Britain faces a global pandemic. The markets have behaved like a rollercoaster driven by a drunk. Trade negotiations with the EU are in a mess and the Home Secretary’s chief civil servant is taking her to an employment tribunal after a vicious briefing campaign against him. Yet prime minister Corbyn spent the weekend with his feet up at a grace and favour apartment and then could only waffle about how much he loved NHS staff at a press conference. Today the Morning Chronicle speaks for the nation and says enough is enough. The prime minister must either pull his sleeves up and lead the nation or give way to someone who can.
Imagine, just imagine, a different outcome to last year’s fateful general election. Imagine, in the privacy of the polling booth, people thinking about Boris Johnson and shuddering before putting an X in the box against the name of the candidate representing the other least worst option.
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Now imagine a prime minister Corbyn faced with the situation Britain is currently eyeballing. Do you think he’d be able to get away with what Johnson has? Seriously?
The fictional preamble to the front page leader from the Morning Chronicle, my imaginary right-wing newspaper, is just a small taste of what he would be getting.
As for his allies, imagine the Daily Mirror, arguably Labour’s most reliable press ally, running a story about a new addition to the Corbyn clan in Downing Street as its splash instead of the unprecedented public resignation of the Home Office’s top civil servant…like the Telegraph did.
I know, I know. Corbyn’s a bit long in the tooth for that sort of thing. But what about a grandchild moving in?
Prime minister, you’re supposed to be running the country. Now is not the time for the patter of tiny feet in Downing Street, the columnists would have declared.
Or something like that.
This isn’t an attempt to fight old battles, or to advance the false narrative of some Corbynistas that their hero’s defeat was all the “meeja’s” fault.
The reason I want you, for a moment, to just imagine that history went the other way is because it’s instructive. It shows up the disturbing lack of scrutiny and challenges the current occupant of No 10 is facing.
Do you imagine any almost any leader getting off as lightly as our part-time PM has of late?
It’s not all that hard to see Theresa May opening her newspapers in the morning and thinking: “Seriously? Seriously? Is this all he’s getting?”
The United Kingdom was sailing into choppy waters even before the microbe that everyone’s talking about crossed the species barrier somewhere in China.
Living here now, I think we’re starting to understand how a maritime skipper must feel when they hear the bloke who reads out the Radio Four shipping forecast warning of storm force winds in Dogger, Forties, Fisher and Viking. Is it just me, or do his clipped tones and preternatural calm feel ever so slightly inappropriate when you start to imagine what the people sailing in those areas must be going through when there’s a real nasty on the way?
I suppose that one consolation coming from the prime minister’s lack of engagement with his public is that it eases the plight of those of us whose teeth are set on edge by those plummy tones.
But while I appreciate the gesture on the part of his media handlers, in the midst of national and international crises, a country is rather supposed to hear from its leaders. And a country is entitled to expect action and answers rather than half-assed platitude and bumbling amateurism.
Perhaps someone should send Johnson and his people a copy of The King’s Speech or something. The wartime setting ought to appeal to them given the way they fetishise a conflict none of them ever fought in.
It might offer them some sort of example.
Right now Johnson seems to be behaving like Madonna in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when she was too big of a star to give interviews, popping up for the occasional performance and offering the occasional tidbit to the gossip columnist.
Corbyn and his handlers would never, ever have gotten away with this. And nor should they have. He, and they, would have justifiably been in receipt of a kicking.
Johnson is surely due one.