Robert Halfon: Our national catchphrase this year is four simple words – “You are on mute”

16 Dec

Robert Halfon is MP for Harlow, a former Conservative Party Deputy Chairman, Chair of the Education Select Committee and President of Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists.

We three kings: From Tiger King to Burger King to Sausage King. What a year 2020 has been.

So the end of 2020 is almost (at last!) upon us. A year in which some of us have taken up central casting from The Truman Show – being ogled, googled, zoomed, teamed and even on the odd occasion ‘citrixed’. We have lived life via our computer screens as if we were part of a giant sociological experiment. Not quite a goldfish bowl, more like the giant London Sealife Aquarium – which, as it happens, is just a swim across the Thames from the Palace of Westminster.

Our United Kingdom catchphrase has become one of just four simple words: ‘You are on Mute’. Even after nine months of lockdown, semi-lockdown, tiers, semi-tiers (or is that tiers one, two or three?), we still can’t remember to switch our microphone button ‘on’ when our daily Truman Show begins.

Not only content to be watched, we have been the watchers, too – binge-watching Netflix, Amazon Prime and not forgetting The Mandalorian on Disney Plus. Lockdown started with Tiger King (who is apparently now about to get a prison pardon from Donald Trump) and ended with Brexit Series (part 4072) with Michael Gove, describing his EU counterpart, Maroš Šefčovič, as “the Sausage King” because he had allowed sausages in lorries to travel around Northern Ireland (at least that is what I think he was talking about). This was all living proof that the Yes Minister episode about sausages was, of course, as real as a Panorama documentary, though this time it was the Brussels Eurocrat saving our sausages rather than the British Politician.

If it wasn’t sausages on the menu, Scotch eggs (albeit with sausage meat), suddenly flipped into our national consciousness as each Cabinet Minister, expecting to be asked about weighty and worthy issues of the day, was instead told to set out Scotch egg public policy – or even pub policy. The good news that this free commercial for Scotch eggs (whoever masterminded this advertising deserves a Nobel prize), has resulted in Scotch eggs literally being sold out around the country. In fact, news reports state that there has been a tenfold surge in demand for this culinary delight – all enjoyed, needless to say, as part of a substantial pint. One company, Scotch and Co (what else), said sales had gone up by 25% in the past month alone.

All this eating of sausages and Scotch eggs, alongside our occasional intake of lockdown alcohol (hic), meant that we all had to get fitter. Despite Joe Wick’s best efforts, this was not easy. Because, before Scotch eggs and sausages came along, our moral duty in August according to the Chancellor – was to Pig Out to Help Out. After months of lockdown, the time came to use up the Treasury’s ‘free’ (£520 million taxpayer-funded) vouchers for Burger King, Ronald Macdonald and Colonel Sanders.

By my count that makes it three Kings – Tiger King, Sausage King and Burger King: perfect for this time of year (although not quite what the Bible imagined).

Yet surely, if Sir Tom Moore could walk one hundred lengths of his garden and raise millions for the NHS, then the rest of us could, at least, get up from the sofa to turn the radio off, rather than shouting at Alexa.

Granted, we were allowed to walk across golf courses, as long as we obeyed strict Covid regulations and did not dare to touch, let alone swing a golf club.

But lockdown keep-fit clearly worked for some. The brilliant Ministerial rising star, and newly lean Will Quince, proudly announced on Twitter recently that he had lost a good few stone in weight. When I saw Quince’s Tweet one Saturday morning, I felt so fat-shamed that I immediately put away my giant tub of Haribo Cola bottles, ordered courtesy of Amazon.

Soon it will be Christmas. Our Cromwellian overlords have allowed us just a few magical days of fun. We are even permitted to see some friends and family from three different households. Exciting.

Hopefully, as we all get jabbed in the New Year, 2021 won’t be quite as mad as this one. As we resume tiering, I await with anticipation and excitement You Tube’s next instalment of Joe Wicks’ “cure your Turkey and Guinness hangover”, no doubt starting on our Truman Show on 1st January.

As this is my last Conservative Home column of 2020, may I wish all readers a most Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.