Memo to Boris Johnson: Raise your game or do the honourable thing – Patrick Mercer

IT’S been six months exactly since the Prime Minister locked us down.

Boris Johnson is under increasing pressure, writes former Tory MP Patrick Mercer.

Few expected it to last as long as it did and even fewer expected the helter-skelter ride that has followed.

Similarly, whilst a “second wave” was talked about several months ago, the situation in which we now find ourselves has left many dismayed, shocked and surprised.

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And now Boris Johnson has told us to prepare for another six months’ restrictions (maybe 
even harsher than the current ones), but I wonder if he’s rigorously thought through what lessons he can learn from the last half year.

To what extent is Boris Johnson still fatigued by Covid-19?

You see, many of the problems he’s encountered are going to repeat themselves – more or less – and that should give him an unparalleled opportunity to improve his and his Cabinet’s lamentable performance.

Whilst I have few credentials to advise our premier, I do have some thoughts for him based on my previous experiences in the Army and then as a MP.

Above all, Prime Minister, you must learn to lead. You’re neither an editor nor chairman of UK Plc, you’re the boss who must not shelter behind scientists and use them to make national announcements.

Nor must Dominic Cummings be allowed to dominate: he’s not elected, he’s not even rigorously selected.

Boris Johnson in the House of Commons this week.

No, you must seize back control by forming a Covid task force which includes ministers from Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, together with a senior metro mayor from the North and representatives of the Opposition.

Parliament must also be given the chance to vote on your measures.

Central to this must be constant communication by you. We mustn’t be allowed to think that you’ve disappeared again – you must use your majority to bring people with you whilst stamping your authority on every decision.

You need look no further than your hero Churchill: he knew that everything in government revolves around leadership – everything.

Second, stop playing politics with this virus. At the start of the year the chopping and changing of strategy, your lack of attendance at Cobra meetings and your personal distractions meant that serious mistakes were made.

Indeed, I would argue that the only real success your Government has enjoyed has been to frighten the population witless, to terrify us into cowed obedience in the face of a disease which has been compared to the Spanish ’Flu – the Black Death, even – but which is only a fraction as lethal.

A vaccine may appear, but even if it does, we will have to live with this virus in the same way that we live with the menacing reality of cancer or even car crashes.

So, get it in proportion: don’t try to distract us from the Brexit seesaw by hyping Covid up; don’t try and cover earlier mistakes by repeating them; and don’t expect to be seen as a hero by delivering the country from a danger that has been overblown.

Next, look over the hill. Your Government’s made too many avoidable errors by not learning from other countries’ difficulties.

For instance, Scotland made a terrible mess of its exam results this year just under two weeks before Westminster blundered into the same quicksands.

Then, when you introduced the “rule of six”, Scotland and Wales stole a march by exempting children under 12. Similarly, why did your Ministers fumble Test and Trace and a host of other, wholly predictable problems?

And here’s just three of the most grievous issues that will have to be tackled. Overwhelmingly, we’re facing a depression and a crowd of problems that come with it: deep unemployment, the fracturing of businesses, tax and pensions crises, chronic poverty and poor education.

Next, there’s going to be a serious backlash when it becomes clear how many people have died because the NHS has concentrated too much on Covid-19.

Lastly, people have learnt that violent protest works. Insurrection has been allowed on our streets and we can expect much more.

I hope that you are now immersed in planning for this maelstrom.

Proper leadership involves anticipating all of this and avoiding nasty surprises by telling the electorate to be ready.

Lastly, I just don’t believe that your heart is in the job.

Several papers have alluded to “insiders” making disparaging allegations about your private life, your finances and your underlying competence.

The kindest thing that has been suggested is that you’re suffering from “long Covid”, but I see a man who is exhausted and neither enjoying nor rising to the challenges in front of him.

The post of Prime Minister is not a bauble, it’s not another line on a CV, it’s a terribly hard, brutal duty which must be discharged with total dedication.

If your health or resolve are broken or you’re simply not thriving, you must step down with honour. Clearly, that’s a huge decision to take but, if you stay, you must radically change your approach.

Patrick Mercer is the former Conservative MP for Newark. He is an ex-soldier.

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Thank you

James Mitchinson