We do not fear a knock on the door at night for taking the Government to task or lambasting the alleged incompetence of Ministers. If we did, newspaper letter pages would be pale shadows of today’s forthright expressions of opinion.
All this puts into perspective the sneers at Western democracy by China, Russia, Iran and North Korea after the recent violence on Capitol Hill.
After 24 years as a Government press secretary, I take a rather philosophical view of our political blood sport. I have lost count of the times I tried to turn away the media’s wrath and demands that “heads must roll”.
Why, they even went for mine from time to time and I have a two-page letter from Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe to Margaret Thatcher demanding my sacking – apparently for arguing the case for her policies rather than his.
I must confess I was not entirely assiduous when it came to the various disloyalties of Francis Pym, Michael Heseltine, Howe and Nigel Lawson. But I can say I once intervened to stop Mrs Thatcher sending an ultimatum to Heseltine lest she make a martyr of him.
Our American allies should avoid conferring martyrdom on Donald Trump, even after the violence in Washington.
Better let him fade away into whatever wittersphere will have his rants.
Which brings me back to our relatively healthy British politics even after nine months of restrictions and three lockdowns. Of course, the natives are restless. Some of them are prone to demonstrate whether against legal curbs or vaccination.
Teachers’ unions are free to play political games with the Labour Party over the opening of schools, evidently regardless of its effect on the teaching profession’s reputation.
And let’s face it, the Government has not exactly covered itself in glory with the shortage of personal protection equipment, the toll in old folks homes, test and trace or school exams. We have not always seen a sureness of touch.
Instead, too often there have been abrupt U-turns to bemuse an already confused public. It would be utterly amazing, even given the majority’s observation of pandemic law, if there were not demands for this or that ministerial head.
The Prime Minister has lifted much of the pressure on himself by “getting Brexit done” in an orderly fashion. But there is still speculation how long he will put up with the pressure – and, in view of his commitments, his measly £150,000 salary.
Inevitably, Health Secretary Matt Hancock is a regular whipping post – almost as if he were fighting Covid-19 single-handedly. And Yorkshire’s very own Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, has collected an impressive array of knives in his back over school exams and openings.
It has often looked a bit of a mess but Williamson has been fighting not merely Covid-19 but obstructive teachers and latterly gloating Labour councils over the closure of schools as the virus victim count has spiked.
Yet we are told that a third of pupils – children of essential workers and the disadvantaged – and presumably around a third of teachers are still in class whatever their unions say.
This bickering was par for the course in my day – and we never had to cope with a pandemic. I am profoundly unimpressed with the notion that the disease would have been better handled by any democratic government I have known.
It is true that Johnson’s year-old government came relatively inexperienced to the task and that Hancock and Williamson look awfully young for the part.
But so does another Yorkshire MP, Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who is for now seen as a likely successor to Boris even though he has run up a mountainous debt.
As ever, I think it would help the most exposed Ministers if there were more evidence of Cabinet government (which should be more likely now that Dominic Cummings has gone) and a greater willingness or perhaps freedom for Ministers to argue the case for its policies.
As for the blood sport, you might as well lie back and enjoy it. It is one of the glories of our freedom in a democracy. Boris should refrain from re-arranging the ministerial chairs until the pandemic is over. Britain is not facing disaster – whatever the Communists try to pretend.
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