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Let’s take the positives first. There have been no changes in government policy on coronavirus in the past 24 hours. After the confusion of the past few days, weeks and months, that is in itself cause for celebration. A sign of some much needed stability in Westminster.
Boris Johnson’s narcissism is an open secret. What’s less clear is whether he is at heart just deeply cynical: a politician who is aware of his own failings and goes out of his way to conceal them. Or whether he is a man who is merely the product of his own imagination: bending reality to suit his personality. It’s hard to know which is the more disturbing prospect. But then maybe it’s a bit of both.
You might have thought that Johnson would want to use his first Downing Street press conference after announcing a third national lockdown the day before, to explain both how he came to take the decision and the mistakes made along the way. Boris likes to talk a lot about levelling up, but the one thing he appears unable to do is to level with himself and the country.
So there was nothing on the delays, confusion and ignored advice over recent weeks. The past isn’t just another country for Johnson, it’s a different geological era. A place that does not bear scrutiny. And certainly one not worthy of apology. Not just because he doesn’t think the country can bear to hear the truth, but because he can’t either. All his life has been spent running from the horror of being Boris.
It turned out that Johnson did not want to talk through the implications of another lockdown on people’s lives. That was yesterday’s story. Today, after rattling through the latest terrifying statistics, all he wanted to do was talk up the success of the vaccination programme he was planning to undertake. The top four most vulnerable groups – 14 million people – would be vaccinated by the middle of February and the immediate threat would be over. Simples.
Johnson was flanked throughout by the old team of the chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, and chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance, who one would have imagined had been brought in to inject a note of realism. But while both were suitably sombre about the scale of the crisis,neither could quite bring themselves to challenge the prime minister’s optimism. It was as if they had both long since given up on keeping Boris’s boosterism in check and were now more interested in making sure they were not implicated by anything he might say.
The first question from the BBC got to the nub of the problem. How could anyone trust that the government was taking the right steps at the right time given its track record? Johnson’s reply rather gave the game away. He had been looking at the numbers for some time and had been hoping they would magically decrease of their own accord with the measures he had already put in place. Yet again Boris’s inability to take the tough decisions – hoping for the best has always been his default position in both his personal and public life – had further endangered the country.
Whitty was rather more guarded when asked if the vaccination timetable was realistic. “Yes,” he said hesitantly, unwilling to puncture the prime minister’s optimism. But it wouldn’t be easy, not least because it was by no means clear we had the logistics in place. As in the vaccines hadn’t all been batch-tested and we had yet to set up sufficient centres to administer the doses. But apart from that, yes, it was all totally realistic. Vallance had clearly decided that his best tactic was to say as little as possible. Asked when it was that Sage (the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) had recommended that schools shouldn’t go back in January, he mysteriously omitted to mention the date in his answer. For the record, it was some time in December.
The press conference continued with Boris promoting his vaccination programme and the two experts being rather more cautious about the threat levels, the risks of the South African variant and when the country might return to something like normal. Most of us don’t have our sights set that high. What we want is a no-bullshit answer to when we’re likely to get the jab and when the NHS will return to a level where it can cope with patients.
It all felt curiously insubstantial. Anticlimactic even. The first Downing Street briefing after the introduction of a third national lockdown should have been a moment of high drama. Instead it felt somewhat meta. A press conference that had taken place because Johnson thought the occasion required one and not because he had anything important to say. It was a presser that could have been a re-run of any of the others the three amigos had given over the past months.
But then maybe that was the whole point. To normalise the abnormal. After all, Boris still needs to believe that saying everything will be OK will somehow make it so. His only goal is to make it through to the end of each day unscathed having maintained the veneer of acting as if he was in charge and appearing to know what he was doing. Because even he must know it will take a miracle to deliver on his latest promises. But that’s a problem for six weeks’ time. And in Boris World tomorrow never comes.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Boris’s boosterism means he never learns | Coronavirus