Three immediate political thoughts occur to me when considering the now very obvious fact that the UK will have a third wave coronavirus crisis.
The first is whether Johnson will react at all? In other words, will data over-rule dates, so guaranteeing that the planned June 21 relaxations will be cancelled?
Second, will Johnson then have the courage to take the further steps very obviously necessary, including travel bans and the reintroduction of many of the bans already relaxed? Will he, in other words, place restrictions on schools, pubs and restaurants as hot spots for transmission, however unpopular that might be?
Third, could he manage the fallout from this? These moves will be intensely unpopular. And Johnson promised there would be no more lockdowns. People believed him. His boosterism has worked in his short term political favour, at least in some parts of the country. He was very obviously wrong. Admitting that now is the necessary price to save tens of thousands more unnecessary deaths. But will he?
There are no obvious answers to these questions, simply because Johnson has proved himself to be so irrational in the face of this pandemic. ‘Following the science’ says we would cancel the June 21 relaxations now, so that people know. That is only fair. There is enough data to make the decision now. It is only appropriate that the announcement be made. But I rather strongly suspect it will not be. In fact, I suspect that rather like schools reopened for a day after Christmas, this announcement will be delayed until a day or two after June 21. The promised reopening will happen to preserve Johnson’s plan, and then be reversed because of ‘circumstances beyond his control’.
I sincerely hope I an wrong on this. Action to control this outbreak is very clearly needed now. But I am very troubled that so far ministers are still pretending that there is nothing to see when it has been obvious that there has been for some time. We could be too late again.
The later Johnson is the more likely that it is that other required measures, including the effective cancellation of much of the usual entertainment of summer will have to happen. Unless the NHS is to be overwhelmed this is going to be required. It is simply the choice of a lesser of two evils.
Since these events are seemingly inevitable, it being only their timing which is open to speculation, the questions all really hinge on my third issue, which is on how Johnson manages this? He will have to, of course. But we know that like so many who are desperate to be prime minister, decision making is not his strong point. Prevarication is his speciality.
So far, for reasons that baffle me, people have ignored Johnson’s responsibility for tens of thousands of unnecessary early deaths. Massive errors in the summer of 2020 and his irresponsibility about Christmas killed many. The evidence in that is unambiguous. He got away with it because of vaccines. But if vaccines do not prevent another Covid outbreak that euphoria - the high from being ‘jabbed’ - will burst. And what then?
All bubbles burst. Populism’s bubble works by supplying what people are told to believe that they want. I am deliberately assigning a propaganda role to mass media in the populist’s cause when saying that. And Johnson has rightly realised people want an end to Covid restrictions. It hardly took rocket science to do so. The desire is entirely understandable. I share it. The problem was in promising what was not within Johnson’s control. And that is what he has done.
Can Johnson survive the very obvious evidence that he is not in control, after all? My hunch is that he cannot. The myth that vaccines can completely control this virus will be shattered. So too will the myth that it will go away now be broken. Instead there will be an enormous sense of lost hope. There will be real anger in all likelihood to match that. Populists have to deliver on their simple promises. Johnson will not have done so. And that is unforgivable when playing the politically dishonest game he has pursued, where the lie is everything.
So, I think Johnson knows he is in deep trouble now. He’s played the wedding card on Cummings. There is little left in his armoury. All he faces is a stark reality, which is that people know he must act or there will be deaths, and everyone knows you cannot get this wrong three times. But he also knows getting it right is profoundly politically dangerous for him.
What will he decide? This man is a total egotist, apparently devoid of empathy, guilt or conscience. He will, I am sure, choose delay. People like Johnson always think ‘something will turn up’. This time it won’t. People will die though. and this time maybe that will, to use the commonplace term, ‘cut through’. It needs to. And if he delays Johnson and his colleagues will then need to be held to account. We have suffered too many politically imposed deaths in this country. I sincerely hope we do not do so again.