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June 11, 2020

Incompetent leaders

Opinion

June 11, 2020

Britain is failing to cope with the Covid-19 epidemic as well as other countries in Europe and East Asia have. Out of 62,000 excess deaths in the UK, says former chief scientific officer Sir David King, “40,000 excess deaths could have been avoided if government had acted responsibly”.

The failure is devastating: on a single day this week, 359 people died from coronavirus in the UK – more than the number of deaths in all 27 EU countries over the same 24 hours. The UK is starting to exit lockdown while the epidemic has not been brought under control, despite all the economic self-destruction.

Two main reasons explain why the crisis in Britain turned into a calamity. Firstly, the political consequences of Brexit turn out to be more lethal and swift than any potential economic damage. It is now clear that the worst outcome of the turmoil over leaving the EU has been to land Britain with a leadership of spectacular incompetence during one of the worst crises in British history.

Boris Johnson emerges, when he does emerge these days, as the sort of shallow self-promoting buffoon that his critics, including many who know him well, have always said that he was. As his government’s failures multiply, his default position is evasion and denial: on the very same day that Britain (population 66 million) outpaced the whole of the EU (population 446 million) in fatalities, Johnson told the House of Commons that he was “very proud of what we have achieved”.

Much of the time it does not matter much who is nominally running a country with an effective civil service, but this is not one of those times. Judgements crucial to the lives and livelihoods of millions must be made, but at this critical moment, Britain is finding that it is run by a Gilbert-and-Sullivan type administration. The analogy is all too appropriate: Johnson, with his fake-patrician bombast and shady dealings, strongly resembles the Duke of Plaza Toro in The Gondoliers who “led his regiment from behind/he found it less exciting”. The sinister character and dubious doings of Dominic Cummings strongly recall those of the Grand Inquisitor in the same opera.

Almost everybody outside the government believes that at no point during the epidemic has the government been ahead of the game. It has always lagged behind and frequently headed in the wrong direction. The list of errors is long: underestimating the threat posed by the virus; failure to prepare for it through accelerated procurement; late and inadequate testing and tracing; sending untested Covid-19 carriers into care homes; failing to introduce face masks early on; chaotic preparation for a return to normal life and resumed economic activity.

Excerpted from: 'The Brexit Crisis Led to Totally Incompetent Leadership at a Time of Unprecedented Calamity. Now We are Paying for It'.

Counterpunch.org