So there I was – broadcasting from home on Monday. It was about 8.10pm, and I had just finished interviewing the new Shadow Home Secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds.
I switched from my email to the Google document on which my producer writes instructions. There it was in black and white: “Just announced – PM taken into intensive care.” While I am used to handling big breaking news stories, this seemed different. From the off, it was clear that we’d need to clear what we had planned, and roll on it.
As soon as I announced the news, my other laptop screen was filled with texts and tweets from listeners expressing their concern for Boris Johnson. Text after text came in from diehard Labour supporters wishing him well. In the following one hour 50 minutes, I didn’t see a single text or tweet which did anything but express an outpouring of love, support and prayers.
Several callers into the show got quite emotional, and at one point, I’ll admit, I nearly lost it too, but thankfully held it together. It was as if the whole country was standing in intensive care by the Prime Minister’s bed, holding his hand and willing him to recover. It was really touching, in a way which I’ll admit I was surprised by. It showed the best of our country.
The next day I texted him. I’ve no idea when or if he’ll even see the text, but I told him what our listeners were saying and how much support and love for him there was across the airwaves.
Given Boris's temporary incapacity - and it's great to see that he's out of hospital at Chequers - we’ve reached Defcon Raab. Dominic Raab may not have the Prime Minister’s flamboyance, but he’s got many of the qualities needed in a reliable deputy. He’s calm, unflappable, organised and unlikely to concentrate on his own ambition.
It’s been a mystery as to why most of the media seemed to think there was a power vacuum, and no one knew who was in charge. This was as idiotic as it was preposterous.
Having been named as First Secretary of State, it was always clear that Raab would take over in the event that the Prime Minister couldn’t continue. We don’t need a written constitution to tell us that.
Although the PM is now recuperating at Chequers, and will no doubt play some part in the big decisions that lie ahead over the next few weeks, it's important he resists the temptation to take over the reins of government fully. He shouldn't do that until he's good and ready, and that may well not be for another three weeks.
The coverage of the so-called 'power vacuum' is yet another example of how the political lobby has let itself down in this crisis. Some political journalists seem intent on making a drama out of a crisis without a second thought for the national interest. The asenine questions that emerge from too many of their mouths during the government briefings are not designed to scrutinise – they are designed to create a ‘gotcha’ moment. On Saturday someone from Channel 4 News thought he'd try to 'gotcha' Priti Patel and demand an apology from her over the lack of PPE. He gratuitously tried it three times, knowing full well that all he was doing was trying to embarrass her. And that counts as journalism nowadays.
They don’t seek to extract new information or to get the Government minister concerned to explain a bit more. They are just after headlines.
And regardless of whether someone else has asked a better question, which gets a newsworthy answer, their own broadcast organisation will only ever feature the answer to the question their own journalist asked. It’s all about them, not the issue or the country. That’s not the fault of the journalist, it’s the fault of their editors.
Is it any wonder that while radio listening is very much on the increase, newspapers have lost at least a fifth of their circulation over the last six week. I imagine terrestrial TV channels might be suffering too, as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney make hay while the sun shines. Thinking about it, apart from watching the BBC Ten O'Clock News each day, and Newsnight most nights, I haven't watched a single minute of any of the main four channels all week.
It's being reported this morning that Britain could have the highest number of deaths in Europe when all this is over. Given that we are the second or third most populous country (France has an almost identical population count), I'm not sure this is a major revelation, although I would question the assumption. I did some calculations over the weekend based on the number of deaths being reported on the Covid-19 Youtube channel across the world that day.
I am no mathematician or statistician, but surely the way to make internation comparisons is not to just take the raw death total figure. It is to relate it to the total population count. If you do that, you get a very different league table, and it is one that provokes one main conclusion - that China has lied, lied and lied again about their total number of deaths. If you really believe that only 3,336 people died in China due to Coronavirus you're probably an adherant of the Little Red Book.
So here are the figures of deaths related to the population of each country or city region as of Friday... For example New York State has one death per 1839 people...
- New York State 1/1839
- Spain 1/2910
- Italy 1/3202
- Belgium 1/3795
- France 1/5076
- Netherlands 1/6881
- UK 1/7440
- Switzerland 1/8552
- Sweden 1/11758
- Ireland 1/17087
- USA 1/17516
- Iran 1/19592
- Denmark 1/23449
- Portugal 1/23662
- Germany 1/29674
- China 1/42979
- Canada 1/66063
- Turkey 1/81510
One thing I do not understand is why the UK media has only focused on Spain and Italy and totally ignored France, which has a far higher total number of deaths and a higher rate than the UK. Given its population is the same as the UK's surely it is a better international comparator? I say this not to pretend that our death rate is anything to be proud of, but shouldn't we be trying to compare apples with apples?
UPDATE: Ed Rennie has sent me this graph, which confirms my point above...
UPDATE: THIS article in the Telegraph is worth a read too, and explains how population density is an important factor too.
I've now been isolating at home for 26 days. Astonishingly I haven't had a moment of boredom. In fact, there still never seem to be enough hours in the day to do all I want to do. I have been out of the house three times, each time to go to the corner shop, which is a quarter of a mile away. And I don't see any of that changing in the foreseeable future.
I know I'm really lucky in that I have John and the dogs at home with me. I'm not sure I'd be enjoying it if I was on my own in a one bedroom flat with four walls to look at all day.