Monday, 26 July 2021


Let me take you back in time. It’s 1979. The Walkman was the hot, new product. Apple launched their first personal computer: it was agreed it would never catch on. Radio-Control toys were all the rage and there was a large, ghastly rubberised spider which lurched towards you and could only be stopped by shooting it between the eyes which caused it to shriek, flash red eyes and retreat.

The name of this unfortunate toy was “Stop Boris!” (I’m afraid I was the author.)

In a week of Cummings and the more balanced and lethal critique from Sir Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Welcome Trust I wondered whether that “Stop-Boris” time was near. Yet in the polls last week the Tory lead over Labour has slightly increased since the 2019 election. Boris is an electoral magician, totally Marmite, loved and loathed but 10% points more lovers than loathers.

And yet. And yet.

As time passes a few realities are setting in. We can’t carry on believing this is a war that we can win. We can’t just send the virus packing. There are 24 letters in the Greek alphabet. We have a long way to go to omega before we run out of new mutants. Just suppose that this process of mutation carries on; just suppose that vaccines have to be developed and redeveloped; just suppose we are in this for say five more years or, worse, forever. Rhetoric won’t win and won’t help. Nor do those words “freedom” or “back to normal” make any sense.

We need to manage our lives, assess and take risks not avoid them. We need to live with viruses and work around them. At the moment we seem to think vaccination is king yet Britain the king of the vaccinations is still top of the infection league. We are Covid Island.

So what we know is that we know nothing. The data is contradictory, the models are fragile, the government uneasily veers from hurrah to boo-hoo. The Test and Trace App creating a  ping-demic seems a sledge hammer solution. As one pinged myself I wondered who and where I was at risk (I’d become a hermit – I seldom leave home) but I gather Bluetooth can work through walls so was it someone next door?

 Time to relax. Time to realise we can cope with disease, but it takes time and practical precautions.

What seems clear is we can’t blunder on ignoring the consequences of any of our behaviours. Climate change. Trolling on social media. Computer hacking. New viruses. A lot of tricky issues. If this pandemic does nothing else it’s forcing us to rethink everything.

The Future Laboratory have produced a paper called “Inter Covid Road Map” which considers this. I love their expression about the need for “retailainment” – retail theatre - and the need for brands to focus on sustainability and provenance. Technological developments of online meetings will soon make Zoom look like video in a world of streaming. A new concept, “neighbourhood nomads”, namely becoming real experts in your own locale will emerge.

McKinsey reckon we saw 5 years of digital development in the first 8 months of the pandemic – much more to come. Country is more exciting than cities (not sure about that). We are entering a post-growth era. Chaos in our new norm.

Back to Boris. He loves chaos and is self-confessedly chaotic. But is he right for now and next? I wonder if we shouldn’t be thinking about a National Government. 2021 -24 feels too important and tricky for one party and one maverick to cope with. 

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