Will coronavirus change Boris Johnson’s leadership style?
Prime minister recuperating at Chequers after Covid-19 scare
Downing Street has said that Boris Johnson “continues to make good progress” in his recovery from the new coronavirus.
The Sunday Telegraph yesterday revealed that he had “begun giving directions to his government” from the Buckinghamshire countryside residence.
But will Johnson emerge from his Covid-19 scare as a changed man?
A video that he broadcast to the nation after leaving hospital - in which he declared that the “the NHS has saved my life, no question” - offers some clues.
Jill Rutter, from the UK in a Changing Europe initiative, says that this “Boris who owed his life to public services” narrative was very different to the “Boris is hero” line that the country might have expected.
“I think whichever one wins out in the end may determine how this changes his premiership,” she told The World this Weekend on BBC’s Radio 4 on Sunday.
Veteran broadcaster Michael Crick told the programme’s listeners that the PM’s next moves will be remembered for years to come.
“Boris Johnson has suddenly been thrust into this appalling crisis and he must know that this is his moment to make his name in history,” Crick said.
“It could all go disastrously wrong, of course. On the other hand, he could be seen to have made his name and to have got us out of this crisis on the health front and economic front. As a historian, he will be very aware of that.”
Questions have been raised about whether Johnson’s jovial style is suited to leading the country through a global pandemic.
Journalist Ayesha Hazarika, a former political adviser to the Labour Party, told The World this Weekend that “he doesn’t seem to have a style and a character that is lending itself to the gravity of this situation. He’s very much a sort of good-time guy.”
However, The Spectator editor Fraser Nelson countered that this might be exactly what the country needs once the restrictions on movement are lifted.
“A lot of the job as we recover from this lockdown will be about raising the morale and getting the country working again and getting kids back to school. And you need somebody who is a good communicator,” he said.
According to YouGov, the public backs Nelson’s view. Johnson’s approval ratings have risen in recent weeks, with the proportion of people quizzed who said he was doing “very well” as PM jumping from 14% in March to 30% in April.
All the same, Tony Blair’s former spin doctor Alastair Campbell has offered a few tips to Johnson, should the PM wish to “take stock of his crisis-management style”.
“More fact, more detail; less rhetoric, less bluster; cut the homilies and rambles; fewer snappy one-liners; more empathy for the dead and dying, and those caring for them; more explanation of decision-making; more linking of new policy announcements to previous ones, and to data; use of graphics and film to explain; and, please, comb your hair,” Campbell wrote in an article published in The New York Times at the end of March.
“This is not a trivial point. In times of crisis, people look to leaders for confidence and strength. If you look disorganised, people fear that you are disorganised.”
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These new challenges are miles apart from those that Johnson was facing when he won the general election just four months ago.
“Everything has been upended by Covid-19. The business of government is wholly taken up with protecting public health, keeping the economy on life support and, in Johnson’s own case, his personal survival,” says Martin Kettle in The Guardian.
Kettle concludes that the country is likely to emerge with a “significantly different temper” - and that the pandemic as a whole “will surely generate a rather different party, and with rather different priorities, from the one that Johnson led to victory last December”.