The British Prime Minister looks more and more like the old Etonian Donald Trump. The premiership, which began with the dismissal of ministers, party purges and empty slogans, continued in the same spirit. The Sunday Times # 10 revelations during Johnson’s illness are alarming. With the prime minister locked in his bedroom, his absentee assistant Dominic Cummings instigated the ouster of civil service chief Sir Mark Sedwill, leaving the office in the care of spokesman Lee Cain. The war against Covid-19 has been delegated to Health Secretary Matt Hancock, a paralyzed NHS and a scientist publicly debating the false information.
After Johnson’s return, nothing has changed for the better. He unwisely insists on hosting press conferences where he stutters and simply repeats Cummings’ slogans like stay alert, save lives, build, build, build. Last Thursday, there was a stark contrast between Johnson’s mutterings about “safety” and his chancellor Rishi Sunak’s clear, laconic responses. The partnership with “science” also collapsed. The government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, has openly distanced himself from Johnson’s request to return the nation to work, arguing that he sees “absolutely no reason” for this.
The British constitution is known to be based on convention. This requires an agreement between the politicians working in the cabinet and the quasi-independent civil service. Johnson purged his most capable cabinet members last year, leaving it exposed and “presidential.” A crisis ensued, it was at the mercy of controversial academics and an apparently demoralized civil service. His refusal to involve the British local government in any form or form surprised foreign observers.
Every aspect of the crisis has found a government wanting in competence. The emptying of NHS hospitals, care home protection, PPE procurement, testing and tracing and lockdown discipline have all delivered the worst pandemic performance of any major western government. Even data on weekly deaths is now thought unreliable. It seems likely that Tudor bills of mortality would have been more trustworthy.
It is hard not to sympathise with Johnson over his year in office, dicing with death and turbulence in his private life. But the country must be led. The gossip – which is all we have to go on – is of emptiness in Downing Street. The prime minister is a determined centralist in thrall to a tactless and obsessive aide, Cummings, whose skill seems limited to writing slogans in triplicate.
The UK’s battered economy now urgently requires a compromise trade agreement with the EU this autumn. Johnson in his head must know that. But the talk is that Downing Street simply lacks the diplomatic competence to reach such a deal in the weeks available. Just as Trump blindsides his officials, so does Johnson. The odds are that Britain will stumble on and crash blindly into a trade wall with Europe in December.Bolton thinks Trump can’t have an equal dialogue with Putin