I always used to encourage ministers to read one Greek tragedy a month just to be prepared for their inevitable political doom. But perhaps this weekend Boris Johnson should reach for a spot on Wodehouse.
‘It’s always just when a chappie is feeling particularly top hole and braced with things in general that Fate sneaks up behind you with a bit of lead piping.’
Well, that bit of lead piping was wielded by the Keystone Cops element in his Cabinet. Which is most of them. According to the splendid Harry Cole who is well plugged in to the Rampton Wing of the Conservative party, the Cabinet are ‘raging......why bother to ring us’. Why bother indeed. We are at war. Did Churchill bother too much with the bonkers brigade? Of course not. He had a war cabinet. Boris has the quad. And to be fair, with the exception of Gove and Sunak I had always regarded the rest as rather third rate. I was wrong. Hancock, and Raab have grown into their roles. And Newby Jenryck, who to quote Wodehouse again, ‘seemed liked a man who had been poured into his suit and someone had forgotten to say “when”, has become a safe pair of hands. But even he struggled on Marr and Ridge this morning to put forward a coherent explanation of “stay Alert, control the virus, save lives. It is pure sergeant Wilson of Dad’s army. “All this virus stuff is terribly inconvenient for all of us, but perhaps you could be so kind as not to leave home if you don’t mind too much”.
I don’t blame Johnson for this. He had his Damascene conversion at St Thomas’s. But he is not a doubter. He knows that there is a probability of a second spike if restrictions are relaxed too soon. The public may forgive him for early mistakes but not if the virus rips through the community because the money men, who want to make a fast buck and the libertarian right whose vision is that poor people should be given the right to chose death or poverty. So in attempt to keep them all happy, Johnson has compromised on the message. It’s usually an advantage for a Prime Minister to compromise. But not on the message. Ronald Reagan got it right, ‘if you are explaining you are losing’. LBJ went further on the problems of leadership, ‘doing what’s right isn’t the problem. It’s to know what is right’. And that is the government’s real problem.
Of course I accept that young people, particularly teenagers, are having a rough time. They want to be young. They want to meet their mates, get pissed, try and have some sex, fall in love, get dumped....Woo hoo.
The whole ghastly business. But when you are doing all this wonderful stuff you come back and infect your family and your mates.
Well, sorry all, it’s going to have to be a wank for the time being. You’ll get over it.
But this evening the Prime Minister got the tone precisely right. Yes, go outside, have a swim, have a game of golf, go to work if you can, be sensible, think of others. Don’t be bloody stupid. Take precautions. Wash your hands. Let’s get the hospitality industry restarted as soon as we can. A gentle relaxation of restrictions. But......if we really behave stupidly the shutters come down again.
Johnson told the nation what I have been telling my pupils for years.
“Have fun. Don’t be a cunt”.