I’m pro-cake and pro-eating it’, Boris Johnson used to quip. But now he is in a hideously difficult position as he tries to balance the needs of public health and the economy. He is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t, I say in the magazine this week.
Starmer’s decision to call for the circuit-breaker lockdown which Sage recommended but Boris Johnson rejected has further raised the stakes; it marks an end to the major parties’ consensus on how to handle Covid.
If the death toll this winter is high, Labour will claim that had Johnson ‘followed the science’ and gone for the circuit-breaker option, fewer people would have died. Equally, if he goes for it and there are still many excess deaths, people will ask what the point was. Even if the number of excess deaths is low, there will be questions from within his party about whether it was really necessary.
Johnson’s government is far from alone in struggling to work out how to deal with Covid — the Dutch have gone into ‘partial lockdown’ this week, while Emmanuel Macron announced a series of local curfews on Wednesday night. But Johnson faces political challenge on both sides. He is no longer simply ‘following the science’ but making his own judgments on what is the best approach. The success or otherwise of his strategy will determine the future of his premiership.