The world is at war. So Emmanuel Macron tells France. Donald Trump warns Americans they are under attack from the “invisible enemy” of a murderous virus. And yesterday Boris Johnson declared himself head of a “wartime government”.
Even from politicians, such language this time bears no trace of hyperbole. If we are lucky, government scientists warn, tens of thousands of Britons could be killed in this pandemic. The NHS and other public services are just weeks from breaking point, while the economy teeters on the brink of severe recession. To illuminate the grim path ahead some economists hold aloft the examples of Lehman Brothers in 2008 or 9/11, yet the next few months stand to be more devastating. A contagion on hospital wards and high streets, rather than on bank balance sheets, it is devastating everywhere from Beijing to Belfast at almost the same time. Our economies are all sinking together – fast.
Which raises the question: why go into deadly conflict armed only with a peashooter? For all their martial language, that is what Johnson and chancellor Rishi Sunak are offering the British people. The economy-boosting package they have trumpeted this week is in reality too puny a tool, aimed at the wrong target. While other governments of every political hue attack their many-headed enemy with a range of formidable weapons, ours charges ahead with just one, merely promising that reinforcements will arrive at some unspecified date. Just as in dealing with the pandemic itself, we are lagging far behind our European neighbours.