Those of us who generally wish this Government well and consider Boris Johnson a preferable holder of the office of prime minister to any likely alternative are facing a new accusation this weekend. The vast brigade of pinko pundits who have predicted Johnson’s downfall on numerous occasions only to be proved wrong each time, have changed tack.
They now mostly acknowledge that rows over prorogations or pelmets – or even this week’s Dominic Cummings spectacular – are likely to have only a very limited impact upon public opinion. But they shake their heads sadly at us and tell us this is not the point. Rather, what actually matters is that we are in the grip of a morally deficient PM who is not up to the job and that ought to worry us greatly.
In effect, we are accused of reacting to any failing of the PM by retorting: ‘Ha, ha, it doesn’t matter. Just look at the polls!’
A Survation opinion survey partly taken on the day of Cummings’ select committee appearance that found the Conservatives increasing their lead is being seen as early evidence to back up this new thesis; that we have might, but not right, on our side.
In fact, that poll came too soon to be in any way a public verdict on Cummingsgate. Instead, it probably just measured the impact of Labour’s disarray following their 6 May electoral setbacks. It would be surprising were the Tory lead not to take a hit given the extent of media coverage of Cummings’ eye-catching claims of incompetence and venality in the corridors of power. But we shan’t know that for sure for another week or so.
The more important point is that the pinko punditry is still getting it wrong. Of course it matters if Britain has suffered tens of thousands of needless deaths due to having an incompetent PM presiding over a useless state machine. But this is not a fair interpretation of what happened.
No doubt a public inquiry will find that numerous mistakes were made by Johnson, Matt Hancock, Cummings himself and everybody else who took on the Covid menace on our behalf. But the same will be true of the governing class in every other comparable country. So much was unknown about this novel virus that tackling it was akin to walking the wrong way up a motorway carriageway in thick fog. In some very important facets, nothing at all was known. How, for instance, would an increasingly non-deferential 21st century populace react to the very notion of a state-ordered ‘lockdown’? With compliance? The widespread flouting of restrictions? Riots?
Even Cummings showed a degree of humility – not a phrase likely to be written about him very often – when he admitted to MPs that he had at times not pressed his own view of matters as hard as he should have done because he worried he might be wrong.
We all have our own thoughts, largely based on our own predispositions, about what Boris got wrong. As a devout non-liberal on migration matters, I always felt he should have been far tougher about imposing bans on international arrivals from the off. Many other commentators were already devoutly anti-Boris on everything and fell eagerly into a mindset that blamed every setback on his singular clownish incompetence.
But as we crawl towards the end of the pandemic it takes a pretty unbalanced person not to see that overall the UK performed about as well as one might have expected given its levels of obesity, its population density and it being the location of Europe’s only global mega-city.
We are probably going to end up about mid-table in the European death rate league – better than Italy, much better than most of eastern Europe, a tad worse than France and much worse than the Germans. If the maverick and sometimes slapdash nature of Boris meant he was notably off the pace at the start, it also led us to take the bold and massively successful decision to develop our own vaccines programme. Can anyone seriously imagine Keir Starmer – or Jeremy Hunt for the matter – deciding to turn down the EU’s kind invitation to throw in our lot with them?
And this takes us to the crux of things: the available alternatives to Boris. In the red corner is someone who tried to subvert democracy by overturning the Brexit vote, who knelt to the Cenotaph-defacers of BLM, who leads a rabble party with zero economic credibility and who has failed to set out any compelling vision or policy programme of his own, preferring instead to rely on snarky lawyers’ tricks at the despatch box.
In the light blue corner you will find the likes of Hunt – people who connived in Theresa May’s attempt to foist a fake Brexit on Britain and who were all for sustaining a failed political status quo that has been decisively rejected by voters in the red wall and elsewhere. Incidentally, doesn’t Hunt himself have some difficult questions to answer about the shambolic pandemic plan he left on a shelf somewhere inside the Department of Health?
The swallowing whole of Cummings’ jaundiced take is the latest error from establishment opinion-formers who still won’t engage with a post-Brexit political paradigm. They are, once again, shining their searchlights in the wrong direction. The polls will probably narrow a bit for a short while, then the Tory lead will widen again. Margaret Thatcher’s old friend Tina (There Is No Alternative) is alive and well.<//>
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