It would be nice to think that such statements, like the weekly ‘clap for our carers’, acknowledged the value of affective labour. But when work is characterised as a set of exceptional actions or feelings – sacrifice, heroism, selflessness, going ‘above and beyond’ – the question of pay, or economic and social security, can be avoided. On Radio 4’s Westminster Hour on Sunday, Kit Malthouse, the justice minister, said that he hoped the crisis would foster the development of care work as a credentialised, ‘desirable, professional career’. Would there be more pay, he was asked. ‘Possibly,’ he replied. Like the ‘care badge’ proposed by Hancock (one of the most toe-curling government micro-responses to the pandemic), the great thing about praise and thanks is that they don’t need to come with guarantees of anything else.
‘The right measures at the right time’ has been a mantra of ministers and sanctioned experts: sensible, uncontroversial. But the government has undermined its own timelines and its own priorities. It has talked up increases in testing – ‘rolling it out’, ‘ramping it up’ – but at the weekend a significant gap appeared between ministerial claim and reality. Michael Gove said in his Sunday morning interviews that the target of 10,000 tests per day was being met; but on Saturday, it turned out, only 8278 tests were carried out on 4908 patients.
On Monday, news channels showed Matt Hancock moving boxes of personal protective equipment from a warehouse to a truck. He admitted that there had been a problem with distribution. Last Thursday evening, a London hospital had to declare a ‘critical incident’ after running out of critical care beds. Social media streams are filled with reports from paramedics about missing equipment and sharing masks. Spain meanwhile (to take one example) has ordered 640,000 testing kits from China. International comparisons have become an inevitable part of the response and interpretation of the crisis. Should Britain continue along its own peculiar furrow or be more like Italy, France, Germany, China or South Korea? Also from Spain, there are disturbing reports of residents being left ‘dead and abandoned’ in at least three care homes. Where are we going?
Can a biscuit factory make a ventilator? Can a car plant? In yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph, the health secretary, Matt Hancock, announced that the government was launching ‘a call to arms for a drive to build the ventilators and other equipment the NHS will need ... We now need any manufacturers to transform their production lines to make ventilators. We cannot make too many. If you produce a ventilator, we will buy it. No number is too high.’
The MP for North East Somerset has made something of a cult of his eccentricity and if he wants to spend his Sundays watching Bundestag debates on YouTube, I’ve no desire to stop him. But the link he supplies in his tweet is not to the Bundestag’s official YouTube channel. It is to a channel made up of speeches, party political broadcasts and ads from far-right European parties, translated into English with approving headings.
To mark the 60th anniversary of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Michael Gove and Neil Kinnock were interviewed by John Humphrys about the experience of being interviewed by John Humphrys on the Today programme. In the live broadcast from the Wigmore Hall on Saturday, they were happy to go along with the myth of the 8.10 interview and show their willingness to play the game of politics hard and with good humour. ‘Coming into the studio with you, John,’ Gove said, ‘is a bit like going into Harvey Weinstein’s bedroom.’ There was laughter from much of the studio audience and applause from some. Not to be outdone, Kinnock said: ‘John goes way past groping – way past groping.’ Cue more laughter. Beyond the Wigmore Hall, there was outrage at Gove’s treatment of sexual violence as an opportunity for a chummy witticism; he soon apologised ‘unreservedly’ for his ‘clumsy attempt at humour’. In the furore, the BBC continued to report that Michael Gove had made a joke about Harvey Weinstein. It’s worth looking more closely at Gove’s queasy analogy (the remark clearly wasn’t off the cuff).
There was a moment in her interview with Emily Maitlis on Newsnight on Friday when Theresa May mentioned a woman who had escaped the Grenfell Tower fire in just a T-shirt and knickers. The woman stays with you. Very briefly, something broke through the repetitions and evasions of the official discourse being deployed by the government, Kensington and Chelsea council, and ‘interested’ corporate parties who insist that regulations were complied with and profess to welcome any investigation.