Like a lot of people, I went to bed last night pretty upset after seeing the horrific news about Boris Johnson being in intensive care. Something about the unreality of the situation — those words look ridiculous on the screen — and the sheer intensity of the crisis made it feel too intense to bear. It feels like a bad trip, and one that’s going to go on for weeks.
It is also that the prime minister is relatively young, and as Tom Holland put it, a man who so obviously enjoys life.
Many, many people are upset by this, people of all political persuasions, not just because he is a fellow human being and a democratically-elected leader, but because if he can be reduced to this, it emphasises how fragile our country is.
I suspected that things must be quite bad because there was no hospital selfie, no forced smile for the camera. Whether or not we voted for him, the PM is our leader and on some level we feel comforted to see him. I think it is a similar psychological mechanism to how medieval leaders had to be seen in battle —William the Conqueror is shown on the Bayeux Tapestry raising his helmet to show his men he’s alive.
The onerous responsibility of running the country now falls to the 46-year-old Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab. And as Hugo Rifkind asked in his column today, who would want to be in Dominic Raab’s shoes right now?
Raab’s story is interesting in what it says about the country he leads as it faces its biggest test since the war. When the Queen made her first broadcast in 1940 — in the same location where she would give her historic Palm Sunday message of 2020 — the father of the man who would lead her future government was an 8-year-old Jewish refugee from Czechoslovakia called Peter Raab. Now, eight decades later, his son would be leading the cabinet as it faced another great stress.
Raab junior spoke about his background with the Jerusalem Post a couple of years ago, about his father and how he lost most of his relatives in the Holocaust.
That little boy grew up knowing that his grandmother, his grandfather, most of his relatives, the loved ones left behind, had been systematically murdered for no other reason than that they were Jews.
That little boy learned English. He got into a grammar school. He grasped the opportunities and embraced the tolerance that our great country has to offer. He became food manager at Marks & Spencer. He married a clothes buyer, Church of England girl from Bromley. But he never forgot what happened to his family.
That little boy was my father.
Raab is assisted in the cabinet by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and Home Secretary, both of whom come from East Africa’s Asian communities, who also suffered persecution of a lesser kind.
All of which further strengthens my belief that the coronavirus will be a defining moment for multicultural Britain, especially as the worst of this tragedy is falling on NHS staff, who are the Battle of Britain fighters of 2020, and who come from every part of the earth.