today’s Telegraph carries an article by Jemima Lewis with a brilliant metaphor. She cites the S-bend in the slaughter-house passage that the condemned animals must take, the ‘curved-chute’ system. They can’t see what is coming. If they could, they would take fright. The curve of the chute keeps them calm. Her inference is that the electorate is similarly placed.
For the hard news one must turn to the Business section. To take one instance, the stately homes, which generate huge revenues from British and foreign tourists, report that takings are 90% down with summer upon us. Highclere (Downtown Abbey) is a foremost loser, and the National Trust properties will feel the same East wind. Universities, fearful for their lives, raise plangent pleas for Government aid. They have been living on the fat of the land—other lands actually, for foreign students pay very high fees for the honour of going to some university that in living memory was a technical college or teachers training institution, and more recently has been marketing courses in golf club management. The widely-derided ‘media studies’ has also figured largely in the curriculum. But now foreign students, seeing no prospect of a return to normality in September, are failing to enrol. The ‘privatised’ universities now look to the State when their own policies have led to this debacle.
Politically, things are shifting. Camilla Tominey, Deputy Editor, writes on the Awkward Squad of senior Tories who are frozen out of the Government and have nothing to fear or lose. They include Ian Duncan-Smith (ex-Conservative Leader), Jeremy Hunt (former Health Minister), David Davis (former Brexit Secretary), and John Redwood, a truly formidable mind who was given the black spot for challenging John Major in 1995 and has never been forgiven. His exclusion from Boris’s Cabinet was an early sign that Boris, like Theresa May, does not like to have superior minds around him. (Redwood is an All Souls Fellow.) The Cabinet is said to be ‘split’. Of course: Cabinets are there to be split. It’s their nature and their future, and they have to decide on sides or sit on the fence. The PM governs through the split, always.
The future is starting to take shape, and it is not appealing. Boris has a large Parliamentary majority. It is less large than Margaret Thatcher’s before her fall.