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Cumbria Times
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Roger Winterbottom
Features Writer
4:20 AM 4th November 2020
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Lockdown Part II: The Unwanted Sequel

The government has finally bowed to the inevitable and announced The Lockdown Part II, just in time to make a big impact in the box office at Christmas. More unwanted than a sequel to Waterworld; less eagerly anticipated than Hot Tub Time Machine 2; more unremittingly awful than Highlander II: The Quickening. There should have been only one.

Although there have been very few sequels that have matched up to the original, I have a feeling that Lockdown II will be bigger in every way. But can we at least stop calling the situation “unprecedented” now? We’ve definitely seen it all before. Still, at least we’ve used the last six months wisely to set up a world-class test and tracing service and to get those Nightingale hospitals staffed and ready. What’s that? Oh, I see. I know what you didn’t do last summer.

No. 10 was said to be furious after plans for the new lockdown were leaked to the Daily Mail. The four people in the lockdown meeting were Boris Johnson, Matt Hancock, Rishi Sunak and Michael Gove. For some reason, the finger of suspicion fell on Gove who, purely coincidentally, is married to Daily Mail columnist Sarah Vine. An inquiry was immediately announced into the leak. Isn’t it too soon? Aren’t they always telling us we need to wait until the crisis is over before we have any inquiries? I have, however, been doing my own detective work and can now reveal the culprit. It’s…Rebekah Vardy.

It was reported that, “No10 insist they didn’t brief it and that whoever is responsible has damaged trust in the middle of a public health crisis.” Damaged trust - that’s a good one! It must be one of those right-wing comedians we keep hearing the BBC needs! Go on, tell us another: I hear there’s a funny one about Barnard Castle!

The government’s fury at the leak was somewhat undermined by it then leaking all the details of the lockdown measures to Robert Peston several hours before Boris Johnson’s press conference announcing them. Strangely, no inquiry was commissioned for that leak. In the only well-planned move of the day, Johnson then delayed the press conference so that he finished his speech just in time for the start of Strictly Come Dancing. This meant that the only politician being asked difficult questions before a large audience that night was former Labour Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith. Unfortunately, she had no answers to probing questions such as: can you dance a Samba? Can you sit in a swing gracefully? Why is Anton dragging you around like a recalcitrant vacuum cleaner? And who dressed Motsi in that plaster of Paris? For Labour’s Smith, it was her “Scores 4” moment.

The lockdown had earlier been referred to in the year as the “nuclear option” by the government. In the old days, it used to be a four-minute warning. Now we get four days, which is an improvement of sorts. When Keir Starmer had called for a lockdown three weeks ago, it was rejected as “the height of absurdity” with a ‘senior government source’ (Cummings doesn’t like to use his real name any more) saying that Starmer was “a shameless opportunist playing political games”. I wonder what that makes Johnson. The Times reported that Boris Johnson was worried that lockdown would be like Hotel California. That doesn’t sound so bad to me. Mirrors on the ceiling? Pink Champagne on ice? I hear it’s such a lovely place.

Conservative MP Nadine Dorries defended Johnson, saying that only “a crystal ball” could have predicted the need for a second lockdown. Is that how the SAGE scientists knew we needed one six weeks earlier? I wonder what else they’re using – examining entrails? Watching the flights of birds? Maybe Tarot cards? Has the government all along been guided by the séance?

Telegraph columnist Allison Pearson had her own take on the lockdown, saying, “Lockdown does NOT save lives. It postpones deaths. You end up with the same number of deaths.” Thanks, Allison. I guess we might as well shut down all the hospitals and GP surgeries too – they’re only postponing people’s deaths. Better to just get on with it, eh? Why prolong the inevitable?

The Times reported that one government minister said of the mishandled lockdown announcement, “The incompetence is another level. Is this a deliberate destruction of the Tory Party? People only vote for us because they think we don’t care but are competent.” Admitting the Tories don’t care only confirmed what we had seen the previous week, when a three-line whip had been imposed on Conservative MPs to vote against providing help to feed hungry children, when millions of parents have newly found themselves without work. “Children have gone hungry for years,” said Paul Scully, as if that somehow makes it all fine. Eating is just postponing death, eh? Seriously, come on, guys - could you at least pretend to care for once? It would only be in a very specific and limited way.

I have a feeling that Marcus Rashford’s campaign will be back before MPs for a third outing in the franchise, as inevitably and needlessly as Highlander III.

The vice-chair of the 1922 Committee, Charles Walker, took the new lockdown well, reportedly saying: “As we drift further into an authoritarian coercive state, the only legal mechanism left open to me is to vote against the legislation.” Charles – I’m pretty sure an authoritarian state wouldn’t give you the chance to vote against it. And you do know you’re part of that “coercive” governing party, don’t you?

For Labour, the botched lockdown announcement was a welcome respite from the brutal headlines resulting from the damning conclusions of the anti-Semitism enquiry by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, with the former Labour leadership castigated for its “serious failings”. I must have kept mishearing their old slogan, as it seems actually to have been “For the many, not the Jew”. Jeremy Corbyn reacted predictably to the report, insisting it had all been exaggerated. This led to Corbyn’s suspension, which sounds like something used for the treatment of haemorrhoids. This in turn led to Len McLuskey, General Secretary of the Unite union, saying that it would cause “chaos and infighting in the Labour Party”. Honestly, how will we notice the difference? Ever since Starmer was elected leader, the centrists and the left have been at each other’s throats, forgetting they should be united against the common enemy. (And no, it’s not the Judean People’s Front.)

But as the lockdown starts and people begin once again stripping the supermarkets of loo roll, at least we can console ourselves that Brexit is just round the corner. Once that happens, there won’t be anything on the shelves for people to panic-buy anymore. Boris Johnson told us that this year would be a “Titanic success”. Hmm. I’m not sure I remember Titanic being too much of a success. Maybe things get better in the sequel.