I know nostalgia isn’t what it used to be, but in my time in parliament I served two prime ministers who I looked up to.
The first was a force of nature and arguably the greatest of the second half of the 20th century, the second a decent man who had an impossible job and whom history will treat better than his contemporaries.
I had a lot of respect for Blair, too. Apart from his appalling error of judgement over Iraq, his record was of competent, generally positive government. I wish I could say the same for their successors, but the truth is that none of the four that have followed in relatively quick succession are even in the same league.
I accept that the nation was not alone in being woefully unprepared for the pandemic. Few if any nations were. Much as the opposition cry cronyism over the first PPE buys, the reality is they desperately needed to buy the stuff from wherever they could get it. And if Dame Kate Bingham was married to Tory minister Jesse Norman, so what? She did a brilliant job giving the UK a world lead in vaccinations.
Why is it that Nicola Sturgeon still gets higher leadership ratings than Johnson?
It’s true that government during a pandemic is damned if it does and damned if it doesn’t. But what has followed in the many months since has generally been characterised by indecision, about-turns and false starts on an almost weekly basis, all of which goes right to the top.
Only last weekend, after Sajid Javid announced he had contracted mild Covid symptoms, the first decision senior cabinet ministers and the PM took was that they would miraculously all be in a pilot scheme that would allow them to continue to work – until it was pointed out how ludicrously hypocritical that was, when many of us with jobs to do would have been forced to stay at home, and as it happens the guinea pigs for the pilot were supposedly chosen at random. So yet another U-turn from the PM, announced with his usual half smile that he puts on when he’s acting like a naughty schoolboy caught nicking apples in an orchard.
What has been missing all through this pandemic has been leadership – the sort that balances the medical advice against the harm to jobs, business and the public finances and makes a decision and sticks to it.
Why is it that Nicola Sturgeon, who leads one of the most incompetent governments in Europe, still gets higher leadership ratings than Johnson?
Indecision and lack of clarity
So now we face the worst of all possible outcomes. Freedom but no freedom. Normal life but not at all normal. Indecision and lack of clarity wherever you look.
And while all this is happening, the deal to leave the EU has seen the people of Northern Ireland punished unforgivably for something that should never have been allowed to happen. Another Johnson triumph.
Once furlough ends, those out of work will need to learn new skills fast, but meanwhile we face real labour shortages in key industries such as construction and hospitality. The vaccine roll-out showed us what we gained from having left the EU. Elsewhere those gains are less evident.
Boris always wanted to be prime minister. He always wanted to have been prime minister. It’s just the bit in the middle that’s a trifle inconvenient. Word on the street is that the next election might well be 2022, after the Fixed-term Parliaments Act has been repealed and the Boundary Review completed. Before the damning public inquiry into the pandemic reports, he will retire having won two general elections, taken us out of Europe and overseen a deadly pandemic. It’ll look great on his CV. Just don’t read it too carefully.
But he won’t worry. He’ll be earning a fortune on the global speaking circuit and at last he and Carrie will be able to stop worrying about the money.
Steve Norris is chairman of Soho Estates and Future-Built