WERE you out clapping last night then? Banging pots and pans together. Making a noise for the NHS?

As a gesture of support for our frontline workers, it’s rather lovely. “A very special moment in the week,” as Nicola Sturgeon noted at her daily briefing yesterday

Maybe not as useful as PPE, right enough.

Or maybe you watched the RAF flypast yesterday. The one that took place over the home of Captain (now Colonel) Tom Morgan to mark his 100th birthday in the wake of his huge efforts to raise money for the health service. Again, a fine gesture. Let’s just put the fact that funding the NHS should be the government’s job to the side for the moment.

We are rather good at clapping and flypasts, aren’t we? We are rather good at the grand gesture. Sometimes, it feels as if that’s what we are best at.

And at times it manifests itself in the strangest ways. How else to explain the bizarre call – from Lord Sugar among others - for journalists to get behind the British government this week? A desire for journalism to be reduced to a form of boosterism (there are corners of the media where that is already happening of course).

The danger in all this is we focus on the gesture and ignore the politics. Isn’t that what is happening at the daily Westminster briefing? It has become something of a ritual. The minister of the day (yesterday it was the Prime Minister himself) will step up to the podium, tell us how the government is ramping up testing/PPE/lockdown easing plans (depending on what the topic of the day is), while avoiding the hard questions about the failings in testing/PPE/coronavirus business support (depending … etc. etc). Again, and again, grand announcement is never quite matched by the subsequent delivery.

Yes, we are in the middle of a pandemic. Yes, at every governmental level, our politicians are having to contend with difficult issues and make difficult decisions. These are, as everyone keeps reminding us, “unprecedented times.”

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t question those decisions. The fact is, we have not been dealing with this well in the UK. The rising death totals suggest as much. We didn’t act early enough or decisively enough. Our testing has been slow in terms of numbers and fuzzy in terms of purpose.

We appear to be on course to register the worst coronavirus death rate in Europe. Already, too many of our health and care workers have died because of this hideous disease. And still, care workers are telling us they don’t have the protective equipment.

Not even the loudest clapping can make up for that.

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