What links Dominic Cummings reportedly convincing Boris Johnson to chuck half a billion quid into a struggling American satellite company and pubs opening on Saturday while theatres and music venues stay dark?
Let’s swallow an imaginary pint and find out.
Thanks to Brexit, we can no longer be part of the EU’s Galileo navigation system. Instead of admitting that’s a loss, in other words a massive mistake, our Brexit-blinded government want to invest £500m of our money in OneWeb, a US-based company.
Two newspaper stories on this are telling. The Guardian of June 26 reports that tech experts say “we’ve bought the wrong satellites”. That’s because these are low-orbit satellites, whereas all other positioning systems use medium Earth orbit.
The other, in the Financial Times of June 25, reports that critics have “dismissed the low-earth technology as unproven and fraught with risk”. Yet the FT also adds, almost as a throwaway, that the US wants Britain to have a low-earth navigation service as it would “complement the US system and offer extra resilience to US allies”.
I don’t know enough about satellites to comment, but doesn’t that sound like chlorinated chickens in the sky? Something we don’t want over here but we’ll get because of our post-Brexit need to crawl to the Americans.
While Johnson and Cummings can find £500m for a risky investment in possibly the wrong satellites, there seems to be no money at all for our earthbound theatres and music venues.
Pubs are opening on Saturday with the blessing of UK Treasury online ads for us to “grab a drink and raise a glass”. I’m looking forward to sticking a nervous nose into our local bar, but those ads are outrageous.
Never mind close on 50,000 people dying of Covid-19, let’s get pissed and forget about the pandemic. It’s true that we’d all like to forget about the pandemic, but what’s happening here is that the government wants us to forget about it.
Boris Johnson is tired of having to be serious and gloomy. Instead he craves woolly optimism and vague, blustering hot-air speeches full of gaseous images that float off into the rhetorical stratosphere.
Not much optimism at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester, which yesterday announced that 65% of its permanent staff face redundancy. That is one of our great theatres, a fantastic space and generally a credit to everyone involved.
That theatre was devastated by the IRA bombing on June 15 1996, and had to close for two years before reopening. We can only pray that Covid-19 won’t finish what the IRA failed to do.
At the other end of the country, the Plymouth Theatre Royal announced last month that 100 jobs were at risk because of Covid-19. Any theatre you care to name between these two will be facing similar cliff-edge decisions. As for music venues, they’ve been told they can open but without performances: how upside down is that?
Oliver Dowden, the deeply uninspiring culture secretary, tweets today that he understands “the deep anxiety of those working in music & the desire to see fixed dates for reopening”. He says he is “pushing hard” to “give you a clear roadmap back”.
What an inspirational man: they should put him on a stage so that an audience of theatre directors, actors, musicians, technicians and so on can show their appreciation via the medium of air-borne rotten vegetables.
The furlough scheme has helped prevent economic chaos, although what will happen when that ends is anybody’s gloomy guess.
But we should never forget the importance of culture and the chances offered to escape and learn about ourselves, to connect with humanity, to open eyes and hearts and to feed our brains.
And if that’s over the top, you can lock me in pseud’s corner and throw away the key.
We are good at culture in this country and the thought of our cultural institutions hitting the rocks should worry us all.