Business needs Boris Johnson at his brilliant best; here’s why – Tom Richmond

BRITAIN has seen the best – and worst – of Boris Johnson since he instigated regular 10 Downing Street briefings at the outset of the Covid crisis.

Boris Johnson at this week's Downing Street press conference.

The Prime Minister has shown statesmanship, especially at the start of the first lockdown. Equally, there have been times when his obfuscation has diminished his office.

Either way, it is proper for Ministers to submit themselves to such inquisitions at times of crisis (even though some of the questions and answers can, on occasion, leave much to be desired).

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But Johnson’s tone on Wednesday – the briefing where BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg and others asked whether families could make holiday arrangements – was very different.

This was Boris Johnson at Prime Minister's Questions this week.

It was almost methodical – a description that was once applied to his predecessor Theresa May before Brexit overwhelmed her. And it was responsible, given how the PM is a more instinctive leader.

Put simply, Johnson was explaining how the lockdown will have to be eased with caution, and go hand-in-hand with the rollout of the vaccine programme, so that businesses can reopen and, hopefully, stay open.

Johnson appeared to appreciate that he has one chance to reopen the economy, and civil society, and that he can’t afford to take a false step if this is to become a year of recovery and renewal rather than regret and retreat.

And there’s also a coherence – Johnson had earlier suggested at PMQs in response to Skipton and Ripon MP Julian Smith that plans are already in place if people require top-up vaccines.

This was Boris Johnson at Wednesday's Downing Street briefing.

This is reassuring ahead of the Government’s review of Covid, and wider risks to public health, next week prior to a major announcement on February 22 about the way forward.

But what has brought about this change of demeanour? There are three plausible reasons.

First, the genuine hope offered by a vaccine programme defying expectations.

Second, the PM has now had time 
to recover from his own Covid brush 
with death.

Finally, Downing Street is calmer and more efficient without the presence of destabilising influences like Dominic Cummings, the PM’s former aide.

What is certain, however, is Boris Johnson does appear to be enjoying a Covid bounce that points to better days ahead – the regret is that it took so much heartbreak and heartache to reach this moment in time.

And, regardless of views on the PM, it’s now down to all of us to hold firm so that Britain can reopen for good when it is safe to do so. That’s the challenge. And it will continue to require the very best of Boris Johnson.

RISHI Sunak is certainly after the youth vote one year after being made Chancellor – he made a very good impression when he took part in an online maths class involving pupils from Oughtibridge Primary School in Sheffield.

Headteacher Jim Dugmore reports that Sunak’s input over co-ordinates (mathematical as opposed to economic) was a success with youngsters who then asked a number of questions, including any ambitions by the Chancellor to the PM.

He answered by saying that he’s a very challenging job at present and next month’s Budget, and Sunak’s ability to boost the economy, will certainly define his Chancellor and, quite, possibly, his chances of becoming PM.

What’s slightly regrettable, however, is that he is not using these online lessons to speak to teachers about their challenges – and needs.

After all, they’re the people who are tasked with teaching the next generations the skills that they will require to prosper in later life and Sunak needs to be able to count on them – literally.

I DISAGREE with many of the left-wing policies put forward by Jeremy Corbyn disciple Richard Burgon, the Leeds East MP.

I do, however, respect his right to ask questions in Parliament – including the cost of private sector contracts involved in Baroness Dido Harding’s Test and Trace operation.

And what is unacceptable was how it was dismissed as “completely absurd question” by Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg who went on to describe Burgon as a “typical socialist”.

Rees-Mogg, the self-styled Honourable MP for the 18th century, went on to become a caricature of himself when responding to Don Valley MP Nick Fletcher who wants Whitehall ministries moved to Doncaster.

“There is still somebody called the Queen’s Champion — an hereditary post — who used to appear at coronations. My Hon Friend holds a similar role in being a champion for his constituency,” he told him.

Thanks for the lesson in history. And fawning.

ANOTHER commitment from Boris Johnson at PMQs that the eastern leg of HS2 to Leeds will be built and more details will follow “with our national infrastructure revolution”.

Let’s hope that includes a commitment to turn HS2 into the ‘‘British Bullet’’ to showcase UK skills and engineering expertise to help keep the project on track so rail capacity – the key justification – can be increased.

TALKING of PMQs, did you spot Boris Johnson and that Worzel Gummidge-like ‘‘thatch’’? At least we know he hasn’t broken the lockdown rules to have his hair / haystack (you decide) tidied up.

Unlike other public figures with neatly trimmed hair – or those Premier League footballers groomed for a catwalk when they walk out onto the pitch.

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