STEPHEN GLOVER gives his verdict on the Prime Minister's performance

STEPHEN GLOVER: This isn’t the Boris Johnson that Britain voted for

What has happened to the Boris Johnson I used to know — a man of open mind who welcomed debate and resisted the groupthink of government drones?

Our Prime Minister is in thrall to a group of blinkered scientists. 

When his views are not shaped by them, they are influenced by perpetual opinion polling carried out by No 10, to which Dominic Cummings ascribes the authority of Holy Writ.

One week we are enjoined to go back to work, a few weeks later we are told to stay at home. 

What has happened to the Boris Johnson I used to know — a man of open mind who welcomed debate and resisted the groupthink of government drones?

One moment Dishy Rishi is picking up the tab, the next it’s table service only in pubs, and they and restaurants must close early.

Confusion, contradiction, mixed messages: these are the hallmarks of Boris Johnson’s unhappy administration. 

And then, of course, there are the manifold and predictable failings of testing and tracing.

Let me make a prediction. Despite the new measures announced on Tuesday, the number of daily cases of Covid-19 will continue to rise. 

Within weeks further coercive measures will therefore be announced.

Why, Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty has reportedly already told Mr Johnson as much, and he and his medical colleagues are effectively running this Government. 

He is said to believe that, like Scotland, England will have to impose a ban on visiting between households.

Bit by bit, over the coming weeks and months, there will be a tightening of the rules until we’re almost back in the grim world of lockdown, with dire consequences for the economy, our mental health and the ability of the NHS to treat non-Covid patients who have serious illnesses. 


And this stop-start pattern — relaxation of rules followed by tightening, followed by relaxation, followed by tightening — could theoretically go on for ever so that the wellbeing of our society is slowly eroded.

Ah, I hear some ask: What about a vaccine? Won’t that save us from this endless circuit of despair? Maybe. But maybe not. 

Why, Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty (left) has reportedly already told Mr Johnson as much, and he and his medical colleagues are effectively running this Government.

On Monday, having succeeded in tandem with Sir Patrick Vallance in terrifying us, not least by brandishing scary graphs, Professor Whitty asserted that ‘science will in due course ride to our rescue’ in the form of a vaccine.

But as anyone who watches westerns knows, when the cavalry finally arrive it’s often too late. 

The beleaguered garrison holding the fort has been wiped out. Dead bodies are strewn everywhere.

We need a new approach, a different strategy, so that if there is no effective vaccine, or if it arrives later rather than sooner, society will be able to function without the economy disintegrating.

This is my proposal for Boris and the Government. It is shared by some scientists, though not those penning in Mr Johnson, and by many economists. 

It recognises Covid-19 for what it is, and fights it where it is lethal.

The extraordinary thing about the disease is that it’s usually harmless for the healthy young, and normally pretty mild for the healthy middle-aged. 

It is chiefly those over 65 who are potentially at risk, into which group I fall.

Even for oldies, the danger is unevenly spread. 

The other day, I heard the admirable Sir David Spiegelhalter, a statistician at Cambridge University, say that at his age — 67 — the likelihood of dying from Covid-19 is between one and one and a half per cent. For a person aged 80, it is 10 per cent.

Roughly 18 per cent of the UK population are over the age of 65. That means 82 per cent of people are at low risk of dying from the disease. 

(I exclude the obese and those with serious underlying health conditions.) Many — say those under 30 — are at practically no risk at all.


In effect, the vast majority of people, who have little or nothing to fear from the disease, are being made to accept life-changing economic and other sacrifices on behalf of a minority of the population. This is too high a price.

My suggestion is not that caution should be thrown to the wind so that the low-risk majority does as it pleases. 

Everybody should observe basic precautions such as social distancing and wearing masks and avoiding large gatherings — provided that rules do not chop and change all the time.

But the Government should concentrate on protecting the vulnerable and elderly while encouraging the economically active to get back to normal life without living under the threat of successive lockdowns.

It’s perfectly true that hitherto the authorities have been hopeless at safeguarding the old, letting the pandemic run riot in care homes during the spring at a cost of thousands of lives. 

But just because the Government failed the elderly in the past, it doesn’t mean it is bound to do so in the future.

Much more rigorous testing in care homes would be a good start. 

In fact, the whole system of testing and tracing infected people remains a shambles, and seems very unlikely to improve under the limp direction of Baroness Harding. Boris Johnson must get someone competent.

Most older people, by the way, need little persuading to minimise social contact. They know the risks and don’t want to die. 

But the Government could offer them specific help — for example, by ensuring they receive adequate supplies of food.

I’ve no doubt there are all kinds of reasonable objections to these ideas. What depresses me is that they can’t even be discussed, let alone adopted. 

Guided by a coterie of scientists, the Prime Minister is leading us ineluctably towards another lockdown, and possible economic disaster.

It can’t be said too often that these scientists have frequently been wrong. And are still. 

Professor Whitty declared on Monday that there is ‘no evidence’ that the disease is milder than it was in April.

This view is at odds with that of one of Germany’s leading virologists, Professor Hendrik Streeck. 

He says: ‘People are getting infected with a lower dose because of social distancing, and they are getting a less severe illness.’ Whom do you believe?

Why can’t the PM see the shortcomings of those advising him? 

The Boris I knew 20 years ago — with whom I used weekly to discuss the affairs of the world, after we had quickly agreed the subject of my column for the Spectator magazine — would never have kow-towed to the likes of Chris Whitty.


Somehow this most independent-minded of men has become a prisoner of the system. 

Has he been affected by his gruelling bout of Covid-19? Has he lost his nerve because of the undoubted mistakes he made back in March?

Whatever the cause, he has become doctrinaire and resistant to debate. 

His Tuesday evening address to the nation was more I-know-best nanny than Churchill, despite the clankingly deliberate echoes.

Trapped in the bubble of No 10, he governs by diktat, and ignores the insights of his own MPs. 

We should applaud Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbench Tory MPs, who is challenging the Government’s right to apply new Covid rules without a parliamentary vote.

An autocrat and a dogmatist? This isn’t the Boris we knew. It’s not the Boris voters thought would make an inspired Prime Minister. 

We are only asking him to open his mind and accept that there could be another, better way.

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