When the going gets tough, the tough get going and the weak have their inadequacies brutally exposed. I give you exhibit A, one Donald John Trump, whose rambling, self serving monologue on Saturday night contained the memorable advice that the way to keep the virus victim count lower was to slow down testing for it. Genius! Let’s stop publishing obituaries too and nobody need ever die again. Trump’s deficiencies have been well rehearsed and needn’t detain us here, save to say that when the tough going in question contains a real and present danger to thousands of innocent citizens, then it’s time to defrock rather than mock. This charlatan is downright dangerous and any Republican leaders who continue to indulge his monstrous, ego driven administration will be accessories before and after some very unsavoury facts.
His mini me in Downing Street is perhaps a more interesting case study. Prior to the devastating challenges of the last few months, Boris Johnson was widely thought within his own ranks to be an orator of note. Yes, he was lazy, yes he had a 2.1 in mendacity, yes he thought fidelity was something or other to do with sound quality. But, hey guys, here was a man who knew how to sell stuff to the citizenry. Turns out this was only true when the audience in question was a discrete body of largely geriatric, paid up Tory party members. Lots of shire folk. (careful with the spelling there, Ruthie.) Turns out, at the dispatch box, he displays all the eloquence of a man afflicted by both stammer and stutter. Turns out that unlike his great hero, Churchill, he not only can’t locate the stirring phrase a crisis demands, he can’t string two coherent sentences together. The only thing he and Winston share is a capacity for switching sides in the cause of personal, political advancement. Remain? Leave? Whatever!
Reasonable imagination as I possess, it’s difficult to conjure up an image of Churchill waving a packet of chocolate biccies at the Luftwaffe.
The solid matter hitting the fan has a way of defining leadership; of allowing us to see some people grow in the job and others display a positively embarrassing lack of the necessary intellectual tools. In the latter camp reside pretty well all of Johnson’s cabinet, now engaged in an unseemly race for the dunce’s cap. Not so much Game of Thrones, as Have I Got Nonentities For You. I willingly confess to not buying the Daily Star, but kudos to their sub who coined Dom and Dumber for a page one headline last week.
It was even mooted for a while last weekend that Johnson was contemplating making Chris Grayling, the failed ferrymaster, the failed Justice Secretary, the man with the reverse Midas touch, chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee which has not met these many months. One can only assume Mr Grayling has some interesting photos he threatens to share.
In contrast to all of which, New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern has played a blinder since she got the top job. Not just with her response to the pandemic, but earlier too when she struck precisely the right note following the appalling attack on a mosque. And all the while juggling work and a new baby. Not to mention that acid test of a successful, modern politician – she comes over as someone fun with whom to share a glass or two. Closer to home we have been fortunate that some time served politicians are around minding the shop whilst Covid begotten chaos reigns all around. The caution for which Nicola Sturgeon is both famed and assailed is a good virtue to have about your person when the stakes are high and the nerve has to be held. Whether she will display greater boldness on upcoming constitutional conundrums we shall see in the months to come. (In which context I do regret that wily constitutional guru Michael Russell is standing down next year. We will need all the Euro channels we can find post Brexit)
Few fair minded observers would argue Nicola Sturgeon is well cast for the current role, as is her health secretary; serious women for serious times. Prodigiously hard working ones. They benefit of course from a chamber devoid of a serious opposition. Jackson Carlaw has clearly decided the remedy for his low standing within his own party is to go on whatever attack comes to hand. Go on punk, make my day, as the First Minister is unlikely to say. As for Richard Leonard….I read that Keir Starmer is being urged to regain a strong foothold in Scotland by ensuring his tartan troops replace Carlaw and Co as the party of the union. A mission on which they have already embarked by setting their face against another referendum. So well is this going that the latest polling shows another increase in the appetite for independence. 54% is a brilliant springboard from which to launch a winning bid for proper statehood.
I accept the core analysis that Sir Keir’s finest will have a real struggle de-throning the Tories until and unless they can tack some Scottish gains on to any realistic wins south of the border. That I get. Nobody has yet persuaded me that the logical corollary is to ignore the self evident reason so many ex Labourites in Scotland have voted with their feet. Regardless of all of which, Mr Leonard, I’m afraid, has still not located the operation to reverse his charisma bypass.
It’s difficult to conceive the sheer scale of the challenges facing world leaders just now, caught in the crossfire of a global pandemic and a mammoth recession. Sort of 2008 crossed with 1918. A time for steely resolve and a distaste for panic. A time when the second and third raters get well and truly found out.
First published in The National 22nd June