Coronavirus and its impact on geopolitics: Boris Johnson’s dilemma

As it was said, the coronavirus renewed with new vigor this fall.

In different countries and on different continents in different ways, but still quite noticeable. Also in the sense that COVID-19, according to some British observers, has become an independent geopolitical player capable of radically changing the current alignment of global centers of power. In particular – to bring the West to final decline and bring Asia to the position of global dominance.

It was this warning that Allister Heath, editor-in-chief of the Sunday edition of The Telegraph newspaper, made this morning. The main point and main concern of the British journalist is expressed in the heading of his column: “A vicious circle of lockdowns will condemn Britain to final decline”. And the subtitle is even more alarmist: “COVID will accelerate the fall of the West if we don’t get rid of our irrational approach to the virus”.

Heaht’s column is an almost open letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, urging him not to follow the recommendations of the SAGE scientists and the provocations of Labor Party members (party leader Cyrus Starmer and London Mayor Sadiq Khan) – and not to introduce a regime called “circuit -breaker”. This, according to the rules of Orwell’s doublespeak, should be read as the same lockdown, that is, almost complete closure of the country for the next quarantine.

“Please, please” – with these words begins the message of not the last person in the world of British media and in general in its establishment. It is clear that this is just an efficient means of an experienced media worker and, as they put it in Soviet times, “shark of a feather”. But this does not diminish the feeling of serious alarm and the premonition of a national catastrophe. Alistair Heath quite seriously warns Boris Johnson that the fate of Britain and the West in general depends on his decision. His advice is to resist the irrational fear of the coronavirus and to rationally calculate the cost-benefit ratio.

And if this does not happen, if Johnson nevertheless agrees to another lockdown, then something irreparable will happen:

“We will no longer be a free society tolerant to an exclusively temporary quarantine in order to allow our scandalously unprepared establishment to learn to cope with a monstrous situation… Instead, we will move into a world of permanent emergency, a wartime society in which individual rights and lives are constantly suppressed in the name of an undefined, ever-changing “national interest”.

Heath warns that following the path of complete closure of the country, Johnson will be forced to continue to follow this principle, responding to the next increase in the incidence of coronavirus or even severe influenza III, IV, etc. lockdown. Meanwhile, rational calculation suggests that such lockdowns cost the country more than the consequences of less stringent measures to combat the pandemic. Yes, Heath admits, the proliferation of intensive care units could help our hopelessly ineffective national health care system save lives. A system of multiple lockdowns could save about 20,000 more lives – if only miraculously, an antiviral vaccine appears by April.

But what’s on the other side of the scale? Here you go: “But in reality, most deaths cannot be avoided, they will simply be delayed, and there will be many fatal situations caused by the lockdown itself – including from despair – and this must be taken into account. Unemployment will jump, tens of thousands of businesses will go bankrupt, the lives of families and neighborhood communities will freeze, and there will be massive poverty. What kind of society is it that is ready to destroy so much for the salvation of so little?”

In this “weighing” and rational calculation of “costs and benefits” in the question of human lives, pragmatism is undoubtedly visible, imperceptibly turning into frank cynicism. But, choosing between the humanistic position of a scientist/doctor and the state position of a politician, Johnson, according to the editor-in-chief of The Sunday Telegraph, must remain a politician.

“And if he gives in to every demand of lockdown fanatics, then his legacy will turn out to be more abrupt than Eurocracy and even “the law of law”, and will reveal a new form of power – medical democracy. A gang of well-meaning scientists and doctors will have the power to impose their narrow understanding of goodness on everyone else, creating the first therapeutic, zero-risk state in world history.

The consequences will be catastrophic both for Great Britain itself and for the entire West. In the economic sense, first and foremost. After the first, spring wave of the coronavirus pandemic, the country’s debt in relation to GDP grew by 20%. It will grow by another 20% if a lockdown is announced this winter. And it may so happen that by 2030 the UK will become a bankrupt country. The United Kingdom’s GDP will contract by 9.8% this year, and the same will happen with the French economy, which is still better than in Spain and Italy. Germany and the United States stand apart, but these countries have a noticeable drop in GDP.

Heath cites the calculations of the American economist Lawrence Summers – how much COVID-19 will cost, and admittedly, these figures are impressive. The damage caused by the pandemic and the measures designed to stop it will equal 90% of the GDP of the United States – that is, about 16 trillion US dollars. This amount is four times the loss of US GDP during the Great Depression, twice the cost of all wars since 9/11, and equals the cost of climate change over the next 50 years.

But the worst thing is that against the background of the catastrophic decline of Western economies, the economies of Southeast Asia are doing quite well. The Chinese, first of all, whose GDP is not only not decreasing, but, surprisingly, is showing growth! And all this – if it goes on like this – will mean “the transfer of power from West to East”.

Therefore, Heath puts the question bluntly:

“Britain and the West have only two choices. We could re-learn how to live with death, as we did in the post-war years, when flu epidemics killed tens of thousands. The alternative is to adopt a South Korean approach. It will require huge investments in preparing for pandemic outbreaks and in technology and attacking the next virus as soon as it appears. It will require a ruthless, strict quarantine, isolation and the most advanced systems for tracking and identifying the infected. Can we go for it? Should we practically give up privacy and freedom? And isn’t the twilight of the West approaching ever closer, struck by its own fragility, its own inability to cope with a kind of virus that our ancestors did not pay attention to?”

Here Oswald Spengler quite clearly loomed, especially since Alistair Heath himself warns: not only is the “century of Asia” coming, but the last century is also ending, when “the West served in all respects as a beacon for the rest of the world”. And so Boris Johnson must show that Britain at least hasn’t surrendered yet.

Such a mission – responsibility for the entire Western world – was entrusted to the still unsuspecting Boris Johnson. But it seems that this is just the case when, according to the appropriate Russian proverb – “the hat does not fit Senka”. This conclusion can be drawn from an article by the editor of the political department of The Spectator magazine, James Forsythe. In the latest issue of the magazine, he directly titled his text: “There is no good choice for Boris Johnson”.

The author begins by characterizing the prime minister using a very popular English saying about cake: it is impossible to have cake and eat it at the same time. So, according to Dzh.Forsyt, the current prime minister is just different in that, contrary to common sense, he always tried to refute this saying. However, in the current situation, Johnson has neither cake nor even a chance to enjoy it. Or, to translate into British reality:

“He is in a terribly difficult position trying to balance the needs of public health and the economy. There are no good choices. He’s damned if he does it and just as damned if he doesn’t”.

The sacramental “it” is, of course, the same lockdown or, in Orwellian dialectic – “circuit breaker”. For the first time, the very idea of ​​a second lockdown was tested in the Johnson government back in the twenties of September. And even then it caused not only a murmur, but also an open protest in the Tory faction. And this week, 42 ​​members of the House of Commons from the Tory faction voted against the government’s “three-tiered” version of the lockdown. But at first it seemed that Johnson still succeeded in the cake trick.

All of England was divided into three zones. In the first, where the threat of an outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic was assessed by experts as medium, restrictions on business and social contacts are minimal. In the second, where this threat is assessed as high, stricter restrictions have been introduced. And in the third, where the threat is very high, the imposed restrictions are almost equal to a full lockdown.

Everything seems to be reasonable, understandable, honest and only for the good of everyone. But the situation is different in different constituencies, and Tory parliamentarians are beginning to question the distribution of territories according to the degree of vulnerability. Some want their constituency to be transferred from the second “tier” to the first – with significant relief for businesses and ordinary citizens. Some insist on transferring from the third to the second. All this, as they say, is “not for self-interest”, but under direct pressure from their voters, who have had the first wave of the pandemic and the corresponding restrictions literally enough.

And then there was the opposition. The new Labor leader Sir Cyrus Starmer, seeing a split in the ranks of the ruling party, encourages Boris Johnson – come on, introduce a “circuit breaker” for two or three weeks! The Labor faction will support you. You can call it cynical politicking, but you can also see this as a manifestation of philanthropy – concern for the health of the nation, the health of the “little man”, “man of labor”, on whose behalf, in fact, the Trudovik party has been acting for more than a century.

In general, Boris Johnson finds himself in a situation that can be described as the classic Russian idiom – “got into a mess”. Do not introduce another lockdown – they will be cursed for the fact that tens of thousands of subjects of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will die. To introduce a lockdown will be damned for the fact that tens of thousands of entrepreneurs and self-employed people have gone bankrupt. That there were hundreds of thousands (or even a couple of millions) of unemployed. That the economy, as President Obama once put it on another occasion, is “torn to shreds”.

Meanwhile, according to recent polls by YouGov, only 28% of Britons approve of the government’s activities, and not already 53%. Johnson’s government has never reached such a degree of unpopularity. And despite the fact that the electoral rating of the Conservatives is higher than that of Labor – 41% versus 38%, Johnson personally loses to Keira Starmer on the question of who would be the best prime minister. 33% vote for Starmer and 29% for Johnson.

We somehow worry about Boris…

Leonid Polyakov, Political Analytics