I cannot help thinking that the “second wave” of this virus is a bit like the Victorian legend of “Spring Heeled Jack”: a useful fiction intended to keep the children quiet. In both cases there are sightings which do not, by themselves, add up to any existential certainty. Jack has, of course, inherited this policing role from the dreaded “R” number, which even the most thick-headed members of the commentariat are beginning to suss is of no use when infection rates are low.
So, the PM has pivoted. With its now-familiar casual dishonesty the Government is alerting us to “spikes” in “cases” in some parts of the country. As with most deception, the deceit resides in the language. There are no spikes in cases, there are increases in positive tests (entirely consistent with increases in test activity – and in fact explained by them). A case is not the same as a positive test unless you think it is of no significance whether someone has symptoms or not.
There is a qualitative and very consequential difference between testing positive for this virus and being a “case” of it. This is a distinction the Johnson-Whitty-Hancock axis of perpetual control seems to have decided to collapse. From the start of this crisis the government hid behind very second-rate scientists to project an interpretation of correct response which was purely numbers-based. Mathematics is the Queen of the Sciences: it does not follow that important qualitative distinctions are never invisible to Her.
Instead of informing us of epidemiological risk, the PM decided in March to deprive us of the right to assess our lives for ourselves. This amounted to more than a confiscation of our civil liberties. It was also an assault upon our personal systems of value. Some of us do not believe that death is the worst thing that can happen to us. Some of us do not believe that illness is to be avoided at all cost. Some of us prefer to live our lives within a framework of belief in the transcendent. Johnson’s interventions in March were a form of secular aggression against that preference.
And this has been the problem. I do not want my PM to be religious. But I want a Conservative PM to at the least have a religious sensibility. I want those who presume to govern me to have humility. I want them to know that however powerful they seem to be in the moment that history is laughing at them from the perspective of the longer term. I would prefer them to understand that you do not defeat a virus by looking into a TV camera and announcing that we all must stay at home.