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8 Apr, 2020 19:41

With Covid-19 exposing Johnson’s flaws, which BoJo will we see after his recovery: the Oxbridge or the Uxbridge one?

With Covid-19 exposing Johnson’s flaws, which BoJo will we see after his recovery: the Oxbridge or the Uxbridge one?

Boris Johnson is a super-confident individual with many qualities, but overconfidence has arguably played a big part not only in his current illness, but in the way the UK has handled, or rather mishandled, the pandemic.

As Oscar Wilde so elegantly put it, there are only two tragedies in life. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.

Last year Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson got what he wanted. He became British Prime Minister, realizing his long-held ambition, and then in December, led the Conservatives to a resounding election victory.

You could say that at that point — Friday the 13th, December 2019 — the future looked so bright for Boris he'd have to wear shades.

Then it all went catastrophically wrong. He spent the New Year on holiday with his girlfriend Carrie on a lovely West Indian island. When he got back to Blighty he was faced with something quite biblical: floods and then a new plague.

It's clear that he didn't take the deadly Covid-19 virus seriously enough, either on a personal level, or a national one. 

Signs were already there weeks ago that Covid-19 was not being over-hyped. Russia Closed its borders with China, a close ally and trading partner, at the end of January. That was the real giveaway. The news already coming in from Iran and Italy was grim.  But Boris and his team, were it seems, following a policy of 'herd immunity.' They seemed to forget that they too were part of the herd.

There's a reason why they might have thought like this. We can call it 'the Oxbridge elite mindset'. Johnson, like his fellow Bullingdon Boys David Cameron and George Osborne has sailed through life. Any setbacks have been only temporary. Things always turn out well in the end.  An Oxbridge education instills tremendous self-confidence (even more so when it is combined with a public school education), and a certain air of invulnerability. For some this spills over into arrogance.

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So it was quite natural given this mindset, that the governing elite (and I'm not just talking here about the politicians but their advisers, Inside the Tent media figures and some medical/scientific/public health experts too), would have thought that Covid-19 wouldn't do them — or even the country — too much harm. Yes, it might unfortunately kill a lot of the elderly and those with 'underlying health conditions', but not 'us,' The news that members of the Iranian political elite had died from Covid-19 could be brushed off as evidence that the Islamic Republic was ill-governed. Nothing like that would happen here.

Except it has. I hope Boris Johnson pulls through. His handling of Covid-19 has to be severely criticized, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do the human thing and wish him a full recovery now. 

I have met Boris on a few occasions socially and each time he was friendly and good-humoured. His bonhomie is not an act for the cameras, it's how he is. 

In March 2003, we met at a birthday party of a mutual friend. I had applied for, and obtained, in late 2002 a visa to go to Iraq to report on the lead-up to war. But I became very ill with flu/pneumonia in December 2002/ January 2003 and had to postpone my trip. 

On hearing that I had a coveted Iraqi visa Boris asked if I'd like to go to Baghdad to report on the war (which was to start in just a few days) for the Spectator. It was a very tempting offer but before I had made my mind up, 'Shock and Awe' had already begun.  I asked Johnson face-to-face if he believed the neocon guff about Saddam having WMDs which could be assembled and launched within 45 minutes. He looked at me and after a short delay replied: “You've got to admit Saddam is not a frightfully nice chap.” Meaning, of course, he didn't believe that Iraq was a threat, but that he justified  the coming war on the basis that Saddam Hussein was a blighter.

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The Spectator published me regularly when Johnson was its editor and although we had very different politics, he clearly liked what I wrote, and on one occasion praised my work to my face. 

Years later, my father met him and Boris asked if I was still writing about Yugoslavia. The Balkans was a mutual interest of both of us (Johnson reported from Belgrade for the Daily Telegraph  during the NATO bombardment in 1999 and his dispatches were very fair and not at all Serbophobic).

Personally you can't really dislike Boris, whatever you think of his politics. He is the sort of effortlessly charming, funny and entertaining friend who'd be great company on a trip in the old jalopy down to Brighton in the 1920s, so long as you kept a close eye on your girlfriend (Boris is an incorrigible ladies’ man), and your car keys. 

Johnson can be great fun, and there is a warmth about him that most of today's 'machine' politicians lack, which is why he is so good at winning elections. But his biggest flaw is a certain recklessness. He is very bright but can lack basic common sense. He didn't prepare adequately either the country or himself personally for the onslaught of Covid-19. When he should have been in bed last week resting, he was addressing the Cabinet via video-conferencing. You could say that was 'brave,' but the line between bravery and foolhardiness is a very fine one. Shaking hands with Coronavirus patients — or indeed shaking hands with anyone during the current pandemic, clearly crosses it.  

One hopes that if/when he does come out of hospital a slightly different Boris emerges. One who keeps the geniality, but who pays far more attention to the details. And in particular, a Boris who makes good his promise to undo the terrible damage to the NHS caused by the underfunding imposed by his pro-austerity predecessors. In short: we need more of the Uxbridge Boris, and a bit less of the Oxbridge one.  

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.