A year too late, Boris Johnson produces a reasonable plan

Figcaption A Year Too Late Boris Johnson Produces A Reasonable Plan
Posted at: Author: Rain TV UK

L ast April the UK’s chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance, said that 20,000 dead would be a “good outcome”. Almost a year on with the coronavirus death rate now north of 120,000 and the government having twice bungled its way out of previous lockdowns, you can see why the prime minister might want to avoid making the same mistakes with his roadmap out of England’s current restrictions. So for his statement to the Commons, we were treated to a rather different Boris Johnson than the usual one. A more careful Boris that was fighting the urge to make extravagant promises.

This time, he insisted, his approach would be dictated by caution. Though for a prime minister who was adamant that his approach this time would be driven by the data rather than the dates, his statement was very date heavy. There was 8 March for the full return of schools and friends delivering dead letter drops on park benches. There was 29 March for the return of the outdoor rule of six. Non-essential retail, hairdressers – Boris’s Dennis the Menace barnet is in urgent need of a rethink – and holiday lets on 12 April. Indoor hospitality and some larger events on 17 May. A return to normal: 21 June. There would be no escape for those hoping to avoid the disco night at the Lib Dem party conference.

Only here it got rather more confusing, because it turned out that the dates weren’t set in stone. Rather they were merely the earliest days on which the loosening of these restrictions would be considered. If the virus didn’t continue to respond to the results of the ongoing vaccine protection figures, or a new variant put a spanner in the works, then everything was back up for grabs.

The dates, it turned out, were merely best-guess scenarios and Boris wasn’t committing himself to anything that resembled an exact marker of success or failure for coming out of lockdown. All he would say was that this time, it had to be irreversible. He hoped. Somehow the use of “hope” and “irreversibility” in the same sentence didn’t inspire much confidence that the government totally believed in its own roadmap. But it would have to do.

Besides, it was a lot more coherent than some had feared and Keir Starmer was happy enough to give Johnson the credit for having finally come up with something sensible at the third attempt. This was not the time or place to go on the offensive, and having checked that Chris Whitty was now happy for all schools to go back on 8 March – by some accounts the chief medical officer had not been so keen at the tail end of last week – the Labour leader restricted himself to asking whether the government would improve its financial support for those forced to self-isolate. Boris seemed almost disappointed to find he had – for the most part – the total support of the opposition and morphed into a mop-haired Don Quixote tilting pointlessly at windmills.

For such a significant statement, it all felt a bit of an anticlimax. Partly because almost all of the contents had been pre-briefed so there was no element of surprise, but mostly because everything did sound fairly reasonable. Whether the government stuck to its plans was another matter, but for now it looked as if it had finally got something just about right. It had only taken a year and many thousands of deaths but it had got there in the end. Even its vaccination programme was the envy of many countries.

Long before the end, many Tory MPs were touting their constituencies as ideal locations for a summer holiday and not even Mark Harper, the leader of the hawkish Covid Recovery Group, seemed in the mood to pick a fight with Boris over what he saw as an unnecessary delay in loosening restrictions. Indeed, yet again, Johnson sounded quite measured in his observations that there was no such thing as a Covid-free UK and that there would always be a substantial body of risk when not everyone had been vaccinated.

It was a similar prime minister who took the Downing Street press conference later that evening. Though that was less surprising given that he was flanked by Whitty and Vallance, his two super-egos. Scientists who bring out in Boris an urge not just to speak the truth but also to recognise it. Who have curbed his instincts to buccaneer with people’s lives. If only for the time being.

Better late than never, we saw a Boris who could pass as sane. Someone who could cope with the certainty of uncertainty. Someone who appeared able to learn from his previous gung-ho approach. Who would have thought that possible?

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