‘He’s so dense light bends around him’ – Malcolm Tucker, The Thick of It
On the 2nd of January, 2020, Boris Johnson tweeted “This is going to be a fantastic year for Britain”. Unfortunately, this has not been a fantastic year for the world, for Britain, or for Boris.
It is perhaps true that this pandemic would not have been easy to handle for any Government – and it has undoubtedly ravaged countries led by politicians of every ilk. Throughout this litany of last-minute mistakes and less-surprising more-depressing slip ups, I’ve heard echoes of ‘but imagine if Corbyn had been in charge!’ from more right-leaning friends and family. Regardless, this government, led by Boris, has embodied a ‘The Thick of It’ level of incompetence with its approach to the pandemic, and its approach to governing.
Out of many fiascos, take the recent results-day scandal; perhaps the Government knew the algorithm would be a disaster, but went ahead with it anyway – planning to U-turn and take away the focus from the grade inflation that undoubtedly would have resulted in universities demanding more money. Perhaps. Or, more credibly, once again ministers watched predictions of the future from their Whitehall offices, and calmly decided to do nothing. Having had 38 days from when the IB algorithm caused exactly the same problems in early July, before watching Scottish education ministers grapple (last minute) with the same issues, their lack of response is equally impressive and despair-inducing.
Either purposefully or not, the government played with the very real hopes and dreams of every A-Level student in the country. The fact Gavin Williamson hasn’t been thrown so far to the backbenches he’s out by the bins only seems to reinforce the image that, to Boris, this is all a game.
Of course, this shouldn’t come as a surprise to us. Whilst at school (I wonder where…) he reportedly told his sister he wanted to be World King. Fortunately, for the rest of the world, his ambition has been stoppered to just our Sceptred Isle. To his credit, his efforts to reach high office have been dogged, even if the path he is following is rather well-travelled. On his arrival at Oxford, he set about his ambition to become President of the Oxford Union. He lost his first effort, running from Secretary as an outsider against the obvious meritocratic candidate. Nevertheless, he was so desperate for the title that he took the unorthodox approach of running for a second time, somehow successfully reinventing himself as an ‘environmentalist’ rather than a tory and winning the office. That said, I’m told by usually reliable sources we may be about to see the same story repeat itself in the Union in the terms ahead; “vulpes pilum mutat, non mores” as Boris would undoubtedly say.
Naturally, Boris was not remembered for being a great environmentalist or reformist President but was mostly remembered just for being President. Were it not for the ongoing pandemic, I suspect we may have held a similar memory of his time in 10 Downing Street; other than some vague promises about ‘levelling up’ and Brexit, designed no doubt to appeal to the voters in the North he needed to woo, it is hard to put your finger on what exactly he stood for. Boris himself has described himself as more of a ‘Chairman’ than a CEO in his approach to the Cabinet. Doubtless, he was attempting to imply he was giving power to his competent and talented ministers, but instead it seems that when the storm hit the Government was left a ship without a Captain – and those talented ministers don’t seem to have surfaced to right the ship.
As if we needed any further reason to find this Government wanting, it transpires the PM has spent last week hiding on the Applecross Peninsula. For a man who has spent so long comparing himself to Churchill, the dichotomy couldn’t be clearer; Churchill famously only slept for four or five hours a night during the Second World War, and certainly was never found holidaying as bombs fell on London. Meanwhile, as Coronavirus cases once again creep up in the UK, the PM has enjoyed his remote vacation in a cottage so disconnected he reportedly had to use the honesty box to use the landline.
When an anti-semitic, Momentum-backed Labour Party was the only other option, perhaps Boris Johnson’s schoolboy charm and elementary grasp of politics were (just about) sufficient to elect him. With his backbenchers in revolt, and a sensible opposition in Sir Starmer, perhaps it is time for a change in direction.