'Terrible, tragic joke': Chaos of Boris Johnson's government during Covid is a warning about bad leadership – Scotsman comment

Scotland and the UK need leaders who focus on solving problems, delivering good public services and making people’s lives better – rather than populist rhetoric

As the UK Covid Inquiry continues, the impression has been growing that Boris Johnson’s government found itself out of its depth at the start of the crisis. But remarks by the then Downing Street permanent secretary Simon Case – that the government looked like a “terrible, tragic joke” and “the real person in charge is Carrie”, Johnson’s wife – should be as alarming as they will be amusing to some.

In WhatsApp messages released by the inquiry, Case also wrote: “I am going to scream...”; and “Am not sure I can cope with today. Might just go home.” Clearly, it was a difficult, fast-moving situation and some tension would be expected. However, the language used reveals a real sense of desperation.

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Hugo Keith, senior lawyer for the inquiry, stressed “due caution must be applied” to the WhatsApp messages, but also cited notes kept by chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance, who recorded Case as giving the impression that “No10 was at war with itself – a Carrie faction with [Michael] Gove, another with Spads [special advisers], the PM caught in the middle”.

When Keir Starmer spoke about the need for “stability” in place of Conservative “chaos”, this is what he meant. Just at the time when government needed strong leadership and a sense of drive and purpose, it was falling apart. And before Covid, the Conservatives were at war with themselves over Brexit.

Former Telegraph editor Max Hastings’ recent decision to vote Labour, describing Rishi Sunak’s government as “dreadful” and Liz Truss-supporting party members as “flat earthers”, suggests the political tides have well and truly turned. And not just against the Tories. A new poll for the Scotsman shows a resurgent Labour tied with the SNP on 35 per cent, partly the result of independence supporters switching to Starmer’s party in the hope of getting rid of the Conservatives and partly because of disillusionment with the SNP’s own brand of chaos.

As Stewart McDonald, SNP MP and Scotsman columnist, writes today, those in power need to focus on delivering sound government. Given this is the job description, it shouldn't need to be said but, unfortunately, it does.



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