HARRY Houdini was visiting a friend on the night of the census in 1911 and listed his occupation as Mysteriarch. A pleasing little fact that finds a reflection in today’s politics.
When Boris Johnson fills in his census form next month, he will at a guess write “prime minister” under occupation. Unless he goes for “political escapologist”.
His now quite long political life has seen him wriggle out of assorted scandals and self-propelled mishaps. So will he now escape all blame for the UK’s shocking 100,000-plus deaths from the pandemic? You wouldn’t put it past him.
Most of the first year of this pandemic has been long, chaotic and marked by late decisions, poor decisions, wild inconsistency and needlessly blown billions. Leaving us with that tragic death toll and a shot economy; and reportedly leaving some of his chums very much richer thanks to PPE contracts handed out in haste.
This has now been followed by the successful roll-out of the vaccine – a great relief all round for most of us. The vaccine nationalism and the bragging are ridiculous and hard to swallow, but you have to admit that Britain has played this part well. Thanks mostly to the NHS, pharmacies, public-spirited volunteers, brilliant science.
So does the good second half erase all memory of the shocking first half? It shouldn’t but you can see the thought bubbles.
It’s common for Johnson to be found booming “Move along, nothing to be seen here.” All talk of an inquiry in his handling of the crisis is brushed off – the moment isn’t right. And, knowing Johnson’s track-record, the moment never will be right.
Should this upset us? Those of us who’ve never fallen for all the bumbling persona should have reason to be upset – but not as much reason as those who’ve lost loved ones. They really should be calling for an inquiry.
But Johnson has something in his favour: people prefer optimism to pessimism, even when it’s the cheery, deceptive boosterism flourished by a famously unreliable politician. Many people would rather look forward than back; they’d rather think that something brighter lies ahead.
None of this should excuse all the earlier mistakes, or the gaslighting – blaming us for not behaving properly, rather than blaming his own mistakes. But you can see the glint in Johnson’s bloodshot eye. He can spy a way out for us and for himself.
And don’t be surprised if Houdini Boris wriggles free from this one, as he has done many times before.
He’s often lucky, too; lucky in having had Jeremy Corbyn as an opponent; lucky with the slavish loyalty of our Conservative-backing press; lucky even in the pandemic headlines covering up the complicated, red-tape littered mess of Brexit (never have so many teeth been lost to teething troubles).
If we do ever have an inquiry, it should consider not just what went wrong in the past year, but before that too, in the undermining of the NHS and cruelly unnecessary austerity. Whoever’s in charge, whoever’s to blame, we need to make sure this doesn’t happen again. And there are at least 100,000 reasons for that.