Speaking during a coronavirus press briefing last night – and using his new £2.6m room for the first time – the Prime Minister engaged in what can only be described as complete trolling in revealing that pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) will make up to 60 million doses of the Novavax vaccine in the town.
If you are under any impression that Barnard Castle is just a market town in Durham, you’d be wrong. In fact, the area has superseded its geographical boundaries and has elevated itself to the upper echelons of the meme ranks, after Johnson’s best-known advisor made it the setting for a huge political scandal last year.
Dominic Cummings, it was revealed, drove to his parent’s home in Durham during the first coronavirus lockdown in March 2020, after his wife developed coronavirus-related symptoms. He said he was concerned he too would fall ill and would become too ill to look after his children.
This was, many concluded, in flagrant opposition to the “stay at home” rules which he helped to craft – requiring healthy people to stay at home and those in contact with the virus to completely isolate. It’s worth pointing out that Cummings insisted he did nothing wrong.
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During his staycation up North, Cummings – who indeed also fell ill with coronavirus symptoms - drove to Barnard Castle to apparently test his eyesight (?!) to see if he was well enough to make the trip back south.
So Barnard Castle becoming the manufacturing site of a coronavirus vaccine has predictably been met with disbelief:
Others believed the announcement was made for more nefarious reasons; to distract the public from another political scandal:
This is not the first time Johnson has been accused of employing the “dead cat strategy”, a technique in which something shocking is announced to distract the public from other scandals. During his election bid in 2019, he told journalist Ross Kempsell –who then became one of his policy advisers – that he liked painting cardboard buses to unwind.
Some theorised that he said this to stop people remembering that he once falsely claimed the UK sends £350 million a week to the EU – and painted that claim on the side of a bus.
Regardless, whether the Barnard Castle announcement is shrewd political analysis or just one of those funny coincidences, the UK speeding up its vaccine rollout can only be a good thing.
And when Barnard Castle is ready to distribute its jabs, we are sure Cummings will be first in the queue.