John Harris

Journalist & Author

We can’t hide behind the bunting – let’s face up to what’s happened to Britain | John Harris

There are seeds of collective action in the Covid-19 crisis, but don’t underestimate the power of nationalist mythology

It was Boris Johnson who used the term “unlockdown” at the last prime minister’s questions; it was presumably sources in government who encouraged newspapers to think that giddy headlines about “freedom” reflected what he was about to announce. God knows, plenty of us are in the market for anything remotely hopeful. But in the wake of the mixed messages and bungling that blurred into the prime minister’s statement on Sunday, millions are likely to be feeling yet more anxiety.

Notwithstanding its rather forced delivery and the surfeit of diagrams and scales, what he said could perhaps have been worse. But Johnson had already undermined his words by his own actions, or lack of them. Promises of a “world-beating system” for testing and tracking, and plans for quarantining new arrivals at airports, only underlined the fact that these things have yet to materialise. And at the dread moment that the screen was filled with green and yellow and the baffling words ‘Stay alert’, his context overwhelmed him. Here, inevitably, was yet another reminder of dire incompetence at the top.

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