When the Conservatives won the 2019 General Election by a landslide, no-one could anticipate the year ahead.
2020 was supposed to be a year of prosperity and growth. Boris Johnson securing his majority in Parliament. The UK finally leaving the EU. Johnson was more optimistic than anyone, but the Prime Minister’s now infamous tweet came back to bite us all.
Rewind to 31st January 2020: what feels like an eternity ago.
Coronavirus posed a “low” risk, the first case was recorded and the UK had left the EU. Life was normal.
As COVID-19 began to spread around the globe, it became evident that Britain would have to combat it sooner or later. The Cabinet Office Briefing Rooms – known as Cobra – held five meetings between January and February on how to tackle the virus. Johnson did not attend a single one.
There was no doubt that a national lockdown was right around the corner, with calls for a country-wide shutdown starting in early March. Had the government introduced the lockdown just one week earlier, it would have cut the final death toll by half.
“From this evening I must give the British people a very simple instruction – you must stay at home.”Boris Johnson
When Johnson announced lockdown on 23rd March, 939 people had died of coronavirus. One month later, that figure was 25 times greater. A lockdown was essential, but it proved too little, too late in the country’s long-term fight against the disease. Protecting the NHS was the priority, yet they were left hanging by the skin of their teeth.
The government’s message was simple: stay at home. Yet it was an instruction not even they could abide to.
Dominic Cummings broke lockdown rules not once, but twice. The embarrassing farce was made worse by Johnson defending him tooth and nail, refusing to fire his chief adviser. Cummings’ hour-long press conference of defence was shambolic, digging himself deeper and deeper with every word he uttered.
That seemed to be the peak of the government’s errors, defying their own rules and standing stubbornly by Cummings. It took six months for his eventual departure, only after his Durham fiasco had fizzled away into the shadows of 2020. A mark of hypocrisy, lies and elitism: one rule for us, another rule for the rest.
The pandemic was seemingly under control- but the fight was far from over.
An easing of restrictions was a bold move by Johnson, while Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme caused controversy in the summer. Introduced to salvage the economy, which was deep into a devastating recession, it triggered a rise in cases and provided a needless prefix to the UK’s second wave.
The second wave should never have happened. The UK had already seen the second-highest death toll in the world and the highest in Europe, so September’s surge was devastating. An avoidable second wave led to an avoidable second lockdown, which itself was shamelessly and unprofessionally leaked to the media on a Friday night.
Britain could have stayed true to its initial lockdown, but complacency and greediness triggered Lockdown 2.
The dreaded tier system was introduced around the same time, categorising different regions through different restrictions. But in the months since they were implemented, they have not been effective nor fair enough.
For one, the North of England was always disproportionately affected, a telling sign of Conservative classism.
London and the South East were always let off the hook, even when seeing the highest rate of infections. In fact, within two-and-a-half weeks, the capital went from tier two to tier three to tier four- a completely new tier hastily invented in short notice.
Tiers were altered, U-turns were made and Christmas gatherings were cancelled across the country. Cases continued to rise, the NHS continued to suffer and the new variant further dragged Britain down into the depths of the virus. A final act worthy of this most unprecedented of years.
31st December 2020.
The end of a horrific year driven by catastrophic government management. 72,000 people and counting have died; imagine Old Trafford at full capacity. We find ourselves even deeper in the pandemic, wading our way through high waters while shooting ourselves in the foot at every possible opportunity.
Nevertheless, there is cause for optimism.
The end of the tunnel is in sight, with vaccines ready and already being rolled out across the nation. The government has the capacity to vaccinate the entire population, with Johnson stating that this could be done by March 2021. Credit where credit is due, the speed of the vaccine has been remarkable.
The fight against the virus is not over, but when all is said and done, will we remember the actions of this government? When Britons go to the polls in 2024, will they remember the atrocities and mishaps of Johnson? Their mismanagement will surely hinder their chances at the next General Election, but a lot can happen in three years.
2020 will always be remembered as the year COVID-19 shook the world. The UK suffered not only at the hands of the virus, but at the merciless palms of the very government they elected 12 months ago.
Shambolic leadership, catastrophic decisions and hypocritical actions were the story of the government’s year in review- one which they will hope to quickly forget.
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