Time for Government to reflect on its unenviable reputation - Bernard Ingham

Has this Government ever heard of a mirror? No, I am not casting aspersions on Boris Johnson’s unruly locks. Indeed, he looked like one of us during the barber-less lockdown.

Boris Johnson needs to reflect on the reputation of his Government, according to Bernard Ingham. (Photo by Lucy Young - WPA Pool / Getty Images)

Instead, I think we are entitled to ask whether our Government knows – or cares – what it looks like.

It might care now that Labour leader Keir Starmer is ahead of Boris in public esteem, according to a poll. It certainly ought to do so because, frankly, it looks a mess.

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I say this as one who has consistently given the Government a lot of leeway in fighting an unknown mortal enemy called coronavirus without a vaccine on the horizon.

Do you agree that the Government needs to consider how it is being received by voters? Photo: Lucy Young/Evening Standard/PA Wire

I suppose things have been going wrong since Dominic Cummings drove to Durham to self-isolate during the lockdown and then compounded it with a trip to Barnard Castle professedly to test whether his eyesight was up to driving back to London.

I know of not the slightest evidence that he – or a Minister who drove to his country home during lockdown – infected anyone.

But they should have known what it would look like: one law for some and another for the rest.

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That has given those desperate to lie on a crowded, sun-baked beach an excuse for a trip to Bournemouth.

There are now claims that Cummings’ drive to Durham served only to undermine the lockdown.

But that is only one aspect of the problem.

We find Boris swinging the dumbbells to lose weight while his Government is subsidising us to eat our fill in any old diner.

It doesn’t add up, least of all when we are up to our neck in debt.

Then we had Grant Shapps, the Transport Minister, returning from a holiday in Spain that had scarcely started because of a sudden change in quarantine rules. Does the left hand know what the right is doing?

Then the NHS is supposed to look after us from cradle to grave but only when Covid-19 is not around. The backlog of neglected patients suffering from anything from real or suspected cancer to chronic disorders is alarming. It is more evidence of panic than an orderly concern for the welfare of all Britons.

Then I hear of people masked up to the eyebrows going into supermarkets only to find those serving at the counters – people who have kept us fed during the lockdown – unencumbered. It doesn’t add up.

And so I could go on. Life today is riddled with inconsistencies. In fact, it could be argued that the Government has been consistent only in its inconsistency so far this year.

But it doesn’t begin and end with coronavirus. Take the PM’s list of 36 peers in the dissolution honours list. It is supposed to be policy to reduce the number of members of the House of Lords – as the exasperated Lords’ Speaker, former Tory Health Minister, Norman Fowler, has pointed out.

Worse still, it is open to the charge of nepotism and cronyism. Boris not only elevated his brother, Jo, to the peerage but the son, albeit a British citizen, of a Russian KGB agent and oligarch by the name of Evgeny Lebedev.

I suppose we should be grateful to Lord Lebedev for keeping alive the London Evening Standard and Independent group.

Then there are allegations floating around that the Government is stuffing departmental boards – formed since my time allegedly to improve the operation of government – with political cronies.

And where lies the reputed favourite to become the new Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service?

Why, in the Department of Health whose performance during the coronavirus crisis has not exactly been scintillating.

In fact, I am told Sir Chris Wormald is a very bright chap indeed and would get the vote of discerning critics of the system. But what does it look like?

When you add to this mix a few Tory MPs either convicted of or accused of playing sexual games, it begins to look even sleazy.

These are no mid-term blues.

In its first eight months our Government has accumulated an unenviable reputation for inconsistency and self-neglect.

It is no use arguing that impressions do not matter.

What it looks like in government is generally what it is. And this one spells confusion and abuse of power.

The last straw for me came in Cummings’ retort to my critical column last week about the appointment of a spokesman to give televised White House-style briefings.

He said a lot has changed since my day – as indeed it has – and people now want accountability. Cummings is, if course, the last person to talk about that.

For heavens sake, Boris, look in the mirror please.

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James Mitchinson