TThe question began as a murmur of disbelief. It turned into a roar of disbelief. Now it’s turning into a horrified howl. Will Boris Johnson get away with his catastrophic mishandling of the pandemic? Could this serial bungler even emerge as the political winner of the crisis? The idea is appalling to non-conservatives and many conservatives as well. The question is asked with particular anguish in the Labor Party.
Because there doesn’t seem to be much uncertainty about it. We are witnessing a reduction in Johnson. Pollsters report an increase in public approval of government responses to the pandemic and that is accompanied by a increased support for conservatives. Our most recent Opinion poll gives the Conservatives a seven-point lead over Labor. TO YouGov survey He has them 13 points ahead. Johnson’s personal qualifications are also making a comeback. Those who approve of the work he is doing as prime minister are now more or less in balance with those who disapprove. This doesn’t make him a much-loved leader, but it does mark a dramatic recovery from the depths of unpopularity he probed last year.
This is remarkable in context. More than 120,000 people have died from the coronavirus in the UK, double the death toll from the bombing, and government advisers officially say some of those deaths were preventable. The government has a well-deserved name for its incompetence and its leader a well-deserved reputation for slow and poor decision-making in handling various critical aspects of the crisis.
In recent days, several things have happened that would not normally make any government want for the electorate. The chancellor has drawn up a budget that, when all the marketing is taken away, heralds lower spending and higher taxes across the board. Health workers are insulted and enraged that ministers want to give them a measly 1% raise, a cut after inflation, to their salaries. Taxpayers are shelling out £ 340,000 plus legal costs to avoid a public broadcast in a labor court of the intimidation allegations against Priti Patel. The scent of cronyism and nonsense that this government radiates becomes more pervasive. Then there are the dire economic consequences of Brexit and the destabilization it is causing in the fragile politics of Northern Ireland. How does a government become more popular in these circumstances?
Pollsters report that the only topic that really animates their focus groups is the vaccination program and how impressive it has been. “The Conservatives are clearly getting a bounce from vaccines,” says a Labor leader. “Everyone I know who has been vaccinated comes out feeling euphoric. They think it’s their ticket to freedom. “
This has provided conservatives with a good story about the epidemic that they can tell the electorate. There are many components to being a successful leader, but the ability to build powerful narratives is one of the most essential. Margaret Thatcher showed that gift when she convinced Britain of the 1970s that the country was in a decline that only she could reverse. Tony Blair used his skills to develop an argument to persuade the Great Britain of the 1990s that it needed New Labor to build a New Britain. Boris Johnson demonstrated his talents in storytelling when he made “regaining control” a prominent argument of the Abandonment campaign and “making Brexit” the strongest message of his winning election campaign in 2019. It may be silly in 2019. many things, but he has always stood out for telling selfish stories.
The stories told by politicians don’t always have to be entirely true, or even fully true, to gain traction. Abraham Lincoln declared, “You can’t fool all people all the time.” That does not exclude being able to fool many people for a long time.
The story of the pandemic that Johnson tried to tell last year was one of a government doing its best in incredibly difficult circumstances that challenged leaders around the world. Part of the electorate, the segment of the citizenry inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to a government facing a national emergency, bought into this version of the crisis. Many were unconvinced and even more so as the number of misjudgments and government fiascos increased. The vaccine program came just in time to rescue Johnson from an increasingly alienated and mutinous Conservative party. It has given him the opportunity to refresh his story and build a triumph over adversity narrative. Obviously, there is an audience for it.
The vaccination program does not guarantee a happy ending to the crisis. There will be a large global pool of infection until vaccines reach the whole world. We could face one or more mutations of the virus that are resistant to any of the currently available vaccines. The full severity of the economic scars will only become apparent when the licensing plan and other support measures have been canceled. Many report that Number 10 has grown calmer and more disciplined since the departure of Dominic Cummings and his gang, but the essential character of the prime minister has not changed. He could go wrong in another too-quick easing of restrictions and then be forced to break his promise that Britain is now on a “one-way exit” to freedom.
With those warnings attached, the vaccination program offers the Conservative leader much greater hope of selling a story that serves his interests than seemed possible last year. Many will drown at the thought that he is preparing to do a Covid victory lap. Yes, he signed an imaginative decision to give early government backing to the search for vaccines. That was quite daring, but not terribly difficult. It wasn’t his own money that he was compromising. That’s where your credit begins and where it ends. The vaccine working group was not the initiative of Mr. Johnson or any of his ministers. It was the brilliant brainchild of Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific advisor. The distribution has been carried out by the NHS with an efficiency that is in stark contrast to the performance of test and trace and other programs that ministers outsourced to private contractors. None of which will stop Johnson from seeking undeserved applause for himself. No one ever said that politics is fair. No one has ever said that they are overwhelmed by a feeling of shame.
Schools are back tomorrow. If the next phases unfold as he hopes, the national mood will rejoice even more as the days clear and restrictions are eased. Eventually it will have to succumb to the demands of an independent investigation into the handling of the crisis. It will serve your interests if the investigation is time consuming and reaches a conclusion only after the media has grown bored with the topic and most of the public is not interested in reliving the traumas of the pandemic.
“Getting away with it” has been one of the most consistent characteristics of the career of a man other conservatives call “the oiled suckling pig.” “It’s extraordinary,” says a former cabinet minister. “Boris has this Teflon quality. He gets away with things that no other politician would get away with. “
It is not certain that the elusive escapist from Number 10 will be spared a proper calculation by his many errors, but even the possibility of that happening is a demoralizing and destabilizing thought for his opponents. Labor needs a narrative contrary to Johnson’s story of a government that did its best under extraordinary circumstances and ultimately turned out well. Labor needs its own crisis story. In fact, it has one. The Labor tale is that Britain has suffered a particularly egregious attack from Covid because a decade of Conservative rule has weakened the economy and depleted the public sphere, leaving the country ill-prepared for a pandemic. A fatal combination of right-wing dogma and incompetence then meant that the crisis was terribly mishandled and this means that the Conservatives may not be the right people to rebuild Britain afterward. This is Labor’s story and there is nothing wrong with it as a rival narrative. Mr. Starmer tells it to anyone who is willing to listen. The problem with Labor is that it has struggled to gain a hearing for its case beyond the ranks of those predisposed to be persuaded that the Conservatives are hideous monsters.
The vaccine rebound has two lessons for the Labor Party and its leader. One is that Boris Johnson is lucky. They can’t do much about it. The other lesson is that Labor needs to be a lot more compelling as storytellers. This is completely in your own hands.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism