Is the UK doing better than the EU at managing Covid | Does history repeat itself?

This is the current position with death rates between the EU and the UK.

As we can see we are currently doing incredibly well reducing the numbers of deaths, numbers are falling much faster here than in the EU. This is mainly due to the strict lockdown rather than the vaccine, although we can expect another big fall once the proportion vaccinated increases.

The huge problem is that this fall came about following a massive spike in deaths. This was caused by the UK Government encouraging people to mingle at Christmas. Half of the 120,000 deaths happened in that spike.

Boris is a needy character who wants to popular; his need to be liked is almost painful, and is disastrous at a time when difficult decisions need to be made. He wanted to be a political Santa Claus ending lockdown for the festive season, and changed track far too late.

As a consequence all of our hard work over the last 2 months has left us slightly above the EU average, albeit with a much sharper rate of change. This is the harsh truth; we are not exceptional, we are just average, maybe slightly worse.

This would come as no surprise to anyone who has followed the last few hundred years of British history; in 1941 George Orwell wrote in the Lion and the Unicorn:

Probably the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing-fields of Eton, but the opening battles of all subsequent wars have been lost there. One of the dominant facts in English life during the past three quarters of a century has been the decay of ability in the ruling class.

History repeats itself.  Not because there is some magical force that makes us do it, but because we are essentially historical creatures.  As long as we have been able to write we have written history books, and whenever we face a period of uncertainty or crisis we look to the past to give us meaning.   Sadly for Britain we have limited our history curricula to war and Empire with all the difficult bits missed out, and as a consequence we make the same mistakes again and again.

The history of Britain in conflict and adversity follows a depressingly similar path. Posh boys lead us into a conflict under prepared but over confident.   The initial battles of the war go catastrophically badly, but the stoicism of the British people, and the emergence of a subaltern class of leaders see us home, often by the skin of our teeth.  This is the British way: blunder and glory hand in hand.

We idolise the retreat from Dunkirk, but forget the disastrous defeat of the British Expeditionary Force that necessitated it, along with the willingness of lots of MPs (mostly Tory) and the Mail/Express/Telegraph to abandon the BEF in order to win a peace deal with that nice Mr Hitler.  We celebrate the bravery of Rorke’s Drift, but conveniently forget that it was only necessary because Lord Chelmsford had lost an entire British Army 12 hours earlier at Isandlwana.

From the Charge of the Light Brigade to the Somme, Gallipoli to the fall of Singapore our leaders fail us again and again and yet we promote a myth of heroic sacrifice.

And we are here once again.  Another battle where a clique of posh boys lead us to defeat, only for ordinary people to step up and snatch glory at the last minute.   Once again they write a history of heroism and sacrifice which omits their own stupidity and greed.  The stoicism of the British people under lock down has won the day, and a generation of clinical and municipal leaders has made up for the lack of leadership at the top.

And Boris blunders on, failing, flopping and floundering. Claiming the credit for the hard work of NHS staff who he won’t pay properly while hissing sourly at anyone proposing to expand the history curriculum beyond a reactionary soft play area.

We can only hope that having ended lockdown too early in Spring and Autumn with tragic consequences we get the end of the current lockdown right. The price of failure is too high.

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