One of the more curious aspects of political life is that to be a politician, you don’t need to know or understand anything about politics at all.
To be an aerospace engineer, or a footballer, or a plumber, or a car park attendant, at least some knowledge about aerodynamics, or offside, or taps, or car parks is required. At least if you want to carry on in the job. A footballer blessed with immense natural gifts, but who didn’t know where they were required to stand on the pitch, or where – or even what – the goal was, would not last long.
Politics isn’t like that. There is absolutely no requirement to have any understanding whatsoever about what, to take but one example, a representative democracy actually is, or how it functions, in order to be a representative in that democracy.
And never has that bizarre fact been more vividly and repeatedly demonstrated than in the imagined mother of representative democracies, the United Kingdom, in the last two years.
There is a clear reason for this. In 2019, clear and obvious stupidity became not merely a highly likely by-product of becoming a Conservative MP, but an essential quality. Shortly before the 2019 general election, Boris Johnson purged from the Conservatives anybody who was not willing to publicly support his Brexit deal. Out went Ken Clarke, Dominic Grieve, David Gauke, and so on and so forth.
Shortly after the 2019 general election, Johnson, and later his chief negotiator David Frost, had to explain in public that the deal they had personally negotiated and signed, they had never actually understood. That it had been signed “in haste”, under “extreme pressure” – and since then, they have been trying to renegotiate it, because if they had understood it they’d never have signed it.
The clear consequence of this is that, if you’re the sort of person who wants to actually understand a very important document before you offer your unqualified public backing to it, it was, and indeed still is, impossible for you to currently be a Conservative MP.
At this point we shall mention a lady called Joy Morrissey, a 40-year-old former part-time actor, who has been the Conservative MP for Beaconsfield since 2019. She replaced former attorney general Dominic Grieve QC, who was chucked out of the party for refusing to pretend he couldn’t understand a document and its very obvious consequences – a concern that did not, and certainly will not – ever – trouble his replacement.
This has further consequences, too. Because a parliamentary party hand-picked by necessity for its stupidity is liable, at any moment, to reveal that stupidity – as Ms Morrissey has done in quite spectacular fashion.
On Wednesday evening, the nation was treated to an example of what has become nothing less than an entirely dystopian spectacle, and never has it been more dystopian than this: the prime minister, and the chief medical officer, giving a joint press conference, in which the chief medical officer feels, yet again, that he has no choice but to entirely contradict the preposterous gibberish being spoken by the other guy – because if he doesn’t, people will die.
This, to some, presents a problem. And this is what Ms Morrissey had to say about it, on Twitter: “Perhaps the unelected covid public health spokesperson should defer to what our ELECTED Members of Parliament and the Prime Minister have decided. I know it’s difficult to remember but that’s how democracy works. This is not a public health socialist state.”
And look, I know this stuff is becoming like water off a duck’s back, but it does matter. That’s an actual member, an actual elected member of a liberal representative democracy, showing herself to be that clueless about the most basic realities of the business she works in.
Where do you even start, with someone who thinks that the job of a chief medical officer in a democracy is to say what the leader tells them to? And not merely that.
The shocking reality, in which scientists offer their expert opinion rather than just silently going along with what they’re told, is branded a “public health socialist state” – a phrase which obviously has no actual meaning whatsoever, but we must assume is meant to imply that the UK is now basically the USSR, because the scientists are talking out of turn.
There is, as it happens, a more obvious comparison, which was not the USSR but rather the USA, about eighteen months ago. And that was when the ELECTED president, Donald Trump, breezily told his people to inject themselves with bleach, and the public health official, Dr Deborah Birx, squirmed in her seat in silence and said nothing at all. This, Ms Morrissey has made abundantly clear, is how things should be.
And the only thing that can be said in her defence is that she is very obviously too dim to understand what she says.
Later on, Chris Whitty was giving evidence to a parliamentary committee, where he had to deal with questions about whether lockdowns were preventing people from getting the cancer treatment they needed.
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He had to explain that this was “an inversion of reality”; that without lockdowns, Covid would be even more out of control, and it would have taken over the NHS even more than it has already. It was a suggestion, he said, that “no doctor, anywhere in the system, would consider to be serious”; it is only ever “suggested by someone trying to make a political point”.
And that is where we are. A very long way into a pandemic that, very unfortunately, stands on the brink of quite possibly its most frightening days, and the chief medical officer, now something of a celebrity, still has to spend his time explaining why a very large proportion of the governing party and their media outriders are completely wrong and utterly insane.
This, it shouldn’t need to be said, is not how things are meant to be. Still, have a nice Christmas, try and stay safe. Don’t see your friends, but more importantly, try not to watch the news or look at your phone. It won’t make you feel any better.