The next few weeks of this year are going to be bleak, worse than April last year, and the most traumatic time the country has faced since the Second World War. But the good news is: Tony Blair is back.
The former PM has been vocal of late, on the subject of vaccination; he first suggested delaying the second dose so that we can offer more immediate protection to twice as many people. Now he has accused the Government of acting too slow, arguing that we need to aim towards five million doses a week.
I suppose it’s a facet of ageing that, as you get older, the politicians of your youth seem to possess more gravitas and greatness than the people currently running the country. Perhaps Gavin Williamson and Matt Hancock will in years to come feel like figures of great historical significance, political colossi standing next to whoever is in charge. But in Blair’s case, it certainly feels like he would do a more effective job than the current lot.
Surgeons often say that it is better to take the wrong course of action than to do nothing because the worst thing is to dither and wait for a problem to turn into a crisis, and for the bleeding to become uncontrollable.
That has repeatedly been the case with the current Government. Inactive about Christmas until forced to act at the last moment; inactive about schools until forced to act at the last moment; now, with the vaccine programme, they are reluctantly and tardily doing the inevitable and calling in the military — from next Monday! Because what’s the rush?
Not everything can be blamed on the cabinet team rather than the deeper idiocy around them; the fact that Britain has never required travellers to take a Covid test this entire time is almost unbelievable, but it reflects a deeper cultural prejudice towards “openness” which has cost us dearly. Likewise, that Government advice is still emphasising handwashing over the Three C’s; the sight of the “NHS Choir” singing indoors at Christmas was the most comically bleak way to end the year — but it’s fine, because they’re all two metres apart!
Clearly there is so much institutional rot explaining Britain’s poor handling of the crisis, but a lot comes down to leadership. A million articles have been written about the prime minister’s Churchill complex; it’s almost a form of Churchillian Drift that British leaders must be compared to the man. But here we are: this is the Summer of 1940, and the current Prime Minister cannot rouse the country, or his party, to mobilise.
Only Blair seems to appreciate that this is now a wartime emergency, the biggest single crisis we have faced since 1945, and all the Government’s energy now needs to be directed at speeding up the vaccination programme — our only way out of this disaster.
The prime minister, throughout this entire crisis, has lacked the strength to lead his party, and rule over the numerous MPs who seemed to treat this illness like just another seasonal flu. His desire to please both sides has ensured enfeebled rule when strong leadership was needed most of all.
I never voted for Blair, but I don’t doubt for a second that he would do a better job than the current occupier of Number 10. The tragedy of Blair’s rule was that he was elected too young, when with his leadership skills he would have made a far better prime minister with a bit more experience and less naivety. Indeed, he’s only 67 now, just a tiny bit older than a certain maverick Tory politician when he was called for to lead his country in the dark days of 1940.