Boris Johnson must be bolder - or the outlook is grim
STEPHEN GLOVER: Yes, he's had a tough time but Boris Johnson must be bolder – or the outlook is grimBy Stephen Glover for the Daily Mail Published: 00:38 BST, 16 June 2020 | Updated: 00:38 BST,
STEPHEN GLOVER: Yes, he's had a tough time but Boris Johnson must be bolder – or the outlook is grim
What has happened to Boris Johnson? Where is the bouncy, exuberant, can-do leader who led his party to a triumphant victory last December?
He pops up quite often to remind us of his existence —sending tweets, writing a newspaper article, giving short interviews, doing photo opportunities — but much of his famous elan has vanished.
Television news bulletins on Sunday evening showed Boris visiting an empty shopping centre before yesterday’s reopening. He looked exhausted, and limply went through the motions — trying unsuccessfully to inspire.
This diffident, downbeat Prime Minister is very far indeed from the barnstorming politician who during the election campaign persuaded millions of erstwhile Labour supporters to vote Tory.
Television news bulletins on Sunday evening showed Boris visiting an empty shopping centre (pictured) before yesterday’s reopening. He looked exhausted, and limply went through the motions — trying unsuccessfully to inspire
On policy, too, there is a lack of direction and a sense of drift. Just as many European countries are dispensing with quarantine measures, the Government introduces onerous new rules, thereby sending out a signal that Britain is not open for business.
On Sunday evening, President Emmanuel Macron announced a return to full schooling and the opening of restaurants across France. His message in a television address was that life is returning to normal.
It’s true, of course, that the cycle of the pandemic in the UK is at least two weeks behind France. But our authorities are proceeding with such extreme caution that it seems possible we will be labouring under the effects of lockdown when the rest of Europe is buzzing with life.
Most classes in British schools will remain cancelled for the foreseeable future. Social-distancing rules won’t be relaxed from two metres to one for several weeks while a committee laboriously chews over the matter. Thousands of businesses could go bust in the meantime.
There is a question we have to ask — and on the answer depend millions of livelihoods. Is the deflated, indecisive Boris now on view merely a temporary phenomenon, soon to be replaced by the dynamic leader people voted for?
Or are we witnessing the true Boris Johnson — a lively and engaging campaigner, to be sure, but someone ill-suited to the demands of the top job, and lacking the organisational skills, patience and good judgment to run the country?
Some Boris-watchers believe the latter, but I still cling to the hope he has what it takes. In recent months, he has gone through personal upheavals that would have undermined the mental wellbeing of any of us in normal circumstances. Yet he has been grappling with a dreadful pandemic.
While trying to cope, he has divorced Marina Wheeler, his wife of a quarter of a century, who often gave sage advice. His much younger (and, one may surmise, less worldly wise) fiancee Carrie Symonds has had a baby, who is likely to disrupt his sleep and soak up some of his flagging energy.
His much younger (and, one may surmise, less worldly wise) fiancee Carrie Symonds (pictured with the PM clapping for the NHS outside Number 10) has had a baby, who is likely to disrupt his sleep and soak up some of his flagging energy.
Even more pertinent to his apparent tiredness and absence of a clear sense of direction is Covid-19. His contracting a severe version of the disease, and time in intensive care, must have left their mark. Others similarly stricken speak of an enduring sense of exhaustion, and sometimes a degree of intellectual impairment.
These, as I say, would be heavy burdens for anyone at the best of times. I’ve little doubt they have affected the Prime Minister. Although one should never be over-sympathetic to politicians who seek high office (after all, no one asks them to) we should acknowledge his pluck in challenging circumstances.
Moreover, the things that have psychologically and physically dragged him down will get better. Though he can never rely on Marina’s counsel again, the pain of the divorce may begin to recede. Baby Wilfred may cry less at night. Most important of all, the lingering ill-effects of the disease will diminish.
The trouble is the country needs a clear-thinking and decisive PM now who can make up his mind on a number of crucial issues, and convey the sense that he and the Government have a long-term strategy. In short, that they know what they are doing.
And here, it seems to me, Boris Johnson is labouring under another burden: the weight of past mistakes over Covid-19. People rightly say these should be dealt with by a future inquiry. But I am sure undoubted errors partly explain — in addition to the personal problems I’ve mentioned — the Prime Minister’s cautious approach.
The fact is that, notwithstanding his critics’ claims, he is not a Trumpian narcissist wholly lacking in normal human empathy. He may be careless and inattentive, but he is also sensitive and well-meaning.
So he will have been wounded by the suggestion of leading epidemiologist Professor Neil Ferguson (a former Government adviser who resigned after breaking rules he had helped devise) that if the lockdown had been enforced a week earlier, 20,000 lives could have been saved.
Who wants to be accused of causing the deaths of many people? Certainly not Boris. He knows he’s already under attack for being asleep at the wheel at the end of February and early March, when the contagion gathered force, and for doing daft things such as attending a virus-spreading rugby match on March 7.
This helps explain why he is demonstrating such timidity. Despite advice by the World Health Organisation that one metre is sufficient for social distancing, and its adoption by many countries, most of the Government’s scientific advisers still insist on two.
As a result, the early return of schools has been thwarted — though if a bit more gumption had been shown by the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, more could have been accomplished even within the existing restrictions.
Pubs, restaurants, clubs and cafes have been told they should be able to open on July 4, but they have no idea whether the two-metre rule —economically catastrophic to nearly all of them — will still apply, and if so for how long. They are therefore unable to plan ahead.
Why, in God’s name, has No 10 only just set up a review to look into this issue when the problem has been obvious for weeks? And why is this body taking until next month to reach its conclusions?
Pubs, restaurants, clubs and cafes have been told they should be able to open on July 4, but they have no idea whether the two-metre rule —economically catastrophic to nearly all of them — will still apply, and if so for how long. Pictured: The Sherlock Holmes pub in Charing Cross closed
It should work around the clock until making up its mind. Thousands of businesses and millions of jobs are at stake. Yet, with its lack of planning and relaxed attitude, No 10 seems unable to grasp the acute seriousness of the situation.
Of course, I understand how difficult it would be for the Prime Minister to override the advice of scientists, which is at odds with that of many European counterparts on this and other issues. Having made mistakes in the recent past, he is terrified of doing so again, and precipitating a second wave of the contagion.
But I like to think the old, buoyant Boris Johnson — more confident of his judgment, less deferential to boffins, and readier to take a well-calculated risk — would not have watched and waited while the economy crashes.
If this country is to prosper again, we need that old Boris to shake off his demons, recover his brio and his health, and take control. Unless he does so, the outlook for him, and more importantly for the rest of us, is grim.