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Failing the coronavirus test

Public goodwill, and sympathy after his own brush with COVID, is giving way to a disquiet that the Prime Minister is not really engaged with a national emergency

Up until the moment he entered an ICU, charmed lives didn’t come much more undeservingly charmed than that of Boris Johnson. High level ministerial gaffes, exposed lies, faithless marriages – a series of self-inflicted disasters which would derail the careers of less cocksure strivers – could not disrupt his trajectory to become the UK’s Prime Minister.

Mr Johnson certainly likes the idea of being in charge. He revels in the attention and when he won the general election last December, he marked it with a speech on the steps of Downing Street. True to form, he issued a flurry of extravagant rhetorical cheques with little sense of how they would be honoured – including the pledge: ‘We will fix the crisis in social care once and for all.’ Then, equally true to form, he went on holiday.

He was on holiday when the first reports of a mystery illness began to creep out of China, and then again when official guidance was issued to the care sector that it was ’very unlikely’ that residents would be infected by COVID-19. Fast forward four months and we now know that over 12,000 care home residents in England and Wales have died from a virus, largely when eyes were elsewhere.

Johnson’s style has always been cheesy – a second rate Churchill impression topped with an Andy Warhol fright wig, as if to say that anyone can be Winston for 15 minutes. But nothing curdles like a bad joke in a grave situation. Public goodwill, and sympathy after his own brush with COVID, is giving way to a disquiet that he is not really engaged with a national emergency.

He has the time and the political capital to reform social care, but it will take blood, sweat and tears he seems to disinclined to shed. Sadly Mr Johnson’s complacency up to this point is less reminiscent of Churchill than his predecessor, Neville Chamberlain. His finest hour will always elude him, until he can take himself and his responsibilities seriously.