Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. UK Politics
1 October 2020

Why Boris Johnson’s government is failing on both Covid-19 and the economy

The UK has a public health strategy based around suppressing the virus and an economic strategy based on letting it spread. 

By Stephen Bush

Households have been banned from meeting in any indoor social setting in Merseyside, Warrington, Hartlepool and Middlesbrough, meaning at least 16.6 million people across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are under some form of lockdown. And while the R rate has fallen slightly, it remains above one, with the government warning that the novel coronavirus is once again out of control. 

It further exposes that the government increasingly has a public health strategy based around eliminating or at least suppressing the virus, and an economic strategy based around letting Covid-19 pass through the population. The reality of these lockdowns is that countless pubs, bars and restaurants and the jobs of the people who work in them across the United Kingdom have become “non-viable”. Yet while there are good reasons to believe that homeworking will persist at significantly greater levels than it did pre-pandemic, there are no good reasons to believe that people in Merseyside will be less inclined to go out for a drink or dinner than people in Greater London or Cornwall. 

That reflects the divide between the people in charge: we have a Health Secretary who is much more worried about the virus than the cost of the economic support measures, a Chancellor who is much more worried about the economic cost of further lockdowns, and a Prime Minister who hasn’t really made a choice between those options. 

The problem is that this leads to the UK doing both strategies badly. As Anoosh explains, the main reason for the big gap between people saying they intend to self-isolate and actually doing so is economic: people are returning to work because they can’t afford not to. That’s the inevitable result of a government that has an economic strategy designed around the idea that we need to live with coronavirus, and a health strategy based on the idea we should hide from it: the UK spends huge sums of money, but not in a way that means people can actually afford to self-isolate.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A weekly dig into the New Statesman’s archive of over 100 years of stellar and influential journalism, sent each Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy