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Artillery Row

Boris’s failures over COVID and Black Lives Matter

What is needed but is sorely lacking is the smack of firm government, says Nigel Jones

Asked what his policy would be when he became Prime Minister of France during the darkest days of the First World War, the veteran statesman Georges ‘Tiger’ Clemenceau growled : ‘The country will know that it’s being governed’.

The major problem with the Government of Boris Johnson, so triumphantly elected a bare six months – although it feels more like an age – ago, is that the country does not know who is governing it, or even whether it is being governed at all.

In its fumbling, panicky attempts to deal with the Coronavirus Pandemic, the Government has lurched from mere incompetence into complete incoherence

In its fumbling, panicky attempts to deal with the Coronavirus Pandemic, the Government has lurched from mere incompetence into complete incoherence. Making up its advice on the hoof; reversing its policy on the say-so of a single scientist with a track record of unremitting failure; ( Yes, Professor Ferguson: this means you); shutting stable doors weeks after the horse has gone to the knackers’ yard; and sending out messages so confusing that they would take a Bletchley Park boffin months to decipher.

The anniversaries of D-Day and the end of the Second World War in Europe has shown up the brutal contrast between a country that overcame a real existential threat and organised a famous victory, and the pathetic shambles of today: bungling Boris’s Britain, a clown who has turned a once admired nation into an international laughing stock. People prefer clarity to confusion and direction to disorder, but this lame lot are giving them neither.

The Government’s fight against Covid-19 has resembled an orchestra with the strings section playing a Beethoven violin concerto, while the brass simultaneously tries out an experimental atonal work by John Cage. The result has been a discordant noise rather than sweet harmony, and, as St Paul’s Epistle to the Corinthians reminds us, if the trumpet sounds an uncertain note, who will be ready for the battle?

It has not helped that the orchestra’s conductor has been largely absent from the podium during the concert. Boris Johnson’s illness and prolonged convalescence may not have been entirely his fault, but his administration’s woeful lack of drive and consistency certainly is, and was glaringly apparent even before the virus struck, with the nodding through of such crazed ideas as HS2 and allowing Communist China’s Huawei to infiltrate our 5g infrastructure and thus imperil our national security.

The Prime Minister’s breezy personality, socially distant relationship to truth, and insouciant inattention to detail may play well in good times, but are not best suited to a crisis of this magnitude. What is needed but is sorely lacking is the smack of firm government: the sort of clear leadership and ruthless, single minded determination shown by political giants of the past such as Clemenceau and De Gaulle in France, FDR in the USA, and of course Boris’s hero Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher here in Britain.

Among Boris’s more endearing traits is his evident desire to be liked. This leads him and many other ‘liberal’ Tories to underestimate the extent of the hatred felt for them by their many enemies, who now include not only the official political opposition, but academia, the Church, much of the judiciary, the BBC, Channel 4, Sky News and what used to be called the Tory Press as well. (When even the Daily Mail turn against you the jangling of alarm bells should be deafening).

It is a formidable array of foes, but the Government should draw some comfort from the Brexit referendum result when much the same line up of it’s enemies among the great and not-so-good failed to persuade or frighten the electorate into voting for the EU. But there is more, much more, that they need to do to reassure ordinary people that it is governing in their interests and not of those who loathe them.

Fining individuals who infringe lockdown rules, yet doing nothing to prevent thousands of demonstrators thronging the streets in open defiance of them, not only demonstrates hypocrisy of a high order, but shows up our lacklustre Ministers for the weak and cowardly crew that they are. Allowing the same Police who persecute the law abiding public to literally bend the knee before the mob they are supposed to control could not be a more telling signal of the Government’s hopeless inadequacy.

The Government did not create this crisis but their actions and inactions have undoubtedly worsened it. They are going to have to recoup some of the cash that they have heedlessly spaffed away, so a couple of symbolic acts would be a good start. Scrapping HS2 even now would save billions, and abolishing the hated BBC licence fee would at a stroke deliver a mortal blow to their most malevolent foe and be wildly popular as well.

Instead, a Government spooked by shadows is pursuing a thoroughly confusing twin track line: talking tough but acting feebly; making promises it knows it cannot keep and lying about them when they fail; and appeasing rather than confronting its open enemies. There are no glittering prizes to be won in politics for being nice but utterly useless. It is long past time for Boris Johnson to get a grip – or make way for someone who can and will. Only then will the country really know that it is being governed.

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