Insouciant Leadership

There is no question about it, Boris Johnson’s insouciant disregard for the rules others must follow, rules he has imposed on them, stinks. However, what matters most about national leaders’ actions is where they are leading their countries.

It is probable that sitting outside for a while with colleagues that you normally work with indoors, in offices, would reduce the risk of transmitting or receiving infectious aerosols between one another. That would be true too for families and ‘support bubbles’ sitting in parks and gardens. So imposing a legal ban seems wrong but ignoring the law is wrong by definition (in a judge’s opinion if not always a jury’s, as shown by the acquittals of people who have obstructed highways or damaged public property in protests).

Who should replace Johnson? Which of his Conservative colleagues would do better? In fact, how keen or capable are any of them to take up the reins at this stage? Mrs May left her successor with a mess to fix but not much has been fixed. Should Kier Starmer or Ed Davey take over when both have urged the Government to impose even stricter covid laws?

Theresa May would not have entertained the thought of attending such a party but David Cameron might have done. Gordon Brown probably would have exploded in rage and Tony Blair could have invited a select few of his closest advisers and discretely stayed indoors with the wine and cheese. John Major wasn’t the model of rectitude he seemed as PM so that’s unfigurable and Margaret Thatcher was not too convivial. Callaghan, Wilson, Heath,… who remembers now? Winston Churchill was pretty definitely, and Lloyd George almost certainly, as insouciant as the present PM but they at least they had achievements that offset our disapprobation.

Johnson’s administration has had some big successes along with the manifest failures. Late into covid lockdown maybe but the first major country (England at least) to lift the restrictions. A fast vaccination programme; although the pandemic response was poor in several other respects such as PPE, Test & Trace and releasing elderly, infected hospital patients into care homes. Businesses would have been in deep trouble without rapid support, and workers too without the furlough programme; but both measures resulted in huge national debt. Higher employment and faster economic recovery than the EU average and Germany, Spain and Italy in particular. Getting Brexit done, albeit not perfectly – a free trade deal but with regulatory checks plus a ‘hard border’ in the Irish Sea, enough to break the deadlock in Parliament at least. No doubt Boris didn’t invent all the good things but we cannot blame him for everything that has gone wrong under his command and praise others for what went well.

Which international leaders have shone when compared with Boris Johnson? Would we have been better off with somebody like Joe Biden, Emmanuel Macron, Scott Morrison, Olaf Scholz, Victor Orban or Ursula von der Leyen? At worst the UK has come middle of the pack.

What about his potential if he continues in charge? In retrospect this would matter more than the personal failures that have done little concrete harm in themselves (although they may damage our institutions and the public’s trust in them). Boris was elected to “get Brexit done” but also in the hope that he would make a success of it. Little has happened so far; so when may we expect to “move forward into broad, sunlit uplands” that his hero, Churchill, invoked?

No prime minister since Churchill has faced bigger challenges than Boris. Let’s hope that he, or whoever replaces him, can move beyond covid and get Brexit moving forward. We need a more responsive economy than the EU’s sluggish, over-regulated system and we need more security in our energy, food and materials supply.

It is very strange that the very people who imposed the restrictions on us all, who must have known there would be a great cost that would cripple their plans for the country, decided to risk holding a garden party.


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