Boris Johnson had one last chance to finally be honest. He offered up excuses instead

Right from the start of the prime minister’s ‘address’ he showed the diametric opposite of leadership 

Tom Peck
Political Sketch Writer
Monday 04 January 2021 23:53 GMT
Boris Johnson announces a new national lockdown in England

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Louise Thomas

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The best thing about another national lockdown, and things being worse than they’ve ever been before, is it gives the prime minister the chance to atone for past mistakes.

Now that everything’s gone royally to s*** all over again, Boris Johnson has a rare opportunity to start rebuilding trust, to start being honest – to “take the people with you” as the saying goes.

Unfortunately, he was less than 10 seconds into his latest “address to the nation” before he decided to do the exact opposite.

“There is no doubt that our collective efforts were working and would have continued to work, but we now have a new variant of the virus,” he said, setting the tone for what would follow.

And what would follow was, truly, the diametric opposite of leadership. This supposed moment of national unity was, in fact, Johnson getting his excuses in for his own past failures, and transparently failing to get away with it.

There is no one who believes our collective efforts were working. His own scientists have been telling him for weeks that they haven’t been working, and he has decided to seek the wise counsel of Gavin Williamson instead.

To the surprise of absolutely no one, all schools in England have now been shut. It was clear this was going to happen the moment the announcement was itself announced in the afternoon.

Of course, nothing shocks, nothing surprises anymore. Johnson was on live television 24 hours ago saying the words, “I am in no doubt that schools are safe”, and was enthusiastically encouraging parents to send their children in on Monday morning, in some cases to schools that have been kept open against the wishes of headteachers and with the threat of legal action. And here he was, fully one day later, announcing their closure.

“People whose children were at school today may ask, ‘Why didn’t we make this decision sooner?’” he said. “And the answer is because we have been doing everything in our power to keep schools open.”

Trouble is, that’s not the answer. The answer is screamingly clear even to people cowering behind the sofa afraid to look, and that’s that the government has got no clue what it’s doing from one hour to the next.

“The weeks ahead will be the hardest yet,” he said. Which they will. Infections and hospitalisations and deaths and grief and misery will continue on their horrific trajectory. But they should also be the easiest, the very easiest, for the prime minister to just start telling the truth.

There is, clearly, light at the end of the tunnel. But the prime minister is waving said light about like a glo-stick at a warehouse rave. On Sunday, he promised to have vaccinated “tens of millions” of people by the end March. That works out at 1.6 million people a week for the next twelve weeks. The early indication is that those numbers have, like so many things in the prime minister’s moonshot world, slipped the surly bonds of reality.

If the prime minister wants to make the toughest weeks yet any easier for himself and the rest of us, he should start by injecting himself, and us all, with a generous dose of the actual truth. It won’t kill us. 

It might just make us stronger. Because goodness knows we’re immune to the bull**** by now.

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