Simon Rushton By: Simon Rushton
Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations
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06 Apr 2020 : Leadership in crisis

Throughout his career, Boris Johnson has maintained a reputation amongst almost everyone who has worked with him for being lazy, unprepared and unreliable. Although much of his public persona is quite transparently a performance (anyone who doubts this should read Jeremy Vine’s revealing piece from last summer:, Johnson has managed to parlay his meagre buffoon act into the highest political office in the country, despite his unwillingness to do any real work being a completely open secret.

What to make, then, of the narrative coming out of government that Johnson has been working so hard on the coronavirus response that he has sacrificed his own health, culminating in him being ‘hospitalised for routine tests’ last night? Has he really changed the habit of a lifetime and worked his finger to the bone over these last few weeks? Or, quite plausible given his form for hiding away when crisis hits (in a fridge, or on a Caribbean island – whichever is closest to hand), has he been using his period of self-isolation to keep his head down and get some relaxation in while others take the strain? We probably won’t know for sure until the Cabinet papers are released in 2040. What we do know, in a powerful demonstration of the lack of strength in depth in the UK Cabinet, is that Dominic Raab is the man to step into the breach. I haven’t managed to find out who is next in line if Raab goes off sick – only that he has a “nominated backup”. I shudder to think who that might be.

In other news from the British establishment, we were yesterday provided with a proof of life video by the Queen. In it, she apparently made copious reference to the heroic way the country pulled together through the Second World War (the hoariest of all British fantasies) and, for the cherry on top, even quoted Vera Lynn’s ‘We’ll Meet Again’. (In classic QE2 style, she slightly mis-quoted it, coming out with “We will meet again”). In any case, the media today have generally portrayed it as a triumphant intervention that will both lift the national mood and encourage better compliance with the social distancing rules. That remains to be seen. Given her obvious hatred of public speaking, I presume the Queen was put up to it by the government. But to find out the backstory on that one, we’ll have to wait for The Crown season 15.

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