Monday, 2 November 2020


I’ve been hearing a Beatles refrain in my head – slightly revised:-

Here comes the lockdown, woo ah woo ah
Here comes some gloom, and I say
It's all right
Little lockdown, it's been a long cold lonely autumn
Little lockdown, it feels like years since you’ve been here …

No surprise of course. A bit like being in denial about an unpleasant prospect which suddenly becomes a reality. “But what about Christmas?” people wail. The most important day of the year seems about to hit the dust. The child in us is sobbing quietly and muttering “it just isn’t fair.”

I remember when I was very young Christmas was special for me. When the Eagle Annual was my best present. When seeing my family happy and slightly boisterous and singing

“I’ll sing you one oh, green grow the rushes-oh, one is one and all alone and ever more shall be so”

But it was only one day full of out-of-character exuberance.

We’ve had the Rule of Six. Now it’s going to be the Rule of One. Stay in bed, avoid human contact, do not smile because it increases the risk of infection, avoid tasty food and definitely avoid alcohol. The Rule of One; and ever more shall be so.

I spent last week in vigorous Skype and Zoom debate on the subject of leadership. The first week of November will put leadership, management and execution of plans into sharp focus. The Presidential election. The succession of troubles and discord within Europe and in disunited Britain the ideological contest between those espousing free choice and protection of the economy and the defenders of the NHS and the apostles of control.

Leadership depends on three things – the ability to inspire, a firm sense of purpose and a determination to win. Viscount Halifax, the Foreign Secretary, who stood for appeasement (or in today’s terms, lockdown) allegedly said after Churchill won over a sceptical House of Commons with some splendid uplifting oratory, telling them to hang on in there and carry on fighting: “He has mobilised the English language and sent it to war.”

We don’t use and delight in words anymore. We do emojis and tweets. For someone who aspired to be a Churchill Johnson’s oratory has been lacklustre and shamelessly bombastic. No mind changing leadership there then.

Nor elsewhere in the cabinet. Nor on the opposition benches either. What a grim disappointing bunch they all are.  Neither leaders nor managers nor deliverers of results.

I teased a friend in Scotland about Scotland having more tiers than us in England and suggesting that we might have “tier envy”. His response was sharp “Just don’t get me started.” He’s frustrated that Nicola Sturgeon’s strategy (is that the right word? More aptly, perhaps, her stumble forwards) ignores the harsh, economic realities of life.

The late poet Derek Mahon’s words are fitting:

“There will be dying, there will be dying,
but there is no need to go into that.” 

This is war and whatever is done there’ll be dying. Best to hold things together, protect the vulnerable as best we can and lead us through and out of this mess. We, all of us in the West, seem as Matthew Parris put it, to be playing darts in the dark.

The most cheering story of the past week was the performance of a few focused specialists from the Special Boat Service defusing a potential crisis on board the oil tanker Nave Andromeda in the Solent and in a classic manoeuvre disabling seven hostile stowaways in nine minutes. How we needed that. How we need some action and some certainty. How we need heroes. How we need a bit of Diehard.

Leaders do stuff. Leaders inspire. And those who’re inspired execute plans. A reluctant, tardy and uninspiring lockdown may be needed but it be a two-edged sword. They always cause as many problems as they seek to solve.

Darts anyone?

1 comment:

John Eustace said...

Playing darts in the dark sums up the UK government extremely well. Leadership is all too lacking from virtually all politicians post Margaret Thatcher. Discipline is lacking, structured thought missing it's all a bit sad.
What to do? Well we could do worse then bring back National Service, at least in that two year period men could see first hand all the tenets that are lacking in a very large number of people under 80 who did not have to attend National Service. It'd be doing us all a favour. Why we could even have them build HS2! Quicker and cheaper than £135 BILLION