CoronaDoodleDandy

A writer who tries to stay out of politics is a writer who avoids life. Every story is political. Life is political. Avoiding the obvious risks the question: why are you avoiding stating the obvious? In trying to have no agenda, the novice writer can appear to have a worse agenda: a hidden one. Such is the writer’s life.

No writer or, at least, no fiction writer should really be “of the left” or, less commonly considered, “of the right” because the writer of fiction or poetry should ideally be “of life” or “of humanity.”

In my world, I try to be a writer of the story because when I step back to analyse what I’m trying to do, it is to entertain. And yes, as Clive James taught us, nonfiction documentary writing should entertain too. If you’re on the telly in any format, you simply must entertain. If you are writing for print (or screen) then the obligation to entertain is reduced but the obligation to provoke is heightened.

It sounds easy. All I have to do is decide to either entertain or provoke you. But the funny part is, if you only do one or both of those things, you end up like a Daily Mail columnist. Everyone knows a Daily Mail column is pantomime, and the best of them, someone like Letts, totally gets it. Your job is either to nod with him or rip his face open with outrage and a sharp compass. He knows it too. You’re all playing a role. Only the most ignorant pig would think any of them really believe anything they say.

And that is the risk of the columnist. If you write like that, and only like that, you run the risk of either people worrying that you really do think those things or, far worse, it becomes easier for you to believe those things anyway because it makes your column faster to write.

All this by way of saying that our government seem to have hashed up the corona response like a tin of beef in a cowboy’s boot. But have they? Someone said today they played a bad hand badly, a metaphor from the world of gambling that endears itself to me by right.

The trouble is that the government, any government, is perpetually dealt bad hands. If every problem of national stature had an easy solution, there would be no need for government. An algorithm could do the job for one ten-billionth of the cost and effort. Government would become a software challenge.

And that is something a government of the people, by the people, can never become. You cannot defeat a pandemic with an app. Never in the history of human affairs has anyone, ever before, tried to eradicate a disease with a piece of computer software. You might already be aware of this, so why did it take Matt “Wancock” Hancocky so long to see it? Indeed, the indications are that he is simply proceeding with what is known in the business as v2 rather than ditching the embarrassment before Boris ditches him.

You see, dear reader, everything is political for a journalist. Everything is political for a novelist. The books which really sail home are the ones of their time which by definition means, of their political times. And that is all I have to say on the matter.

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