Covid: Boris Johnson may be doing his best to deal with pandemic but it just isn't good enough – Kirsty Strickland
We couldn’t infer anything about the progress of EU negotiations from the height of Theresa May’s heels, nor anything about the inner workings of Jeremy Corbyn’s mind from the shiny tracksuits he was often photographed in on the way to his allotment.
It shouldn’t matter but sometimes, it does.
On the day the Prime Minister delivered the grim news that the UK’s coronavirus death toll has passed 100,000, his indifferent scruffiness was more noticeable than ever.
Bumbling Boris shtick
There is a casual insensitivity in giving a press conference of that gravity and impact without even brushing your hair beforehand.
I don’t know if it is true, or if it is one of those things that has been written so often that we now just accept it as such, but it is said that minutes before Boris Johnson goes on-air, he ruffles his hair deliberately. Most people would want to be as presentable as possible when being watched by millions but then, Boris Johnson is not most people.
And it works for him. His bumbling Boris shtick is a performance that has served him well throughout his political career.
But the joke is wearing thin. If Boris Johnson had realised his political ambitions at a different time in history, maybe he would have made a decent go of it. We might have seen those attributes that his supporters insist he has in abundance.
Even his most ardent supporters must now quietly acknowledge that he is unsuited to this job at this time.
During Tuesday’s press conference, he uttered a line that will surely come back to haunt him.
"I’m deeply sorry for every life that has been lost, and, of course, as prime minister, I take full responsibility for everything the government has done. What I can tell you is that we truly did everything we could and continue to do everything that we can.”
Potential conflicts of interest
When we consider the events of the last year, do any of us really believe that the UK government did “everything” it could?
There are very few countries in the world that could claim that accolade for themselves.
The UK – with more than 100,000 people dead – certainly can’t.
How do we square such a claim with the £17 billion worth of contracts for pandemic services or supplies that the UK government agreed without competitive tender? Contracts which the National Audit Office criticised for their lack of transparency and potential conflicts of interest.
If you are doing “everything” you can you don’t hide away from scrutiny or turn up late to your own press conferences. You don’t get into a fight with members of parliament who want to be able to participate in debates remotely. You don’t spend billions of pounds on a failed Test and Trace system that you promised would be “world-beating”.
And you certainly don’t abandon a public health message to save the skin of one of your advisors. The Durham road-trip that Dominic Cummings took was stupid and selfish. But it was how Boris Johnson reacted that was the real scandal.
“We did everything we could.”
Except when he undermined his government’s rules so he could hang on to his political comfort blanket for a little while longer.
Blaming the public
The public is forgiving of genuine mistakes. Particularly at the start of the crisis, when all countries were having to respond to a new and evolving threat.
The problem Boris Johnson has in defending his government’s response is that so many of its mistakes are ones of leadership.
His chaotic, reactive Cabinet has been made in his image.
It is to his great shame that so many of his government’s ill-thought-through proposals have directly contributed to rising cases and deaths. And it is unforgivable that in seeking to gloss over those strategic errors he has sought – again and again – to blame the public.
Matt Lucas’s sketch of the Prime Minister’s mixed-messaging didn’t have to rely on hyperbole for comedic effect.
The public was told to Eat Out to Help Out and to return to offices or risk losing their jobs. Schools were closed, schools were opened, schools were safe – apart from when they weren’t. When they were, the UK Education Secretary threatened to sue ones that didn’t open. And when they weren’t, the government had to be shamed into making sure those kids that were entitled to free school meals still got fed.
Pandemic has taken a toll on Johnson
Time and time again, Boris Johnson has been late to act. As we have waited for each big decision, we have had to endure a drip-feed of information from the Twitter accounts of the UK government’s favoured journalists.
Trivial puffery filled the gaps. Who are the hawks in the Cabinet and who are the doves? Which will the Prime Minister be persuaded by this time? How many press-ups is he doing in-between conference calls? Has he taken any naps recently?
There is no doubt that the pandemic has taken its toll on the Prime Minister, as it has on all world leaders. It is an enormous burden of responsibility and one which I’m sure has weighed heavily on him.
I’m even willing to accept that Boris Johnson has probably worked harder in the last year than he has in his life. As somebody who isn’t exactly known for his work ethic, he has been forced to exert himself in ways he never has before.
Yet he still isn’t on top of the detail. He is still putting party politics above the public interest.
He may genuinely believe that he did everything he could. He may also believe that he has done his best.
That’s the problem though, isn’t it? Even if the public is willing to believe that he has done his best, his best clearly hasn’t been good enough.
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