The British government are waiting until the public “change their mind” on the COVID-19 lockdown and still planning to “run hot” with the virus, a term signifying their intent to ensure that the lockdown is lifted while the virus remains a deadly threat to life, new reports indicate.
Writing in The Sunday Times, Tim Shipman explores the cabinet-level split between the hawkish right and Health Secretary Matt Hancock in the absence of Boris Johnson, with Michael Gove said to be the primary force pushing for the end of lockdown. Gove has taken a position in opposition to Hancock who has made the continuation of a functioning NHS a priority rather than ending the lockdown at the earliest possible opportunity. Dominic Raab is believed to agree with Gove.
The tussle at the top of government was laid bare yesterday in The Times, a newspaper in the Rupert Murdoch stable. Despite being a conservative learning paper, a special investigation placed the blame for the British coronavirus crisis squarely at the feet of Boris Johnson, with speculation mounting that Murdoch is angling for the Prime Minister to replaced by Michael Gove while others believe that it will be Hancock who will be offered as a sacrifice.
As a reminder, Boris Johnson abandoned the government and missed five Cobra meetings on the coronavirus, leaving Matt Hancock to chair those meetings while the Prime Minister enjoyed Carrie Symonds at a country retreat. While his resignation should, by all rights, be swift, Murdoch’s desire for Gove is far from in the public interest.
Murdoch’s move against Johnson comes as the newspaper industry suffers its worst-ever crisis, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden going as far as to ask the public to ensure they buy a newspaper as the print press faces “the biggest existential crisis in its history”. It was less than two months ago that it was reported that The Sun had suffered £68m in losses amidst falling sales thanks to a combination of online competition and successful campaigns against the far-right and invasive content of the paper. Lockdown is no good for Murdoch’s finances and influence.
Sources have stated that there is “not a huge amount” going on in cabinet meetings, with those present “waiting for the public to change their minds” on the lockdown and that the Tories “didn’t want to go down this route in the first place”. The source further states that “the lockdown will only start coming loose when the public wants it to”.
“We didn’t want to go down this route in the first place – public and media pressure pushed the lockdown, we went with the science.”The Times source
While on the surface this may seem like a bow to public opinion, the meaning is likely much darker.
In the United States, right-wing libertarian protesters have abandoned social distancing and taken to the streets in Michigan, Colorado, Arizona, Texas and many other states, MAGA supporters of Donald Trump stating that restrictions on travel and social interaction are an affront to the constitution. Blaming the left, they have rejected the lockdown with many believing that COVID-19 is a conspiracy theory. The protests have been encouraged by Trump himself alongside other members of the extreme right such as Alex Jones and Murdoch’s Fox News as they begin the process of convincing the American public that restrictions are breaches of their “rights” and that the lockdown should end.
Just a month ago, The Guardian reported that the government was using “nudge theory” behavioural science to encourage citizens to take actions against their nature such as increasing the frequency of handwashing and voluntary social distancing.
Nudge theory is the disturbing science of persuasion, the theory stating that an individual or population can be influenced to change their behaviour through “nudges” in the “correct” direction that the practitioner has predefined, thus giving the subject the delusion that they had free will to make the choice that they did. It is highly likely that should Michael Gove and his supporters get their way this theory will be utilised to persuade the British public that ending the lockdown is necessary and in the public interest.
Initially planning to enact a policy of “herd immunity” against the British public that could have seen as many as 2 million of the most vulnerable dying, the government continue to place the interests of the economy and big business over the welfare of the public, never having had any interest in protecting their own citizens. Such is the treachery of the hawkish right they are willing to sacrifice even Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock to ensure that lockdown is ended well before it is safe to do so, an action that will be taken in the interests of nothing but business and capital. The British public must resist any attempt to persuade them that it is safe to end the lockdown while infections continue to mount and the death toll grows ever more astronomical.