By ENOCH MUKUNGU
We love Christmas. This is a point so basic that it feels pointless to say, but it is worth taking a step back and just thinking about how much value we place on Christmas. It has a cultural cache no other holiday has. It permeates every inch of our culture; we don’t sing pop songs about Easter Weekend, or make blockbusters about Hanukkah. Christmas has been so fully secularised that we have replaced Jesus as its main character and replaced with a Coca Cola lorry. Were an alien to observe the level of importance we place on it, and the amount of work we put into it, they might conclude that Christmas was the most important day of the year, and they wouldn’t be wrong. Christmas is a chance to leave the worries and pain of the rest of the year behind as you come together with those you love. And after the year we’ve had, many people likely needed the break.
And now Boris Johnson has cancelled it.
In a year of endless disappointments, this feels like one of the worst, because it didn’t have to be this way. Back when Johnson first announced the Christmas amnesty, plenty of people saw that it was setting the stage for a disaster. Yet Boris Johnson barrelled forward, terrified of becoming the Prime Minister who cancelled Christmas, and set the stage for a potential health disaster. In many ways, this latest announcement is a relief – the old plan was going to be a catastrophe. But it hurts when you let your hopes rise, only for them to be slashed at the last minute. This was supposed to be a time for joy; we had the vaccine, we were coming out of lockdown, and now we could reunite with our families, who some of us hadn’t seen all year. People will have spent weeks planning for their Christmas this year; making sure their homes were Covid-safe, buying food, buying train tickets. All for naught.
But can we really blame the Prime Minister? To hear him tell it, his ministry is under siege by supernatural powers; first mutant algorithms, now mutant Covid variants. One half expects that next week the X-Men will storm Downing Street. While all Prime Ministers are victims to events to some extent, Boris has been totally subsumed by them. Any plans or agenda his government had when they were elected has been abandoned under the weight of Brexit and Covid-19. Which makes it all the more striking that Boris Johnson has failed to rise to the occasion on either. Brexit is a mess, and in Europe, we rival only Italy in deaths from Covid. But of course, we knew he wouldn’t. Johnson was supposed to be the fun choice, the Prime Minister who did comedy stunts to promote the Olympics, wrote funny columns, and didn’t know how to comb his hair. We never expected him to do anything serious. How wrong we were.
Shed a tear for the Brexiteers; for them, Boris Johnson was supposed to be the slayer of Europe, who would beat back the 'remoaners' and lead them to a glorious free trade future. Now it has all turned to ashes in their mouths. Their champion has failed at the first hurdle; far from the master negotiator they were sold, Johnson has led us to the edge of no deal. And worse, he’s abandoned all libertarian instincts that made him seem so appealing; while the rest of the country sees lockdown as an unpleasant necessity, for many die-hard Conservatives, it is a total betrayal. No wonder so many of them have buyers’ remorse.
Boris Johnson is driving the nation, but all he knows how to do is U-turn. The government is trapped in an endless cycle; scientists and doctors warn that the situation is worsening, the government ignores them, Keir Starmer tells Johnson to listen to the scientists so the PM hits him with a killer insult and then boldly declares that he will not be listening this time. And then things do get worse, and the government is back on the retreat, implementing the new regulations well after they should have. So, as he always does after he’s made to U-turn, Boris Johnson stands before the nation like a chastised schoolboy, apologetically explaining why we should forget all the stuff he’s been promising, now is the time to get serious. He is inevitably late to the press conference, but like all his other deficiencies, we ignore it. Boris Johnson has failure priced in; we’ve given up expecting better.
But if Boris Johnson is to be crucified, he should not go to the cross alone. The inadequacy of the Cabinet is clear. Last year, at the height of the Brexit crisis, some floated the fantasy that Theresa May would form a government of All-Talents to get a deal. A year later, we face a much worse crisis, and Johnson has formed a government of No-Talents to see us through. Hancock, Gove, Williamson; has ever such an assemblage of no-hopers held the reins of power? Matt Hancock has failed at every task he has been set, on testing, NHS Capacity, PPE. Gavin Williamson went missing for months, failing to foresee the calamity that awaited the government on results day, and then he failed again when dealing with university students returning to campuses. Every single minister humiliated themselves in defence of Dominic Cummings. It’s almost enough to make you wish for the days of Chris Grayling.
Rishi Sunak is likely to be the only person to leave this crisis with his reputation enhanced, despite regularly displaying less political insight and genuine wisdom than Matt Hancock. Sunak was responsible for the big push to open early, he was behind the government’s messaging demanding people go back to work, his Eat Out to Help Out scheme contributed to the spread of the virus, just when it looked like suppression efforts might work. Sunak’s public persona as the Nice Guy Chancellor, here to bail everyone out, is a thin veneer, a creation crafted by a Spin Doctor Frankenstein. Not one member of the cabinet has proven to have what it takes to save this country.
Christmas is usually a time for forgiveness, but I don’t feel much like forgiving. Boris Johnson has failed this nation, and I’m done taking it. A soon to be former President of the United States once called Johnson “Britain Trump”. I suggest we follow in America’s example and get someone new in, the sooner the better. I don’t know how much more of Johnson we can take. One thing I am sure of though; Boris Johnson, the man who was so desperate for the top job, will go down as one of the worst people to ever have it. Maybe one day, that will give me a vindictive joy, but for now, it’s a cold comfort.
Image: Pippa Fowles / No 10 Downing Street