It came as no great surprise to anyone (and I would include the Health Secretary in that category) that it was revealed yesterday that both Dominic Cummings and Boris Johnson think Matt Hancock ‘totally fucking hopeless’. Since the evidence is compelling it is hard to extend discussion on his merits, and demerits.
That is not, however, the end of the matter. The opinion was expressed near the beginning of this crisis. Hancock is still in post. At least 150,000 people have died. It is thought that maybe 40,000 more will do so as a result of the delta or Johnson variant, which was wilfully permitted to enter the country as a result of a desperate desire for a trade deal with India, where it originated. The helplessness is clearly not peculiar to Hancock in that case. His boss is very obviously as bad.
But worse, it would seem that Johnson is beyond help. That follows from having a prime ministerial system of government where almost absolute power rests in a person who it is increasingly apparent is wholly unfit to administer it.
With power comes responsibility. One requirement of power is to appraise past actions and to act on the conclusions reached. If Johnson had used that power appropriately he would have, based on his appraisal of Hancock, removed him from office. He had the power to do so. He did not. That means he embraces the hopelessness, and makes it his own.
Another requirement of power is to predict the future and to take best steps to mitigate risk. Johnson’s actions on the delta variant are the clearest sign of his inability to do that. He knew the risks. He saw that other countries were locking down in the face of it. He did not for reasons of his own expediency. Tens of thousands of people will likely pay for that with their lives in the weeks and months to come. That is as criminal as the action of those of First World War generals ordering troops out of trenches day after day knowing many, if not most, would die as a result, with no gain resulting.
A third requirement of power is to lead. The feedback on Johnson is of his utter inability to do so. He cannot chair meetings. He cannot set an example. He is unpredictable, meaning he is impossible to follow. His approach, based on saying whatever he thinks necessary in the moment to secure a headline without consideration for the consequence tomorrow, makes policy almost impossible to predict, and ensures that consistency is simply absent from his work. And with this clearly being deep wired within him, he is helpless.
This leads to the conclusion that Johnson leads a government that is useless to the UK at present. It is incompetent from the top down. Those close to it know it. Those further from it can all too readily see the consequences. But the people of this country voted for it, and if Johnson as to be toppled by his own party - who are the only people with the ability to do that - then a tiny number of far right, old, racist and misogynistic members of the Conservative party would choose his successor. And we are told that, apparently, there is nothing that we can do about this.
Which is true whilst Labour maintains its tribalistic approach to politics that so arrogantly assumes that it alone has all the alternatives to the Tories in its possession, which is a claim so untrue that it puts them into a category little better than the Conservatives themselves.
The result is we get almost (I use the word with care, because I am not talking absolutes here) universally hopeless, helpless and useless politicians who fail to offer hope to the country. We can all nominate some exceptions. They do exist. But they are rare. And that must be because of systemic failings in our political system because I meet competent people with political opinions on a day to day basis, many of whom would more than ably rise to the challenges that government presents.
The question is then, are we able, helpful, and courageous enough to demand the change that will consign hopeless, helpless and useless politics to history?