A slap too many

Emily Maitliss: Newsnight 26 May 2020

The weekend’s upon us and over 161,000 have signed up on Facebook for the ‘Road Trip to Durham for Sunday lunch with Dom’s mam’. Irresistible, or maybe not.

This week, 61 Tory MPs called for the brat who’s trashing UK-Toytown PLC to be sacked. The PM told us to “move on” and ignore the lies, and the BBC cravenly told a truth-telling woman to know her place and shut up. It stopped short of suggesting she go barefoot and preferably pregnant for the umpteenth time back to the kitchen to learn to button her lip.

When Nicola Sturgeon’s ‘test and protect’ took off, the lure of the border gripped Sassenachs in search of a spot of sanity: their struggle with Hancock evaporated. They had other fish to fry and BrewDog’s ‘Barnard Castle Eye Test IPA’ special brew to quoff. Maybe, Twitter suggested, MPs were cowed lest weapons-grade intel be released by Johnson’s Band of Four on the Cabinet; though Hancock “doesn’t look the dogging sort” opined @jojo_77 on 27 May. A furious torrent of letters to MPs, rumours of Mr Johnson banning MPs reading emails, petitions to reinstate Emily Maitlis and applause for the committee interrogation of the PM, took over social media.

The PM’s approval rating dropped below zero and RTE’s Olivia O’Leary cautioned that the brat dissing the PM in his own garden (a sleepy hollow normally preserved for visiting dignitaries) wasn’t even something Henry VIII would have tolerated. When Thomas Cromwell upstaged the king, his head rolled – leaving England self-isolated, in tatters and adrift from the Holy Roman Empire. There are parallels with the PM’s life, she suggested. And our collective destiny could be as parlous.

@ThatTimWalker noted that even at the lowest points in the Thatcher and Blair administrations, there had never been such widespread and powerful contempt for a sitting PM. The Guardian’s John Crace winced at our “banana republic, a failed state run by a bad joke of a PM” saying, “Laughing Boy is basically taking the piss”. During the worst health crisis in a century, we are lions led by dead donkeys.

The world, not always diplomatically, concurred with Marina Hyde’s verdict: unprecedented power is concentrated in an unaccountable quartet of men taking and dishing out decisions and ending democracy. Could women do better? New Zealand’s highly respected first woman prime minister, Labour’s Helen Clark, remarked on the value of consulting, heeding advice, listening and taking lateral, non-hierarchical and compassionate approaches.

The worst death rate in the world, Covid-19 statistics speak volumes and the public was angry.

More letters and emails flew off to MPs. Snorts greeted the PM’s exhortations to do our “civic duty” while ministers were paraded to defend the indefensible. “Now wash your hands” was not going to wash. Nor was the app. While the World Health Organisation advocated trace and track to try and contain Covid-19 wave 2, disquiet simmered over the feasibility and purpose of the “world-class beating” app being “ramped up” by exceptional British brains. The public was getting more dismissive and furious.

Caroline Lucas captured the mood in a Green Party vlog. We can do better. We must do better. Covid-19 has killed the myth that humans are essentially selfish. The public across the world has shown kindness and self-control. Grim times ahead can be tackled together. The woman many think is still one of the best PMs the UK has yet to have, showed spirit. The government had delivered one slap too many to too many people whose sacrifices would not be forgotten. They would not move on until the government itself moved and showed that it cared enough for public health to take it seriously. Wrong message, wrong time, wrong, wrong, wrong.