Boris Johnson Boris Johnson speaking in Westminster, December 2020. Photo: Flickr/Pippa Fowles

Boris Johnson is ending the year with the same clueless and inept style of leadership he started it, writes Sean Ledwith  

This time last year many observers around the world were becoming increasingly alarmed about reports of a new strain of coronavirus identified in the Chinese city of Wuhan. Over the following few weeks at the end of 2019 and into the new year, the evidence for a looming global catastrophe unprecedented in our lifetimes became irrefutable. Britain’s Tory government, however, was more interested in basking in the glory of its decisive election win that December and anticipating the beginning of the transition out of the EU.

It is now widely accepted by most commentators that the Johnson government was far too slow in responding to the first wave of the pandemic that hit the UK in February of this year-a criminal delay that cost scores of thousands of lives. As the second wave emerged on the horizon in early autumn, medical experts pleaded with the government to think twice about the full reopening of schools, colleges and universities for the new academic year, fearing such large-scale social activity would reboot the virus. Just as in the Spring, Johnson cynically decided to put ideological hostility to the public sector ahead of public health considerations.  

Third time unlucky

Now for the third time in less than a year, this callously incompetent government is stumbling through a resurgence of the pandemic that threatens to inflict another major outbreak on the country. In today’s hastily arranged Number 10 briefing, Johnson tried to row back on the mixing of three bubbles over five days plan for Christmas which he had initially announced in November.

As the virus surges in the South East particularly, the evidence for the rashness of this policy has become overwhelming over recent days. Yesterday, in an unprecedented act of cooperation, two prestigious medical journals joined forces to recommend the scrapping of the three bubbles Christmas plan. The editors of the British Medical Journal and the Health Service Journal issued a joint statement that included a scathing indictment of Johnson’s handling of the crisis up to this point:

‘The government was too slow to introduce restrictions in the Spring and again in the Autumn. It should now reverse its rash decision to allow household mixing and instead extend the tiers over the five-day Christmas period in order to bring numbers down in the advance of a likely third wave.’

Johnson in his media briefing today however rejected this suggestion and underlined his commitment to the original plan but with a confusing level of ambiguity that could easily prove fatal to many people : When we say three households can meet on five days, I want to stress, these are maximums, not targets to aim for, and it’s always going to be safest to minimise the number of people you meet.

Adding to the mixed messaging that has characterised so much of this government’s disastrous management of the pandemic, Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty then commented:

“Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean it’s sensible in every way. You wouldn’t, for example, drive at 70mph if there was a very icy road, even though the law might say 70mph is what you can officially drive at.”

Hardly a ringing endorsement of the plan that Whitty himself has signed up to. The CMO here unwittingly compares the government position to a reckless driver courting disaster. Not for the first time, Whitty has publicly undermined the credibility of the boss who he shares a platform with.

Last Christmas

Johnson had only just scuttled back to his Downing Street lair when the Welsh devolved administration promptly blew a big hole into his attempt to lash together a UK consensus on the three bubbles guidance. First Minister Mark Drakeford announced that his country will only be authorising the mixing of two household bubbles over Christmas.

The responsibility for this mess lies squarely with the PM for cowing to the right-wing press that has been absurdly demanding a normal Christmas for months. For the sake of our physical and mental wellbeing, we all need to hope this is Johnson’s last Christmas in Number 10.

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Sean Ledwith

Sean Ledwith is a Counterfire member and Lecturer in History at York College, where he is also UCU branch negotiator. Sean is also a regular contributor to Marx and Philosophy Review of Books and Culture Matters

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