As business bigwigs fight to end lockdown, the hero fending them off is … Boris Johnson? | Joel Golby | Opinion

Week six and it’s fair to say we’re through all the stages of grief now and are stuck at boredom. We’ve had shock and denial (“What, in my house? Inside my house?”); we’ve had pain and guilt (“I’ll do two YouTube workouts a day and somehow also write a novel”); there was that fortnight of anger and bargaining (“Hands off my 36-pack of Andrex or I am calling the police”); then the depression, reflection and loneliness (this means “making sourdough”, by the way. Sourdough is a depressed person’s idea of bread); the upward turn (cracking open a can “to furlough!” every day at 4pm); reconstruction (building a new society where the only jailable offences are “being in a park while the park is busy” and “not clapping loud enough for the NHS”); and then through to acceptance and hope (I’ve started texting “see you in 2021!” unironically to friends and family). Every jigsaw has been done, every boxset has been binge-watched, every manuscript has been abandoned. Bored now. Done with this. Over it.

Boredom is not a threatening feeling on its own, but it is in quarantine. In the US, the last couple of weekends have been dominated by a semi-formless protest movement – nameless, mindless, shapeless, but bored – made up of a Tea Party-esque, libertarian-adjacent freedom-above-all faction who take masks and billboards and semi-automatic weapons and stand outside monuments, demanding the right to be allowed out to do the things they love: eat well-done steaks in restaurants, wear wraparound shades inside well-lit malls, run over wild animals with 4X4s. If you think this sort of thing will never make its way to the UK, can I remind you how many 5G towers have been torn down in the past month because people think they are beaming out coronavirus particles. If anything, it’s weird the protests haven’t made it here already.

Which brings us to Boris Johnson, who is alive. On Monday morning, Johnson took to a podium outside Downing Street to say that right, listen, no, lockdown restrictions won’t be lifted any time soon, and can everyone stop thinking the problem is solved just because they haven’t yet personally suffered at the hands of it. “I know it is tough,” he said, “and I want to get this economy moving as fast as I can, but I refuse to throw away all the effort and the sacrifice of the British people and to risk a second major outbreak and huge loss of life and the overwhelming of the NHS.” He might have spent the week hiding from public view so nobody said, “So, the Sunday Times…” at him, but it seems like roughly the right call.

The pressure to relieve lockdown isn’t just coming from a small revolutionary group of bored Britons, of course (and I do mean small: describing the lockdown as “unlawful imprisonment” on social media and “being so mad at the TV licence that you end up going to court about it” seem, to me, to share the same vibe) – it’s also coming from big business. This week’s Sunday Times bore the front-page headline “Tory grandees tell PM: it’s time to ease the lockdown”, where “Tory grandees” can be read as “business owners with long histories of donating to the Conservative party who would quite like their shop floors back, thanks”. Even Keir Starmer – who I will not trust until he drops the info on where he’s getting his hair cut right now – penned one of those entirely useless letters to the prime minister where he talked in vague terms about an “exit strategy”. The message is there, rumbling in the background, an ominous grey cloud on the horizon: capitalism wants its ball back, and Westminster wants to help lob it over the fence. And, weirdly, the voice of resistance here is … hold on, I can’t be reading this correctly. Boris Johnson?

One fact I always used to repeat a lot when I was boring people in the pub – a treasured memory from a life I had 100 years ago – was the Black Death inadvertently led to the creation of the middle class. Peasants were overwhelmingly affected by the spread of the disease, population numbers dwindled, a recovering economy of landowners v workers evened the odds for those who ploughed the land, and the savviest among the survivors negotiated pay rises and land of their own in exchange for their services. Long story short, we now have Waitrose, Heston Blumenthal and the Range Rover Evoque.

I can’t help but feel that history won’t quite repeat itself this time: if we “open up the economy” to help Tory grandees make money again, there won’t be much economy left once the second wave of infections has finally settled down, because all the Topshops will have to be razed to make space for graves. Essentially: what’s the point in being rich if there is no one left alive to lord it over? Put the guns away, get the jigsaws back out, feed that wet gross pot of yeast. We’ve got a while here yet.

Joel Golby is the author of Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant Brilliant Brilliant

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