Arthur was teasing me. ‘This is your time, old chap.’
As a serial procrastinator, I had to admit that my psychiatrist friend had me bang to rights. Anything called Delay Phase appeals far more than it ought.
Arthur’s serious point was that while he followed the arguments about ‘flattening the curve’, surely the strategy could have been different had the NHS not been treated with such disdain for the last 10 years.
‘I’m afraid,’ Arthur said, ‘that the policies initiated by Osborne and Cameron are about to kill people in a very visible way. I wonder, will the drum-beaters of austerity – the Daily Mail, Express, Telegraph and so forth – send white lilies to the funerals?’
Arthur reckons that in the coming weeks, someone famous will die of the virus, and, for many of the population, someone close to them. At that point, a good few people will ask whether the strategy of developing ‘herd immunity’ is not, in its conscription of sacrificial lambs, somewhat Vulcan.
Vulcan? I was surprised to hear a Star Trek allusion from Arthur. He explained. ‘I needed a picture of unfeelingness that was milder than a reference to, let's say, Josef Mengele. That might have been going too far.’
Who did Arthur think had prompted the narrow-eyed coldness of the government? Not Hancock, obviously, but Johnson? Surely not. I had never seen the PM show any disposition towards scientific reasoning.
Arthur agreed with me. ‘You’re right,’ he said. ‘For Johnson, “Following the science” is a cover for sloth. It allows him to duck out of thinking through a problem that is too complex for optimistic flannel or his habitual masturbation metaphors. Poor chap, he did not bargain that the job would be this hard, and his scribbling and bluster have ill prepared him for it.’
Arthur furrowed his aged brow. ‘I believe,’ he said, ‘that the technical term for the position Mr Johnson finds himself in is “out of his depth”. Yes?’
But if Johnson is not the boffin cackling over the test tubes, then, who?
‘Oh come along, dear boy. Only one person has both the sway and inclination to start a cull of the vulnerable that “herd immunity” entails. The PM’s Chief Adviser has been – rightly in other ways – puffing the merits of science and scientists. But when it comes to people and matters of life and death, perhaps he is too much an admirer of – let’s be kind – Mr Spock?’