I don’t know what’s happened to Britain’s hooligans. The modern malaise, I suppose. A gradual descent into ineffectuality. Back in the day, Harry the Dog of Millwall would take an entire away stand by himself and do a few coppers on the way. He would surely turn in his grave looking at today’s lot. We were warned about their arrival in London last weekend. Told they would be tooled up and ready for action, turning on each other. And what happened? Nobody opened up like a tin of peaches by ‘my little friend, Stanley’; just a few skirmishes here and there. Handbags, as the commentators would put it.
Compare that with the entirely peaceful UK demonstrations by Black Lives Matter and their allies. Some 27 police officers injured, some hospitalized, and loads of stuff wrecked. And that was BLM being peaceful. That’s the way to do it, surely, you louts? Bob Streicher, a spokesman for the National Association of Thugs, was quick to defend his members, but sounded unconvincing. ‘It’s not fair to blame the lads. We have evidence that our demonstration was infiltrated by people who are not in any way genuine thugs, but just wished to defend some statues. Some of them didn’t even support a football team. I met one bloke who said he preferred rugby. Wrong ’uns.’
He may have half a point, I suppose. If you or I turned up to defend a statue — perhaps that one of Gandhi, for example — the media would identify us immediately as an extreme right-wing soccer hooligan there to do battle with the gentle democrats of Black Lives Matter, who merely wish to make the world a better place by throwing statues into rivers. And yet I would guess you would not have proper thug credentials. You probably don’t even know how to fashion a Millwall brick. That’s the weekend edition of the Guardian — right-wing thugs are the only people who still buy it — folded in such a way that it can chip concrete or shatter a skull. Shame on you. My own suspicion is that West Ham’s Inter City Firm, the ICF, probably organized it all — and everyone knows they’re nothing to write home about.
Britain’s Black Lives Matter protests, which were begun in honor of gentle, reformed armed robber George Floyd, at least distracted our attention away from the UK government’s convincing impersonation of a blind man wearing headphones into which has been pumped at 100 decibels Lou Reed’s seminal album Metal Machine Music, and with shackles around his ankles, and after several rounds of trepanning, attempting to lead us all to a promised sunlit post-COVID world of recovery and growth. ‘Obtuse’ does not begin to do justice to this leaderless, directionless shambles. Events have a habit of scuppering hitherto popular governments. But I can think of no response to an event from previous governments which has been quite as catastrophic as this.
I wrote a couple of months back that the government’s performance regarding the pandemic had been ‘mid-table’, which even then was being unduly kind. But since then it has worsened to the degree that the optimism engendered by an 80-seat majority and an administration which seemed to have vigor and purpose has evaporated. There are exceptions: Rishi Sunak, Priti Patel and Michael Gove. That’s about it.
The problem is really one of leadership. Boris Johnson was desperately slow to react to the virus, both personally, as he found to his cost, and with regards to the country. We were late to restrict entry to the UK, late with testing for the virus, late to provide frontline workers with the proper protection, late to impose lockdown, late to cancel big sporting fixtures. All of that will have cost thousands of lives, which is why our death toll is the worst in Europe. Perhaps the NHS should take a major share of blame for the scandal which will really come back to bite the government — the unnecessary, calamitous deaths in care homes, often of elderly people recently evicted from hospital pre-emptively.
Throughout this crisis the UK government has been devoid of a plan and has been content simply to react. It would argue that this is all it could do, given its reliance upon scientific advice. But governments are there to adjudicate what bits of the advice given are the important bits, and at almost every juncture, seemingly, Boris and co. have got it wrong. Did we really need those Nightingale hospitals, lying almost empty? Why should zoos, pubs and stores be open — but not schools? There is a vagueness bordering upon total ignorance when it comes to ‘social distancing’: two meters, one meter — or a nanometre if you’re lining up to get into Nike or out on a peaceful democratic protest?
There has been flip-flopping on policy almost every day of the week and now, as we emerge from lockdown (partially), an utter confusion at large as to how we are to conduct ourselves, where we are allowed to go, what we are allowed to do. Should we still be shopping only for essentials? Or is that all gone now that the inessential shops are open?
We are anxious to avoid a ‘second spike’ in infections — and yet wouldn’t it be better to have that second spike in summer, rather than November, when the hospitals will be full again? Nothing the government has done seems based on rationality, as evidenced by the speed with which it changes its mind and executes a volte-face (sometimes within 24 hours).
All of this is reflected in the polls — the latest of which, from Opinium, shows the Conservatives with a lead down to 3 percent. Even in May the lead was between 16 and 20 percent. Even those of you who are staunch Conservatives, can you really argue that Boris has handled this well?