Toby Young Toby Young

The best leader we never had

[Getty Images]

I spent Monday afternoon with The Wake Up Call, a new book by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge that lambasts the West for its grotesque mismanagement of the coronavirus crisis. Despite an upbeat chapter towards the end, in which they dust off the standard menu of reforms, it makes depressing reading. They contrast the cack-handed response of the authorities in countries like America, Britain and Italy with those of China, Singapore and South Korea and conclude that, absent a political miracle, the world will soon resemble the 17th century again, with Europe beset by war and corruption and Asia in the ascendant.

There’s a good deal in the book to disagree with. The authors make no attempt to re-evaluate the threat of Covid-19 in light of evidence that it’s no more deadly than a bad flu. Instead, they regurgitate the WHO’s doom-mongering and chastise Boris and other populist leaders for not locking down earlier. This ‘failure’ to heed the apocalyptic warnings of public health panjandrums is one way the West ‘flunked the test’. The book even claims Britain’s death toll (which they overestimate by at least 10 per cent) might have been two-thirds lower if we’d locked down a week earlier.

The virus has revealed most governments in the West as dysfunctional and sclerotic

But it’s hard to dispute the authors’ central hypothesis: that the virus has exposed the governments of most western democracies to be dysfunctional and sclerotic. They were caught off guard, even though they’ve had decades to prepare for a flu-like pandemic, and proved un-able to source protective equipment for health workers. Their attempts to roll out test-and-trace programmes have been hampered by bureaucratic incompetence — even Germany bungled its contact-tracing app. And the death toll is higher than it should be thanks to a series of unforced errors, such as failing to protect care-home residents.

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