On 23 March 2020, 74 days after China declared coronavirus to the WHO, Britain went into lockdown. In the interim Boris “I Shook Hands With Everyone” Johnson had ignored emails about a Europe-wide PPE purchasing scheme; ignored experts’ recommendations to close pubs and restaurants; taken a holiday in Kent, back before it became clogged with lorry drivers’ faeces; got divorced from his second wife whom he had repeatedly cheated on, including, according to her testimony at least, with a handsomely publicly remunerated tech adviser; ignored further expert advice to close schools; endorsed the idea of herd immunity; announced his engagement to an environmentally concerned refurbishing enthusiast; skipped five successive Cobra meetings; shaken hands with everybody in a hospital; advised hand-washing; joined 82,000 rugby fans in Twickenham; ignored further lockdown calls in early March; made international sports fans mingle in Cheltenham and Liverpool; abandoned contact tracing; allowed people into the country unchecked from virus hotspots; told NHS staff to wear less of the PPE he declined to order earlier; hosted a shower for his latest baby two days before telling people to reduce social contact; herded 5,000 Stereophonics fans into the killing ground of Cardiff Arena; finally told people not to go to pubs and venues but didn’t say that pubs and venues should close, a period now known as Schrödinger’s British Hospitality Industry; and then sent coronavirus-ridden patients back to the petri dishes of their care homes.
But last Tuesday, when Dominic Yateswinelodge from the Metro asked Shake Hands live on TV: “When the time comes to describe this period to future generations, how will we explain how Britain suffered the highest death toll in Europe and the deepest recession?”, Boris Herd Immunity Johnson replied: “About aaah about aah you know your sort of league table question I I I you know I think I mean I er respectfully er go back to the answer you would have heard from the podium many times which is that the er the er the the pandemic is er alas tragically is not over yet er across the world and we will continue to er protect everyone is er to the to the er to the best of to the best of our abilities. This this this is not over and I think the international comparisons are are are premature at this stage.”
Premature international comparisons have, however, been useful to the Brexit-Covid government in extolling the superiority of our own vaccine rollout. And our dubiously awarded and criminally useless £37bn track-and-trace system was famously and falsely designated “world-beating”. It appears international comparisons must only be applied where they favour our nation. Nonetheless, Shake Hands’s answer seized the punch-drunk public’s imagination. By seven that evening, his answer, now known as the “About Aaah About Aah You Know Your Sort of League Table Question I I I You Know I Think I Mean I Er Respectfully Er” speech, had already dislodged Earl Spencer’s Princess Diana Funeral Oration from the No 1 spot of an online League Table of the Greatest Speechifying of All Time. This was ironic, given that the clear thrust of the speech was to discredit the idea of league tables and of the notion that anything should be compared with anything else generally. But memes swiftly developed, including re-edited footage of Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream address, appearing to show him declaring: “About aaah about aah you know your sort of league table question I I I you know I think I mean I er respectfully er.”
But those who had already voted for “About Aaah About Aah You Know… ” were, like international comparisons, premature. Dominic from the Metro then asked Shake Hands: “People who own holiday homes overseas, such as your father for instance, will be exempted from the travel ban affecting everyone else. Would you advise people to buy a second home abroad if they want to have a holiday this year?” In two simple, sarcastic sentences, the humble Metro scribe had Zoomed Shake Hands to the floor. But he had reckoned without our leader’s mastery of deliberately incoherent speechifying.
“And on your point really about global ah ah travel and ah and ah holidays ah,” Shake Hands speechified, “a lot of people do want to know about um er er what’s going to happen on the on the on the holiday front and um er I er I I I know there’s a a a great deal of er curiosity and interest… Er er ab ab we’ve heard already that there are er er other European countries where the disease is now rising so things certainly look difficult for the for the er time being er but we we’ll be we’ll be able to say more er we hope in a few days time. I certainly I certainly hope to be er saying some more by 5 April and and er er I think that’s the best you can hope for there.”
The main thrust of the question had been totally ignored. The Zoom format saw poor Dominic’s window swiftly shut before he could point this out and cunning Shake Hands’s calculated ineloquence had successfully created the illusion that something, of some sort, had been said. Time had passed. And the speech now known as “Er Er Ab Ab We’ve Heard Already That There Are Er Er” swiftly replaced “About Aaah About Aah You Know Your Sort of League Table Question I I I You Know I Think I Mean I Er Respectfully Er” at the top of the speechifying league tables. The vaccine rollout continues. As does the whitewash rollout, all but unchallenged. Which will be the Brexit-Covid government’s greatest triumph?
A physical media 12”, and extra tracks d/l, of the January No 1 hit single Comin’ Over Here by Asian Dub Foundation (ft Stewart Lee) is now available from X-Ray Production. The acclaimed anti-rockumentary King Rocker (ft Stewart Lee) is streaming on Now TV and Sky Arts