Onlookers could not help but be reminded of another famous quote by Churchill: “Let our advance worrying become advance thinking and planning.” For in following Sage’s worst case scenarios and preparing the public for even worse to come, Downing Street has performed a 360-degree pivot to under-promising in the hope of over-delivering.

Indeed, there are suspicions that they pitch-rolled the idea of a full two-week “circuit break” lockdown at the weekend simply in order to pave the way for tougher measures further down the track. Having imposed a 10pm curfew on pubs and restaurants, with limitations to the “rule of six”, it now seems inevitable that England will follow Scotland’s lead in banning household mixing. 

But the difference between now and March is that rather than expecting things to get better only for them to get worse, it is now a case of expecting them to get worse before they get better. 

Talk of the Army being drafted in has carefully sown the seed for yet more curbs which, combined with the threat of ever greater fines, creates an atmosphere of fear rather than freedom – which is why so many libertarians are opposed to what they see as unnecessarily draconian limits on their civil liberties.

From the Government’s perspective this is no bad thing, despite the damage to Mr Johnson’s laissez-faire credentials. The country has been led to believe Christmas has been cancelled but, if the ‘R’ rate comes down and the PM is able to gift-wrap a lifting of restrictions in time for December 25, he goes from Scrooge to Santa. 

In the face of a bleak midwinter, all he really wants for Christmas is to be able to spread some festive cheer.

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