SLR: Will Covid be the final nail in Boris Johnson’s coffin?

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson has had a torrid year. He was judged severely for his poor response to Covid-19 despite rising cases in the United Kingdom and as a result, he received very little sympathy from the media when he contracted the virus. He almost succumbed, and some felt it was the least he deserved given his reluctance to shut down the economy earlier this year. Simon Lincoln Reader reflects on how quickly and easily the public can fall out of love when it comes to leaders like Boris Johnson. – Claire Badenhorst 

By Simon Lincoln Reader*

Across Britain, an overwhelming self-righteousness from the wrong people. “Boris Johnson is a failure,” this smug, expanding section barks, “and we predicted it so.” Interestingly, it’s not just those with their pronouns and pride flags or verification ticks in their Twitter handles who delight at the next incoherent stammer or public information u-turn: among his own people – those voters ecstatic with December 13th’s result – Boris is now irreversibly unpopular. In the unlikely event he were to get everything else right, it would not make the slightest difference – the slide, unlike anything I’ve ever seen, has been brutally rapid, merciless.

How it came to this.

Boris’ first mistake was to conflate his own once undeniable popularity with the election’s result. The Conservative Party growth agenda was clearly more attractive than the reparation one featured in Labour’s manifesto, led from the front by Jeremy Corbyn (had Labour won, and China not unleashed chaos on the world, the crisis of identity and historical revisionism prompted by the BLM movement would have been central to policy – what we have seen in flammable pockets and contentious claims would be flooding Parliament’s benches).

In the diminished reality that often follows spectacular election victories, Boris lost sight of the conditions attached to the votes he had borrowed from the traditionally Labour supporting north.

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His second mistake was to avoid taking the threat of Covid-19 seriously. When it was discovered he had missed key COBRA (emergency) briefings, he infuriated the left, its media support complex and the more sensible Labour MPs who had survived the misery of the Corbyn experiment. Buoyed by the election of a metropolitan, Fabian lawyer as its new leader, the opposition sniffed blood the moment the Prime Minister belatedly took his first advice from chief scientists and medical officers.

Initially, this advice was to pursue a model response similar to Sweden’s (lock up the elderly, do not close schools or workplaces, etc.). But the events at a North London hospital on Sunday afternoon in mid March changed everything.

Whether or not the problem could be located in the hysterical behaviour of a neurotic receptionist will never be known, but Downing Street received a message claiming that the Northwick Park hospital in Harrow, north London, was buckling under the strain of Covid-19 admissions. This lead to Johnson’s third and final mistake.

Somehow this information was couriered to Britain’s most hopeless (and possibly quite evil) scientist, Imperial College’s Neil Ferguson, who then inserted it into his Jack and the Beanstalk machine. It is not unreasonable to suggest that, at the entrance of the appalling Ferguson, Boris lost complete control of Covid-19, his own administration’s response to it and subsequently, any trace of competence.

Covid-19 has become more than a crisis, extending into the charged and divisive issues of our time, from race to inequality – all the time gathering strength. As things currently stand, one of its greatest casualties will be the Prime Minister of a nuclear power.

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The few sympathisers left caution this summary: Boris had one of the worst cases of the virus, and has still to fully recover. But reinvented critics, including a mutual friend, suggest that he’s at his wits end, going for broke, prepared to trample advocacy of liberalism, his only real, true political skill.

At the time of a national emergency, his fiancé, an eco-activist, is said to be influencing his remarks on the environment, not the sort of thing working class people in the north find particularly endearing.

All linked, these are the features of a busted flush. Not a Prime Minister.

Earlier this year I wrote about why Boris was loved. I did not praise him; I’ve always had political reservations about the Johnson family, particularly the sister, and I did attempt to articulate just how objectionable some of his behaviour to women has been (earlier this year in my review of the media’s revolting conduct, Linda van Tilburg mockingly called him my buddy – banter).

But is Boris deserving of the ever widening contempt? Boris calculated that his own personality was strategy enough; it was stupid, arrogant, risky – and – if you listen to the left – typical. As one of his former supporters recently remarked: “Covid-19 could alter elections with voters exploring hugely technical single issues to alter the way they are governed. If that happens, people like Boris Johnson are f***** forever”.

  • Simon Lincoln Reader works and lives in London. You can follow him on Medium. 
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