Lockdown – Reflections at the end of week 33

In contrast to the events of the week, the early morning today was tranquil, with not a breath of wind, a clear sky giving a crimson and orange sunrise with a nip of frost in the air laced with the smell of Autumn bonfires. Unless you have a dislike of the cooler months which our climate has to offer, it was familiar and reassuring, and something to be enjoyed as a brief haven from other things which have also been familiar but less welcome this week.

The major event in England has been the commencement of lockdown. It’s a routine that we know and are familiar with, and some aspects of it will be less problematic than the lockdown which began in March. For those of us who are able to work from home, we’re familiar with the routine. Panic buying has been less evident, probably because the major supermarkets have reinforced their online ordering offerings through the course of lockdown. Whilst there are still legitimate concerns about social isolation, the rules in play now do allow some social contact, albeit that it is very limited in nature. Businesses that don’t need a physical presence to trade have already adapted to working remotely with both colleagues and customers. Systems of Covid-safe access to offices and shops which can remain open and delivery of goods have been established.

On the other hand, the lockdown will, for many, add to the problems which they have already experienced this year. The shutdown of retail businesses without an online offering and of the hospitality and leisure sectors in the run up to Christmas will bring business failure, since government aid will only help to cover costs but will not compensate for loss of sales during the peak trading period of the year. It will not be good for those who have lost their jobs already or for those, for example at Argos and John Lewis, who have been put at risk of redundancy. It won’t be good for those who manage our town and city centres as more shops pull out. The Argos redundancy exercise comes in the wake of its decision to close over 400 shops as it moves into the next stage of being an online business. And it won’t be good for those whose mental health is suffering already from the pressures brought about by how day to day living has been since March.

On the other hand, Captain Sir Tom digging out his trainers again has not been the only relieving factor this week. The reinstatement of the furlough scheme and its extension until March will help to ease a lot of pain and worry, although it does raise the question as to why it wasn’t offered in this form to businesses which were adversely impacted by tier 3 restrictions, so avoiding the battle of Manchester of a few weeks ago. Further support is to be made available to self-employed people, and the Bank of England has announced that it will pump a further £150bn into the economy. There is also the dignity with which our parliamentarians conducted the debate about lockdown to be grateful for. Forceful arguments were put, Sir Keir Starmer made the criticism of lockdown not happening earlier which was inevitable given the adoption of a policy of lockdown adopted by the opposition a few weeks ago, but answers were given, the debate was temperate and shows of non-verbal dissent limited to eye-rolling.

And so to the other events which have dominated our news coverage this week. During previous US presidential elections, I have often been dismayed at the extent to which our news providers have made us into some form of annexe to the United States. Not so this time. Against all previous behaviour patterns for me on these occasions, I even sat in front of my television last night at nearly midnight to watch Donald Trump’s press statement. What we saw was more redolent of a leader of an obscure ex-colony or former Soviet bloc state than the leader of a global superpower as he, without citing any evidence or, it seems, without any grounds, reaffirmed earlier declarations of electoral fraud. It also contained distinct elements of a set-up, where pre-election criticism of postal votes and urging of his supporters not to use postal votes has created the opportunity for him to express disbelief that postal votes are largely coming in in support of Joe Biden and, because in most states they are counted after votes cast in person, are narrowing or eliminating leads which Mr Trump had in several states following the counting of personally cast votes. It is extraordinary and concerning that a president who has caused such division in American society is prepared to risk subverting the whole of its democratic system to try to cling on to power - all the more striking as it comes against a deficit in the popular vote of nearly 4 million votes thus far.

It comes as a strong reminder that politicians in democracies have a responsibility to the electorate to uphold the values and principles of the democracy itself or risk descending into the populist jungle. It was not a great comfort this week to see Nigel Farage, having done his work with the Trump campaign, attempting to move in on the lockdown debate. Not all things that we have imported from the United States are good-grey squirrels and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles spring immediately to mind, but there are many other examples.  It is to be hoped that our politicians continue in their current fashion and don’t succumb to the temptation to import the mayhem which the current President seems to regard as creative tension.

Have a good weekend.

Ian Waine
Senior Partner