Toby Neal: The bizarro actions of Macron and his mates

Waiter, waiter, this food is terrible. And such small portions!

French President Emmanuel Macron
French President Emmanuel Macron

Does that remind you of anyone? It is more or less the attitude of the European Union to the AstraZeneca vaccine developed by the UK.

Bizarro world, as Joey would say in Friends.

Our European friends and partners were of course being guided by the science in pausing the rollout in some EU countries of the AZ vaccine. But all science is not the same. It appears that German science and French science are a different branch of this esteemed craft to British science.

Michael Gove famously said there is no such thing as experts, and here we have a demonstration of the application of the Gove principle when it comes to Covid-19, as the expert scientists can't agree among themselves.

There again, if in Europe the science has indeed been the same, we have to look for a different explanation.

All along Macron and others in Europe have cast doubts on the British vaccine. So let's cut to the chase. Could there be a pseudo-political element to it in a post-Brexit world where British businesses are finding their deliveries to Australia arrive before their deliveries to the EU?

Anybody can foul up a life-saving vaccine response, but the EU efforts to recover the situation have not been a pretty sight.

There really should be an EU public inquiry to hold people accountable. Somebody should resign. Or be voted out of office (theoretically – we're talking about the EU).

Talking of public inquiries, on the domestic front Labour is calling for a public inquiry into the pandemic so that we learn the lessons and implement the solutions.

The Government may well agree, because public inquiries are the territory of the long grass. Things can disappear there for months or years.

A public inquiry would involve a senior figure such as a judge and tons of lawyers and then publish a heavyweight report in about 2026. This report, I exclusively predict, would say that there should have been more pandemic planning and build-up of protective equipment stocks, and that lives would have been saved if the lockdown had come earlier.

A great bit of hindsight. It would be interesting to trawl through the newspapers of early March 2020 to see who, if anybody, was calling for an immediate lockdown at a time when there had still only been a relative handful of Covid-19 deaths in the UK and in some places none at all.

If we have to await a report published in many months or maybe years to learn the lessons, gawd help us, because any lessons worth knowing have to be learned now, when they are relevant.

A public inquiry would have the politically-charged value of apportioning blame to people who by the time it is published may well be out of ministerial office and might even be out of government.

Unless it is the NHS as an institution which cops it, which I'm not sure is what Labour is angling for.

Ah, but we would learn strategic lessons about how to prepare for and deal with future pandemics. Really? A future global pandemic with a different virus would have entirely different dynamics and pathology which might require a significantly different response.

Learning lessons of a current war and applying them to a future war doesn't work. The Boer War taught Britain the value of highly mobile horse-borne troops. So we had lots ready for the Great War, but they didn't help in the trenches of the Somme.

The Great War taught the lesson of the value of fixed defences. In the Second World War the French had the Maginot Line, and look what happened.


Every Formula One fan who remembers him will have their favourite quote from Murray Walker, who according to the obits was prone to gaffes, although given the volume of his commentary I think that's just part of the Murray mythology and he wasn't any more prone to them than anyone else.

My favourite segment of his commentary comes from the 1989 Monaco Grand Prix, and not for anything Murray actually said.

Alain Prost, one of the leaders, had come up behind backmarker Rene Arnoux.

Murray: "Rene Arnoux says the reason I'm going so slow these days is I'm used to turbo cars and these normally aspirated engined cars are a very different kettle of fish to drive."

Fellow commentator James Hunt: "Then all I can say to that is bull****!"

Murray, without missing a beat, continued: "So anyway, there goes Arnoux in the Ford-powered Ligier..."


Angela Rippon, the newsreader, was unusual in her time as she took the trouble to pronounce the names of people in the headlines from abroad, like Joshua Nkomo, correctly.

Now it seems the willingness or unwillingness, or ability or disability, to pronounce names as they should be pronounced is being weaponised.

If you don't pronounce names correctly you could now be guilty of one of today's many "isms" – nomophonism. There, I've invented a name for it. As with all isms, to protest your innocence merely tends to prove your guilt.

However, if you mispronounce a name it could be because you have dyslexia, speech defect, or a learning difficulty, so for somebody to say they are offended by your mispronunciation might itself be an ism because it makes no allowances for your own handicap.

I have devised a test that the ism police can use to detect nomophonism. Try the following sentence to self-diagnose: "Zbigniew Brzezinski arrived on the ferry from Dun Laoghaire for a meeting with Saoirse Ronan in Penrhyndeudraeth, followed by visits to Wymondham and Kirkcudbright."

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