Remember those terrible old hospital jokes which began: Do you want the good news or the bad news?
‘Give me the bad news first, doctor.’
‘You’ve got Aids.’
‘What’s the good news?’
‘You’ve got Alzheimer’s, too.’
‘Thanks heavens. I thought you were going to tell me I’d got Aids.’
Someone at the Bank of England obviously does, judging by its latest economic predictions.
The bad news is that GDP is going to shrink 9.5 per cent because of Covid, the sharpest contraction in 100 years.
And the good news?
The Bank originally thought it would fall by 14 per cent, sparking the worst recession for 300 years. So we’re already 200 years ahead of the game.
If we’re lucky we may get away with as few as four million unemployed, which is lower than earlier estimates.
Trebles all round!
By any measure, the outlook for the economy is pretty gruesome. Yet ministers are seizing on the figures as grounds for optimism.
The bad news is that 15 per cent of those people currently furloughed will lose their jobs when the scheme runs out. But the good news is that 85 per cent won’t.
It’s a sign of the fog of unreality enveloping this Government that they can manage to put a positive spin on predictions of only four million being out of work by next year.
I’m old enough to remember when two million unemployed, rising to more than three million in 1984, was the end of the world as we know it.
The forecast jobless total for 2021 would be the highest since modern records began.
OK, so things won’t be quite as bad as the economic crisis caused by the bursting of the South Sea Bubble in 1720.
But the coming corona-inspired recession will be every bit as catastrophic as the fall-out from the Spanish Flu at the end of World War I.
Brexit was supposed to free us from the shackles of the sclerotic EU and usher in a new era of swashbuckling, fast-moving freedom to take bold, independent measures in the national interest.
Instead, the Government’s reluctance to lock down early, refusal to close the borders and subsequent schizophrenic response to corona has left us trailing behind much of Europe and the U.S.
Britain’s economy is predicted to fall by 21 per cent in the second half of this year, compared to the EU average of 12.1 per cent and America at just 9.5 per cent.
That’s hardly surprising when you consider the Government’s abject failure to get Britain back in business.
This week’s figures show only 34 per cent returning to their place of work here, against 83 per cent in France and 76 per cent in Italy.
Nor is there the remotest possibility of the vast majority of those ‘working from home’ or having the lion’s share of their wages paid by the Government for doing nothing returning to their desks any time soon.
Even though the number of new infections is negligible, few people are showing any inclination towards getting back to normal.
Bone idle civil servants are refusing point-blank to go back to their desks. Teachers are already threatening to stay away from the classrooms when schools are scheduled to reopen in four weeks’ time. Having enjoyed months of enforced idleness, half the country now think they’re entitled to a summer holiday.
Try booking a rural cottage or seaside hotel this month.
Look at the crowds sunbathing in the parks, or spilling out of pubs and cafes in the middle of the week. A colleague of mine driving to work over Barnes Common, in South-West London, recently noticed a game of cricket in full swing.
That’s nice, he thought. Cricket’s back. Then he realised it was a Tuesday morning. Why the hell weren’t they at work?
They’re all going to get a rude awakening when furlough ends and they discover they haven’t got a job to go back to.
For now, though, millions are filling their faces with half-price hamburgers, courtesy of Dishi Rishi’s Eat Out To Help Out scheme.
Money for nothing and your chips for free.
No wonder we’re in dire straits.
That’ll prove to be a five-minute wonder, a fleeting panacea.
Despite the Treasury subsidising meals to the tune of a tenner a pop, to help the hospitality industry, Pizza Express showed its gratitude by announcing on Day One the closure of 67 restaurants.
Rishi’s scattergun largesse has merely postponed the inevitable, as the tsunami of mounting job losses catalogued in the Mail this week illustrates only too starkly.
Instead of wasting money on gimmicks such as taxpayer-funded chicken and chips, he’d have been better off — as the Labour MP John Spellar has suggested —encouraging public bodies like the emergency services to bring forward orders for new vehicles, such as patrol cars and ambulances, to give our automotive industry a life-saving shot in the arm.
As I’ve been telling you since May, most people have no conception of the carnage coming down the pipe. Unless Britain is shaken out of this self-indulgent Summer of Stupidity sharpish, there is much worse in store.
So tell me: Do you want the bad news, or the really bad news?
A woman has been fined £120 for ‘littering’ in Manchester’s Piccadilly Gardens.
Her crime was to throw a few crumbs from her Gregg’s sausage roll to the pigeons.
Kerris Fenn, who was visiting from Cardiff, was collared by private security guards from the firm 3GS.
By the time they gave her a penalty notice, which would rise to £150 if not paid within ten days, the birds had gobbled up all the crumbs.
When she appealed to the council, her plea fell on tone deaf ears. Councillor Rabnawaz Akbar, who describes himself as Executive Member For Neighbourhoods, said: ‘While we take no pleasure in handing out Fixed Penalty Notices [pull the other one], feeding the pigeons is littering, pure and simple.’
There speaks the authentic voice of your typical jumped-up local government jobsworth. Warden Hodges is alive and well and living in Manchester.
How many more times? When you give someone a modicum of power, they will always, always, always abuse it.
Here’s another one of those stories I don’t know whether to file under Mind How You Go or You Couldn’t Make It Up.
Two coppers in South Wales have been charged with serious misconduct, accused of having a ten-month fling while on duty.
PC Jemma Dicks, 28, is accused of performing sex acts on Sergeant Adam Reed, 40, who is also described as a foot fetishist.
He has been charged with using his mobile phone to take sneak photographs of another female officer’s feet while she was taking a statement from PC Dicks.
So infatuated was Sgt Reed that during the rumoured affair he shed a lot of timber and grew a beard — which made him the dead spit of Matt Lucas’s rubbish hypnotist Kenny Craig, from Little Britain.
Look into my eyes . . .
Radio 2’s Ken Bruce isn’t the only mid-morning radio host piling on the audience figures.
Since the Covid crisis began in March, more people are tuning in later to their favourite stations.
The shift means that while breakfast shows have traditionally been the most listened-to programmes, mid-morning is the new prime time.
This is because millions of people have been having a lie-in during lockdown — or, as it’s known officially, ‘working from home’.
Hundreds of migrants continue to ship up on the South Coast of England, given an escort into British territorial waters by the French coastguard.
Talk about double-standards. How come the French think they’re perfectly entitled to all the fish in the Channel, but the migrants belong to us?