Boris Johnson made it all sound so easy during the election. But the pressure of the coronavirus outbreak means the dream of a big strategic budget is for the birds
Slogans can win elections. But slogans won’t cut it in government. Three months ago, Boris Johnson powered to a general election victory endlessly promising to “get Brexit done” and deliver on “the people’s priorities”. But this prime minister does not merely campaign in slogans. He tries to govern in them too. After last month’s reshuffle, the first cabinet meeting began with a demeaning to-and-fro exchange about the hospitals, police officers and nurses the new ministers were pledged to deliver. Every week, Mr Johnson breezes through prime minister’s questions with a similarly vacuous recitation. Having taken Britain out of the European Union (although this is emphatically not the same as getting Brexit done), Mr Johnson now tries to give the impression that restoring Britain’s public services also requires nothing more than a quick collective chant by him and his ministerial courtiers.
Democratic politics deserves better than this. Fortunately, events are starting to force Mr Johnson’s hand. The onward spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus clearly demands a different level of national leadership from the facetious version that the prime ministers has offered so far. The continuing impact of the winter floods, which found Mr Johnson wanting, presents a similarly long-term challenge for the government across the stricken regions of Britain. Next month, he may also face a more effective opposition leader than Jeremy Corbyn can ever manage to be in his lame duck phase.
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