Like the feature in Horrible Histories called ‘stupid deaths’, County Councillors –particularly once they get going with a smartphone– seem prone to stupid resignations. Usually this occurs after they give vent on Facebook to one seething bigotry or another, then mount a short-lived, mendacious defence along the lines that their phone was hacked.
This week, be thankful Caerphilly Labour Councillor Carl Cuss is not you. Covidiot Cuss was Corona-shamed out of his cabinet role as Member for Social Care and Wellbeing, after being caught out in alleged breaches of social distancing protocol. Cuss’ resigning offence was to have dinner sitting close to a friend in a Cardiff restaurant –which you’re allowed to do– and to sit on a boat in the Czech Republic close to some other friends, which you’re also allowed to do.
Unfortunately, it was Cuss’ cussed luck that he posted his sunny holiday snaps at a time when his party was busy plunging all Caerphilly into darkness, with the first of Wales’ local lockdowns. Cuss took the photos down, but too late! Plaid Cymru, who are Labour’s bitter rivals on the council, started a howl-round of confected outrage, of the kind Labour confected with Willy Wonkaish brilliance when Dom Cummings took his harmless trip to Barnard Castle.
Cuss plainly isn’t Cummings, but if the Labour Party are going to scream blue murder about people in authority undermining the enforcement of Covid-19 regulations, they put themselves in a precarious position. Plaid called for Cuss’ scalp and got it. Cuss –realising that the ‘hacked’ defence was unlikely to hold water– issued a grovelling apology and quit. Colin Mann, Plaid’s group leader on Caerphilly council, triumphantly smarmed that Cuss “has done the right and only thing he could do and resign [sic] from the cabinet.”
Meanwhile, from 6pm on Tuesday, Caerphilly’s borders were theoretically closed as the local lockdown came into effect. ‘Local’ is perhaps misleading: the County Borough is a big place, stretching from the M4 to above the heads of the valleys. How it is to be enforced is a mystery. The list of exemptions to lockdown is sufficiently extensive to provide an excuse for almost any occasion. Pubs and restaurants remain open. Gwent Police have ruled out setting up roadblocks, checkpoints and barricades to contain Caerphilly’s infected residents and exclude outsiders. Unless Mark Drakeford has placed an order for several dozen huge white wobbly balls of the sort that protected Portmeirion in The Prisoner, Caerphilly’s Corona-carriers will be able to come and go as they please.
Oddly, given Plaid’s general enthusiasm for the lockdown, and specific enthusiasm for roadblocks, checkpoints and barricades during its earlier stages, Colin Mann doesn’t seem to be demanding that his disease-ridden borough be subject to similar measures. Back in the spring, checkpoint enthusiasts claimed not to be motivated by anti-English racism, so we await a satisfactory explanation from Plaid as to why roadblocks to protect the Welsh population at large against infection were necessary then, if they aren’t now.
Colin –in other respects a classic Coronazi– tweeted on Tuesday “I do feel that the vast majority of people here have been put in this position by the small minority who feel that the virus has gone on holiday and have ignored the basic rules we are supposed to follow.”
He’s wrong. People’s patience with the lockdown was always going to be limited, and the only small minority who are at fault here are the small minority imposing these pointless, illiberal rules on everyone. A national strategy designed to ‘flatten the sombrero’ –originally problematic only for reasons of cultural appropriation– has morphed into a doomed attempt to eliminate the disease altogether.
The Welsh and UK Governments should get used to the idea that this isn’t going to happen. No vaccine is yet approved, let alone being manufactured in sufficient quantities to be ready for the winter. But while infections across the UK are increasing, the death rate remains stubbornly low; the Welsh, Scottish and UK Governments having already killed off most of the people who were going to die of Covid by the ingenious expedient of clearing out hospital wards and sending patients away to infect the care homes.
Yes, people will continue to die from Covid-19, but the background risk for most Britons of dying from it was this week estimated as being roughly the same as that associated with taking a bath. Very many people die every year from ’flu (and more Britons are currently dying from influenza than from Coronavirus) but we don’t shut the whole country down annually when that bug is about. There is a better understanding now amongst doctors of how novel Coronavirus operates, and how best to treat it. You are much more likely to die because the NHS persists in declining to treat any condition other than Covid-19.
There was no need to panic first time round and there is no need to panic now, in Caerphilly or elsewhere. Westminster and Cardiff Bay alike must stop scaring their electorates witless, and treating a disease that does most people little harm as if it were the Black Death. Carl Cuss’ trivial breaches of social distancing were no reason for resignation. It is the people imposing lockdowns on us who should resign.
This piece was originally published in The Pembrokeshire Herald.