With the second question, my money is on Chancellor Rishi Sunak. Sure he’s a young-ish (40), fairly untested, partly unknown quantity- and, perhaps worse, he’s a graduate of Goldman Sachs. On the other hand, with no General Election likely till 2024, it’s a simple fact that whoever replaces Johnson as prime minister will almost certainly be a member of his current cabinet. Sunak scores highly because he’s arguably the senior minister least tainted by Johnson’s spectacular mishandling of Chinese coronavirus.
Unlike Johnson, his preening Health Secretary Matt Hancock, and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove, Sunak is not one of the so-called ‘Doves’ advocating for ever more stringent measures — lockdowns, masks, curfews, quarantines, a mooted
cancellation of Christmas.
Rather, he is the leader of the Hawk faction arguing that it is long since time to prioritise the economy.
True, opinion polls currently favour the Doves — aka the Bedwetters. The British public has so far proved remarkably amenable to having its freedoms snatched away in order to keep it ‘safe’ from coronavirus. Polls
continue to suggest that the vast majority of British people want more authoritarian measures, not fewer, in order to deal with the crisis. And Dominic Cummings — the sinister, opinion-poll-driven schemer who, as Johnson’s chief advisor has been controlling the Prime Minister much in the manner of Wormtongue controlling King Theoden in Lord of the Rings — has been more than happy to oblige.
But it would be a massive error to assume that this state of affairs will last. As James Frayne, former director of communications at the Department of Education and a friend of Dominic Cummings,
warns at Conservative Home:
First things first – the Government needs to junk almost all the polling. Public opinion is in a state of total unreality and has been for many months. All the polls show the public back strict lockdown measures – just as they always have.
But voters are on morphine supplied by Ministers in the form of vast furlough payments and emergency support to businesses, tenants and the rest. As such, the public has no sense at all of the real state of the economy – and therefore no sense whatever of the trade-offs the Government is making between public health and public finances.
People will always favour tighter restrictions when they think there’s little direct risk to them. As it stands, few think their taxes will rise, their personal debt will increase or that their jobs are at risk. For most people, risk lies with others.
Frayne is bang on the money here. It goes some way to explaining one of the biggest current mysteries of UK politics: how have the proudly independent, free-spirited, family-loving, down-to-earth British people — descendants of the ones who showed such fortitude in the Blitz — been transformed into such a cowed, compliant, trepidatious bunch of censorious bedwetters, snitching like Stasi agents on their neighbours, ever ready to accept with almost Uriah-Heep-like gratitude whatever indignities the increasingly despotic and hysterical Johnson regime decides whimsically to foist on them next?
Short answer: the British public simply haven’t a bloody clue what’s going on.
How many of them are aware, for example, that according to the
last four weeks of data released in the UK, that influenza and pneumonia had killed ten times more people in England and Wales than COVID-19?
They are not, because they have been propagandised by government scaremongering, which has consistently exaggerated the risks posed by coronavirus while downplaying the threat to the economy and to human life (through untreated cancers, suicide, the fall out from lost jobs and destroyed businesses) created by bad coronavirus policy.
When the morphine drip mentioned by Frayne above is removed — when the government stops subsidising employment via its furlough scheme — and the scale of the job losses and ruined businesses becomes apparent, the British public is going to become a lot less sanguine about the freedoms that have been removed from it in the name of ‘health and safety.’
The reckoning is going to be brutal. Boris Johnson is going to go down as not merely the worst Conservative prime minister ever — but quite possibly the worst prime minister bar none.
This was not inevitable. At any stage in the last six months he could have said: “All right, we may have misjudged this one. We’re doing more harm than good. Now we’re going to treat the British people like adults and allow them to decide how much personal risk they feel prepared to take, based on the clearest, most accurate information.” Instead, he ignored the evidence of success stories like Sweden and doubled down on his disastrous policy, no longer contenting himself with his mission merely to shield ‘our NHS’ from an excess of coronavirus victims, but committing the entire UK economy towards a hopeless, quixotic quest to ‘fight and defeat’ the virus altogether.
History will not forgive him for this unforced error. Nor should it.