By Robb Johnson
March 25th, 2020
Bodge: verb INFORMAL• BRITISH make or repair (something) badly or clumsily.
I have the misfortune to be enjoying lockdown under the Bodgerment figureheaded (“led” would be something of an exaggeration I think) by Bodger (No Relation) Johnson. It used to be the GetBrexitDunment, but events have of course now spiralled even further than usual beyond the comfort zone of Bodger’s skill set. Bodger, whose skill set is largely comprised of expertise in areas like Latin and media buffoonery, is an interesting curiosity; a relic from the gang of privileged Bully Boy toffs who connived their way to power ten years ago on the back of the collapse of New Labour, a global banking meltdown, and the pathetic willingness to jettison any affectations of principle for a sniff of power serving the custard creams and washing the tea cups in a coalition government, that so characterises the UK Liberal Party. But even his old chums from Eton, Oxford and the Bullingdon Club made sure that Bodger was kept away from as many sharp instruments as possible during most of the past decade that they were in power. He’s only in Number 10 now because everybody else has taken their payrises, pocketed their expenses and shaken the last thousands out of their golden handshakes and slunk off back to their frightfully nice country houses in one of the nation’s many Chipping Sodoffburies. Which is why we’re stuck with a Bodgerment that started off responding to the pandemic by telling us our loved ones would be dying before their time, and apparently endorsing a response to the Corona virus that was going for eventual “herd immunity”, effectively saving their economy rather than saving our lives. Since then, the Bodgerment has shuffled its feet, backtracked and changed its mind bit by tiny bit, with the consequence that the UK has been playing catch-up with other European responses, and Bodger’s daily 5 o’clock comedy shows have seen him posturing in front of a couple of union flags making unclear policy announcements without benefit of any forward planning whatsoever. Perhaps the penny finally dropped that a pandemic is no respecter of rank, and toffs can get the cough, however much they wash their hands of it, just as easily as the great unwashed.
The media of course keep on pretending that Bodger is wonderful and the “defeat” of the virus is only likely to be achieved thanks to his capacity for blustering. However, our experiences will surely teach us otherwise.
So – possibly – in the UK we might ironically be in a position to effect some significant changes once this lousy pandemic is over, to paraphrase the old World War One trench song. Whatever the Daily Mail says, sooner rather than the later that was likely to be the timescale if we’d had to leave it to the chaos of a Hard Brexit to start piling serious damage on top of the misery 10 years of Austerity has inflicted on civil society, more and more people will be in no doubt whatsoever how disastrous it is letting posh donkeys like Bodger and his chums run anything other than a Summer Fete cake stall (and then only under close supervision from matron).
We need to think strategically about how a progressive politics might inform what happens after the pandemic. This means we need to be able to identify and establish as part of the social discourse about the pandemic what we have learned from our experience of the pandemic. Probably the instinctive response will be to head out for a night-out of righteous knees-up, but after that, we need to consider how we are going to proceed. Maybe one of the consequences of lockdown will be people being a bit more reflective, not to say creative, with spare time. Maybe we could start to develop alternative possibilities for futures that weren’t dominated by an endless Spectacular of binge consumption. We – not just our children – might start to take Climate crisis a bit more seriously. We might start to reflect on what failed us, and what sustained us through the pandemic, and what we can learn from these reflections. The most obvious fact we ought to learn as societies from the pandemic is that we haven’t got enough health care. Here in the UK, we sort of knew this already, but rather than voting accordingly in the 2019 election, Bodger played the Brexit Joker, so enough people decided that unwell children sleeping on plastic chairs and floors waiting for ages to be treated in hospitals wasn’t as much of a problem as GettingBrexitDun. Now – it’s glaringly obvious there aren’t enough hospitals and nurses and doctors, and there is a fair chance you or your loved ones might be looking at spending time on those plastic chairs and floors. For decades we have had a military tooled up with tip-top million-pound-a-pop missiles. Tip-top million-pound-a-pop missiles have been no use whatsoever in helping Bodger defeat the pandemic. They have also been pretty counter-productive over the last 20 years in the War On Terror, as has the ridiculously expensive Trident nuclear weapons programme (again, no help at all in treating you if you get the flu, let alone the Corona virus).
We need to remember too every time something like the British Medical Association criticises the Bodgerment for not providing the NHS with enough appropriate resources, whether it’s ventilators, protection or indeed hospitals. We need to see through the jolly Dads Army style volunteering, to recognise the underfunded and under-resourced reality of social care, the deliberate year on year funding cuts made by central government to local authorities and local services, that the use of volunteers will be attempting to compensate for.
While we’re at it, let’s not forget those living embodiments of the values of neo-liberal capitalism whose essential greed and heartlessness have been spotlighted by the pandemic. Let’s not forget that beacon of free enterprise Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson recently successfully sued the NHS over lost contracts, and then asked staff to take 8 weeks unpaid leave during the pandemic. And then there’s the modern equivalent of The Man Who Waters the Worker’s Beer, Timothy Martin, owner of the Wetherspoons chain of pubs and purveyor of bargain basement oblivion. These barns are where austerity warehouses drinkers who can’t afford or prefer not to look a gift horse in the mouth; they offer cheap booze, Sky TV, cheap food and pretend to favour Real Ale by having lots of pumps selling lots of frankly average bitters that taste suspiciously like Timmy got them at a knock down price just before they hit their sell-by dates. Timmy is also vehemently pro Brexit, apparently more than happy to let far Right demonstrators foregather and meet on his licensed premises, and although he makes upwards of fifty million quid a year in profits, pays his hardworking workers peanuts. When Bodger eventually announced pubs really, clearly had to close, Timmy initially insisted he was not going to comply. When he did shut his 850 cavernous boozers, he refused to pay his 43,000 staff and suggested they try their luck at getting new jobs at Tescos supermarkets. Interestingly, this was widely condemned as an unacceptable act of megalomania, and so – thanks also to the Bodgerment belatedly offering bosses like Timmy loans (interest free for 12 months) to cover 80% of staff wages where workplaces close down – Wetherspoons will carry on paying its staff peanuts. Or rather we will, because that’s where the Bodgerment gets its money from in the first place, of course.
Who knows… maybe when the pubs open again on VP Day (“Victory in Pandemic Day”), punters might decide to favour quality – properly kept beer in pubs staffed by properly paid workers – over the industrial quantity and fake fifties nostalgia of Timmy’s Walmarts of beer. I see local facebook pages starting up that note the profiteering antics of their unfriendly neighbourhood Timothy Martins and Richard Bransons. Globally I note that currently the death rate in Germany is nowhere near as high as it is in the UK; let’s make sure people remember the Bodgerment tumbled into lockdown a good week after Germany. Maybe several weeks of this belated lockdown might after all serve to encourage people to refuse to accept a future where most of us are herded about like cattle for no good reason other than the profit of others.
Robb Johnson has worked as a classroom teacher by day and a songwriter by night since 1980. As a songwriter, he has received widespread critical acclaim: “one of this country’s most important songwriters (no argument!)” (fROOTS), “An English original”(the Guardian), “one of our best singer-songwriters ever” (Mike Harding), and his songs are covered by many singers. “Gentle Men”, Robb’s family history of World War One is a particular career highlight. In 2016, PM Press in the US released “A Reasonable History of Impossible Demands”, a 5 CD career-retrospective. In 2018 Robb released “Ordinary Giants”, a 3 CD song suite based on his father’s life and times – the 1930s, the fight against fascism, the creation of the post-war Welfare State and the reaction of Neo-liberalism.
Check out Robb’s music below: