Boris Johnson is standing by as COVID exploits the cracks in the increasingly Disunited Kingdom.


COVID exaggerates and exacerbates pre-existing conditions. The angry white males are angrier, and the cautious more hesitant. There is an inevitable bullying effect to all this. As noted on a deleted Facebook thread earlier this week, the sentence “capitalism is narcissistic” is an example of unnecessary redundancy.

Conservatism? Yeah, that too.

Boris Johnson looks increasingly like the prime minister of England alone, by Martin Kettle (The Guardian)

There have been cracks in the United Kingdom for many years. Coronavirus has prised them wide open

As Boris Johnson finished his televised address on Sunday evening, many viewers were confused by what he had just said. One thing about his message, though, had been strikingly clear. To the surprise of many of those watching, and perhaps even to Johnson himself, it turned out that the coronavirus outbreak has changed the prime minister of the United Kingdom into the prime minister of England.

Over the past two months we have all become familiar with the fact that Covid-19 wreaks its most powerful effects on those individuals who are said to suffer from “serious underlying conditions”. What is only just becoming clear is that the virus can have a similarly destructive effect on nation states and societies which suffer from their own serious underlying conditions too.


When health policy was devolved in 1999, few anticipated an effect like the one that became clear this week, as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all decided to maintain the lockdown strategy that Johnson started to loosen in England. As long as differences in health policy were confined – as they have been for the past 20 or so years – to approaches to issues such as spending, prescription charges and social care, the differences between the nations, although significant, remained politically manageable at the UK level.

But when, as this week, it became effectively illegal for English people to cross the Scottish or Welsh borders to do what they are now permitted – wrongly, in my view – to do in England a significant political line has been crossed. It would be interesting to see if historians can identify the last time that English people were barred from Scotland or Wales. But we must be talking centuries. In such circumstances, it is harder than ever to know what “one nation” Conservatism now means. Which nation? And what United Kingdom?


As the lifting of the lockdown loomed, the pandemic’s effect has become increasingly centrifugal. Johnson’s wish, partly under pressure from the Tory party’s right wing, to encourage renewed economic activity in spite of the continuing pandemic, has encouraged the devolved nations to move more cautiously and to differentiate themselves more sharply from Johnson and from England. But it is not all Johnson’s fault …