A standard technique for torturers is to first show the victim the misery that is going to be inflicted upon them before actually doing it.
If the plan is to, say, sear straight through their flesh and bone with a 7,000 degree welding torch, it’s quite common to give a quick demonstration first on a sheet of solid steel, which will melt away to silvery water at the merest flash of contact with the white hot flame.
They know that the psychological trauma, the horror of expectation, is every bit as horrific as the physical ordeal, arguably worse.
And it is an especially vicious torturer that should have visited Covid-19 on the already suffering United Kingdom, in this year of all years.
We have, for the most part, got used to our state of suspended animation, our permanent life in limbo, waiting, waiting and waiting for the miseries of Brexit to appear and them never quite arriving. When was the last day that wasn’t the final, final opportunity for a “breakthrough” on a deal? How many last chances have there been? We have spent so long in the land of “wait and see”, it seems it can never possibly arrive. Except that it will – and very soon, too.
And what no one could have foreseen is the year of coronavirus taking the form of an almost Shakespearean play within a play, a tragedy within a tragedy. All of our main Brexit characters, by whose word we all are bound, have been given this extraordinary chance to prove their utter stupidity and towering wrongness on another subject altogether.
We still wait and see whether Boris Johnson, for example, is right that we will “prosper mightily”, whatever happens. But in the meantime we must watch him bragging about going into hospitals and shaking hands with coronavirus patients. (A brag that his spokesperson quickly had to make clear wasn’t true. “Don’t panic, it’s just the prime minister lying,” really does count as a defence these days.)
We are told that coronavirus will be “sent packing” in 12 weeks, that the test and trace system will be “world beating”, and all the while we just wait for the sunlit uplands of Brexit to arrive.
Four and a half years ago, those of us who lived with our noses pressed against the glass of the EU referendum had to listen to Daniel Hannan making demonstrably absurd claims, no better than facile sixth form debating points, about how the EU had the “slowest growth of any continent except Antarctica”, and that we would therefore be better off leaving it.
The fastest-growing economies in the world are currently South Sudan, Rwanda, Libya, Bangladesh, Tajikistan, Armenia and Nepal. On Hannan’s logic, it would be in the UK’s economic interest to be in a free trade bloc with these countries, instead of France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Ireland, the Netherlands and the rest. Complete garbage, obviously. Too late now.
But lo, the Covid torturer bestows fresh hell upon us. Now we must listen to Daniel Hannan making claims like, “The coronavirus isn’t going to kill you, it really isn’t.” He’s deleted that now, it was only a tweet, but it links to a column that breezily explains how coronavirus will be just another overblown fuss about almost nothing, as swine flu, Sars and bird flu were before.
After the referendum result, Hannan published a short book on how to get the best of Brexit, which concluded with quite possibly the most laughable four sentences ever committed to literary history, which we have no choice but to quote here in full: “A rectangle of light dazzles us and, as our eyes adjust, we see a summer meadow. Swallows swoop against the blue sky. We hear the gurgling of a little brook. Now to stride into the sunlight.”
The sunlight and the summer meadow are now just a matter weeks away. But in the meantime we are unfortunately treated to another insight into the interstellar idiocy of the man who told us all we had to do was stride out into it.
The list, naturally, is endless. Steve Baker writes lengthy threads on Twitter and makes breathless statements in the House of Commons about the terrible state of the public finances. None of them acknowledge all of the economic analysis, from the Bank of England, the Treasury, the Office for Budget Responsibility, and everyone else in between, that no deal Brexit will be worse for the public finances than Covid-19. Its hit will be more severe and more long term.
Mr Baker was among the first UK MPs to start pushing the “Great Barrington Declaration”, a document that advised governments around the world to shield the over 60s and let the under 60s go back to normal life. That document was described as having been signed by “thousands” of scientists and epidemiologists. Many of those scientists turned out to have signed it under the name “Mickey Mouse”, as it had been subjected to the treatment of online pranksters. This did not dampen Mr Baker’s enthusiasm for it.
We have had the thrill of enjoying hearing Jacob Rees-Mogg explain that MPs should be made to come into Westminster, because MPs must set an “example” to the rest of the public, even when the rest of the public are being told to only come in to work if they can’t work from home, which MPs have shown they can. A man, then, unable to tell the difference between a wrong example and a right one.
We would hear Mr Rees-Mogg explain, in late June, that “the weather” was probably responsible for the UK’s sky high preventable death toll, even though by then it was a known and certain fact the virus spreads indoors not outdoors, and this comment came at the end of the hottest, sunniest spring in the nation’s history.
A mere two years ago, Mr Rees-Mogg held a press conference in which he explained that no deal Brexit would be worth “£1.1trn” to the UK economy. He was laughed at then, it was so palpably absurd. But it’s too late now.
And still we must listen to truly the dimmest lights of all, from Allison Pearson in the Daily Telegraph, whose reaction to a terrorist attack in Brussels was that it was proof we were better off out of the EU, who now speaks of how pleased she is that her own son had contracted Covid-19.
And there’s Toby Young, naturally, whose modelling of the Covid-19 data came unstuck this week as he was unable to successfully multiply a number by 10. He loves Brexit, too, of course. Course he does.
Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, now has no choice but to lay out the terrifying economic emergencies ahead, but finds himself unable to say, out loud, a single benefit from Brexit that might ameliorate some of the misery, though naturally he voted for it.
A poll last week showed the public now thinks Brexit was a bad idea, by 51 per cent to 38, and this is before it has even happened in earnest. Polls are only polls, but that is a very large margin. Who knows what has prompted so many people to change their mind?
It’s too late, of course. You can’t really change your mind. Got to go through with it now. The welder’s torch is lit.
Still, it may well be that the psychological torture is worse than the physical. At some point, and fairly soon, the usual suspects will be made to look even more stupid than they already do.
Yes, that really is possible, and the trouble is, it’s not at all clear there’s going to be a vaccine for it.