Remember levelling up, whereby low-income areas in the Midlands and North would enjoy a greater share of the nation’s wealth? It is pretty hard to square with the government’s policy on releasing the country from lockdown. Rather, policy seems to be construed so as to make sure that the economies of the Midlands and North suffer most.
When Covid-19 was raging in London in the spring, the whole country was forced into lockdown together. People in, say, Wigan were ordered to stay at home, even though there was less circulation of the virus there than in Westminster. But now the virus is a little more active in parts of the Midlands and North than it is in the South, what happens? We have local and regional lockdowns which affect only the former.
Wigan is one of those areas which learned late last night that family gatherings in houses and gardens were to be banned from Midnight. Yet with eight new cases per 100,000 residents in the past seven days it has a recorded infection rate that is actually lower than some places in the south, such as Hackney and City of London (18 per 100,000), Hammersmith and Fulham (9) and Kent (9). So why is Wigan being sent back into partial lockdown while restrictions are eased elsewhere? Stockport (17 cases per 100,000), Tameside (16), and Bury (15) also have lower rates of infection over the past seven days than some places in the south, but all have been included in blanket restrictions which cover the whole of Greater Manchester. If these places, why not Swindon (22), Luton (19) or Bedford (16)? Maybe it is politically just a little easier to tell northerners they can’t do things. Where it fits with the Tories’ aspirations to cling onto those former Red Wall seats they won from Labour last December I’m not sure.
Hancock’s off-the-cuff announcement hasn’t just discriminated against northerners; Muslims who were planning to visit Eid in small family gatherings tomorrow night have every reason to fell aggrieved. They have every right to ask: how come it is okay for people to meet at a Greater Manchester pub but not have a small family gathering at home? It is astonishing that no one in government seems to have worked out this inconsistency before the announcement was made.
But then policy on Covid 19 seems to be becoming more uncoordinated by the day. This morning, in yet another last minute U-turn, theatres were told that they won’t be able to open tomorrow for live performances after all – they will have to wait at least two weeks. Too bad if they had spent time and money rehearsing a cast, publicising performances and making physical changes to their premises. How can any business function in this environment? As if lockdown didn’t do enough harm to the economy, this constant chopping and changing is threatening to finish it off once and for all.