When the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson returned to work in No. 10 last Monday morning after a month battling coronavirus, Downing Street officials were quick to point out that he had a very full ‘IN’ basket to deal with.
How true indeed. And thankfully Boris had a relatively speedy recovery from Covid-19 for it became patently to observers and to most Britons too who are straining under the restrictions of social distancing and cocooning necessitated by the pandemic that there was a severe leadership deficit among the rest of the ministers sitting around the cabinet table.
Brexit-led cull of senior party figures with decades of Cabinet-level collective responsibility under their belts deprived the Conservatives — and Britons — of a generation of figures who were blooded in political responsibility in the governments of former prime ministers David Cameron and Theresa May
Headless chickens springs to mind. Yes, the cat may have been away, but this shower of mice could only play at a time when the nation needed action.
During Boris’ enforced absence, it became obvious that the decision-making process was broken. Why? Because the Brexit-led cull of senior party figures with decades of Cabinet-level collective responsibility under their belts deprived the Conservatives — and Britons — of a generation of figures who were blooded in political responsibility in the governments of former prime ministers David Cameron and Theresa May.
Is it any wonder Britons are fed up now with the malaise and stupor that infected the Cabinet room during the illness and absence of Her Majesty’s Prime Minister.
The lunatics running the asylum couldn’t organise for a plane to deliver badly needed personal protective equipment to be delivered from Turkey; were incapable of making sure that the most basic figure of daily death counts was indeed accurate; and failed time and time again to instill even a modicum of confidence in National Health Staff (NHS) when it came to an essential testing regimen.
And they most egregiously failed to ensure than the generation of British seniors living in respite and care homes — the sector most vulnerable to this horrible pandemic — were provided the care and attention needed.
Even to this very day, those daily death statistics and rates of infection do not include the deaths of those who die in care homes or in non-hospital environments from Covid-19.
If this is a war, then there is a lack of basic intelligence when it comes to the level of collateral damage being inflicted on you by an unseen enemy. And if you don’t know or can’t say exactly where your enemy is hitting you hardest, that you’re well on your way to fighting a losing battle.
Reasonable estimates suggest that the UK toll of some 22,000 deaths are under reported by at least one-third — closer to 30,000 as things stand now.
Indeed, data journalists at the Financial Times believe the death toll is actually under-reported by some 42 per cent. If that holds to be true, then you can add almost 10,000 more to that sad and traumatic toll.
Britons too are frustrated that they for weeks they did not know the members of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies — Sage — that has provided advice and information to the Cabinet to help them make literally life-and-death decisions that effect the physical and mental health and economic well-being of some 66 million people.
So, when it was revealed that arch-Brexiteer and manipulator-in-chief Dominic Cummings — Johnson’s communications adviser — was sitting in on that panel, any credible remaining claim of transparency was tarred with the same bus-sized brush that promised during the Brexit campaign that £350 million (Dh1.6 billion) would be available to the NHS.
We all know how that turned out — and never has the NHS been more in need of £350 million per week. Heck, it might even settle for gloves and gowns, masks and visors to help doctors and nurses save the lives of British folk.
The situation got so bad during Boris’ absence that the Daly Mail — the mass-selling ‘Fleet Street’ tabloid that has been an unflinching front line supporter of Boris and Brexit — had to take fighting the coronavirus into its own hands.
It organised a fund-raising campaign, got together more than £1 million chartered a plane and flew it to Shanghai where it could fill it with PPE for the NHS front line heroes.
Sure, it’s been rightly blowing its own trumpet with headlines like MAIL FORCE ONE — but it managed to do something on a charitable basis as Her Majesty’s Cabinet dillied and dallied on a daily basis.
But everything is OK now of course, Boris is back and tackling those files in the IN box. While he’s at it, he might want to take a look in the OUT tray too. There are at least three files there — one each from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Those three devolved governments have the powers to make their own changes to the coronavirus rules. And their actions now are a further clear indication that the ties that bind the UK together — strained to the limit by the whole Brexit process — are now damaged further.
Nicola Sturgeon is requiring all Scots to adopt face masks as she re-opens Scotland’s economy ahead of that south of the border.
In Wales, the Welsh Assembly is looking at reopening its economy because its transmission and coronavirus rates are far lower and better handled than in England.
And in Northern Ireland, officials there look to the south, to the Republic of Ireland, for adopting an all-island approach to fighting the pandemic and getting things back to normal.
But at least Boris is back at the helm.
Mick O’Reilly is the Gulf News Foreign Correspondent based in Europe