I think I’ve finally worked out how Boris Johnson plans to get levelling up done: he’s going for a latter day version of 70s sci-fi classic Logan’s Run.
For those who haven’t seen the dystopian movie, released in 1976 before the genre became the juggernaut it is today, it centres on an apparently idyllic city where everyone aged over 30 gets sent to meet their maker in a savage “ceremony” – and runners (people who try to escape their dark destiny) are put to sleep by gun-toting sandmen.
The Boris Johnson version is a bit less extreme. It’s only those above 80 who don’t count and aren’t wanted. And there’s no need to spend taxpayers’ money on a Michael York, who played the title role, to act as sandman for the pax Britannica. Covid’ll do the job for free.
Thus the government releases resources that would otherwise have been spent on pensions and social care for, I don’t know, funicular railways in Stocksbridge? Does this sound like I’ve lost my senses and am indulging in an extreme fantasy? Au contraire.
Just listen to Dominic Cummings’ latest claims, aired in a BBC interview, in which he said Johnson held out on reimposing restrictions last autumn because “the people who are dying are essentially all over 80”. If he is to be believed, that means they don’t count. Let the microscopic sandmen get ‘em.
Sure these are claims, and this is Dom, and he’s made strong (yet unproven) allegations before. Still, he also alleges he has texts backing up what he says, and that others would confirm the story if asked under oath at a public inquiry. His interviewer Laura Kuensberg also said Downing Street only denied parts of what he said.
So, if we take what Cummings says as fact, it would seem Boris the Sandman was putting the lives of his fellow Britons on a sliding scale with those older than 80 in the “not worth protecting from a microscopic gun capable of blowing their lungs out” category – even if they were, you know, Tory voters. The enthusiasm the right seems to have for offing its own base, which we know leans older, is slightly surreal.
Of course, it’s not the case that it’s “essentially the over 80s”. An alleged comment such as this is profoundly ignorant as well as unbelievably callous. There are plenty of younger people who’ve died, and who are still dying. Many (again not all) of them will have had health conditions or disabilities.
Those of us in that category already know we don’t count to Johnson and his Tories either. We too are merely drains on resources and thus appropriate targets for the micro-sandmen. Roll on the funicular railways and whatever other white elephants Johnson’s supposedly dreaming of.
Will the inquiry Cummings spoke of ever get off the ground? It would be a tragedy if it didn’t, because I fear the dead are being forgotten and that this country has erased the staggering death toll from its consciousness. Johnson’s alleged comments speak to that.
The killing of more than 3,000 people in the US as a result of the 11 September terror attacks had physical force – you could see their ghosts in the twisted wreckage of the buildings that the planes hit. I vividly remember looking down on the site of the horror a few months later from the nearby World Financial Centre. A former colleague had an in with a PR person working in the building, who agreed to show us. It’s not something you easily forget, even though the worst of the wreckage had been cleared by then.
There’s now a museum and a memorial there. Every year people say “never forget” – and they don’t. But will Britain remember the fact that Covid has accounted for more British civilian deaths than in the entirety of World War 2?
Part of the problem is that the Covid fatalities are diffuse and the number – more than 150,000, depending on which set of stats you favour – so big that it’s hard for the human brain to comprehend. You have to rely on analogies.
If it helps, imagine Oxford or Blackburn or Guildford or Lancaster completely emptied by... I don’t know, a nuclear strike? They’re all in the right ball park in terms of their populations.
Even if the victims were all over 80, it shouldn’t matter. Lives are precious. They have value. National hero Captain Sir Tom Moore showed us that – he lived 20 years beyond his 80th birthday before he died with coronavirus – and did more good more in them with his fundraising efforts than Johnson will do in a lifetime.
This article was amended on 2 August 2021 to correct a reference to Captain Sir Tom Parker. He was, of course, Captain Sir Tom Moore.