London Diary: The US President has access to much better medicare than the British PM!

Of all eye-popping stories coming out of Trumpian White House, one that has caught particular attention in the British commentariat is about the excellent medical facilities available to US President

London Diary: The US President has access to much better medicare than the British PM!
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Hasan Suroor

Is Downing Street less grand?

Of all the eye-popping stories coming out of Trumpian White House, one that has caught particular attention in the British commentariat is about the excellent medical facilities available to the US President —a fully-equipped hospital and 24/7 personal physician. Donald Trump got immediate medical help including an infusion of oxygen before going to hospital.

In contrast, Downing Street—British prime minister’s official residence—has almost zero medical facilities. Boris Johnson was left to fend for himself, and self-isolated for more than a week after he contracted Covid before being taken to hospital in a critical condition. And unlike Trump who travelled to the Walter Reed Medical Centre in a helicopter, Johnson was taken to hospital in an NHS ambulance.

The episode has shone light on the living conditions in Downing Street amid a growing view that the British PM deserves better. There is no separate personal staff: no cook, no cleaner, no domestic help of any kind. The prime minister and his family live in a cramped flat. No 10 is so cramped that Gordon Brown moved to the bigger No 11. There is no privacy and when they have to go out, they must pass through office corridors downstairs. Third World leaders live in greater comfort than Britain’s top boss.

No 10 might be the country’s most famous address after Buckingham Palace but life behind that black door is less grand.

PM’s Presidential touch

So, what if Downing Street is no White House? Its occupant can still imitate the US President in other ways. Boris Johnson has just appointed a new official spokesperson to front White House style daily media briefings. He has hired a former journalist Allegra Stratton who worked with The Guardian, BBC and ITV before becoming Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s media adviser. Ms Stratton, who will earn more than £1,00,000 a year as Downing Street’s public face, is credited with giving Sunak an image makeover and raising his public profile.

Her appointment has prompted accusations of cronyism: Ms Stratton is a personal friend of Johnson’s partner, Carrie Symonds and his top aide Dominic Cummings’ wife Mary Wakefield, a high-journalist with the pro-Tory Spectator magazine, once edited by Johnson. Not to mention that Ms Stratton is married to Spectator’s political editor.

See, how it works in meritocratic Britain?

Pandemic jargon

The pandemic has spawned a bag full of buzz words — from “test and trace” and “R rate” to “exponential spread”, “rising graph” and “circuit breakers”.

The latest is “baked in” meaning factored in. Britain’s deputy chief medical officer Professor VanTam, answering a question about a predicted second wave of covid, said: “Already . . . we have baked in additional hospital admissions and sadly we also have baked in additional deaths . . .”

As The Times columnist Mathew Parris pointed out, these days “every mindless pundit who wants to say something has been assumed/ included/factored in, now has to sound like some TV chef”.

And, lastly, if you thought a pub was a pub, think again: under UK Covid rules there are “wet” pubs & then there are “dry” pubs: wet pubs are those which serve only drinks while dry pubs also serve food!

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