Every weekday afternoon a professional Twitter mob gathers to give a running commentary on the Prime Minister’s daily coronavirus press conference. Its leading lights will critique Boris Johnson’s every utterance to see what might catch on. Perhaps it will be a snarky comment about how modified advice in the light of new data really shows that he was all at sea before. Or not across the detail. Or his failure to be able to guarantee when this will all be over might be deemed disgraceful. Maybe Alastair Campbell will throw in a grenade about allegedly confused messaging. Or Piers Morgan will issue a 'bloody well do something or we are all going to die' war cry.
Many of the journalists in the room will then seek a 'gotcha' moment in the way they frame their questions. Next the columnists will come wading in as they seek to plug their latest offerings. Yesterday, it was the Guardian's Rafael Behr:
'Johnson has always imagined himself standing before the nation projecting, in full Churchillian voice, dynamism, urgency, reassurance. Rousing and healing. It’s the dream role he cast for himself. And by extraordinary twist of fate, the moment comes, the stage is all his…And he can’t do it. The light is on him, the audience hushed and he’s fluffing his lines. It’s almost horrible to witness…He’s a fraud.'
It almost always boils down to this: an utterly unshiftable conviction that the Prime Minister is a buffoon and a dud, about to be unmasked as such and sustained only by vaunting levels of self-regard that verge at times upon the psychopathic.
I do not think I am alone in detecting the true reason for much of this. Too many establishment figures have not forgiven Johnson for breaking the Brexit logjam that had been so artfully created. These people assumed, wrongly it turned out, that this would lead to a second referendum and then the calling off of the whole thing.
Despite the Prime Minister’s success in thrashing all-comers at a general election just three months ago, at which he showed he very much 'can do it' when it comes to communicating a message and setting a direction of national travel, the compulsive critics have clung to their own discredited credo.
They double down. They bark. They bawl. And then just occasionally someone brings some awkward facts to the table. Often it is professor Matthew Goodwin, an academic who scans polling data and reports prevailing trends faithfully.
The latest include that net satisfaction with the Government is strongly up and the Tory poll rating has reached a massive 52 per cent (+5). Goodwin will often be condemned for somehow betraying his tribe as he patiently points out that most of what the commentariat is claiming is unsupported by evidence.
But he’s right. The Government’s stratospherically high poll ratings may not last yet they are surely a tribute to the common sense of the British public. Our instincts tell us that now is a time to support the captain on the bridge.
To any well-balanced individual it must surely be obvious that trying to steer a population of 66 million through the modern plague of coronavirus with all its unknowns while keeping the economy as intact as possible is one heck of a challenge.
So there will be things that don’t go quite right. Probably dozens of things. Every day. But what looks like a mistake today may be revealed as a master-stroke three weeks down the line. Or vice versa. Instantaneous media judgments have never been less meaningful or authoritative.
Having as prime minister someone who is a good chairman ready to delegate to those with specialist skills, with an intellect sharp enough to digest the fundamental points, a penchant for communication and a naturally optimistic spirit seems a pretty good blend to most of us.
Can you imagine tremulous Theresa May being in charge at a time like this? She wasn’t even equal to the by-comparison piffling challenge of Brexit. Boris Johnson took it in his stride.
The prime ministerial eyes lack the usual sparkle. But the voice is strong. The way he wraps-up each press conference is particularly impressive, with a key message always elegantly emphasised.
In the end it will come down to this: the number of deaths the UK suffers in comparison to other similar-sized developed countries and the extent of the economic hit we take. The jury is, as they say, out on all that.
But things have come to a pretty pass when the attention and reflection span of the average voter is now many times longer than that of so many professional observers. It is not the people who have been corrupted by social media, but the pundits.