Boris Johnson’s response to the coronavirus is a huge political gamble

Boris Johnson, a man not known for his sense of responsibility, is now discovering the hard way the responsibilities which come with leadership.

The Government’s gradualist approach to tackling coronavirus  may be based on the best medical and scientific advice but it risks looking complacent when compared with the drastic action taken by the Italian government.

This is a huge gamble by Johnson.  

He can say he was guided by the experts but if, and it is a big if, this course of action proves unsatisfactory then the blame will lie at his door.

So much is unknown. 

We have no idea yet how much disruption coronavirus will cause to people’s lives or the economy. 

The Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jenny Harries told Sky News this morning  that we will see many thousands of people in the UK infected .

In the worst case scenario we could have to follow Italy by imposing restrictions on public transport, cancelling major events  and introducing curfews.

Officials are already looking at shutting parts of the London underground if we reach the pandemic stage.

The financial shock  could be as great as that witnessed in 2008.

In which case many will start to question whether Johnson should be pursuing a hard Brexit that will only add to the economic uncertainty.

Johnson’s fate will in part be dictated by his ability to lead the people through the crisis. 

At his press conference yesterday he called for people to “pull together” in a “national effort” to defeat the outbreak.

Will the public respond to this cod Churchillian appeal or will they resent being ordered to invoke the Blitz spirit by someone who took more than a month to visit the victims of the floods?

One consolation for Johnson is he cannot have handled the situation as badly as Donald Trump.

The US president still appears to be in denial about the scale of the Covid-19 threat in a country where 28million people are without health care, sickness benefits are a luxury and a quarter of workers are not entitled to sick leave.

One of the legacies of this crisis is the restoration of public faith in experts and civic structures.

In this context the  revolt by Tory MPs tonight over Huawei  seems almost trivial.

A hard core of around 30 Conservatives, the White House continuity front, could rebel over the decision to allow the Chinese firm to build the 5G infrastructure.

With a majority of 80 Johnson can soak up a rebellion on this scale but it is a warning that the next few years are unlikely to be plain sailing for a Tory Party already fatigued by a decade in power.

Today's agenda:

9.15am – Cabinet Secretary Mark Sedwill is quizzed by the Public Accounts Committee.

10.30am – Business select committee takes evidence on Horizon and post offices.

11.30am – Health and Social Care questions in the Commons.

2.15pm – Foreign Affairs select committee takes evidence on climate diplomacy.

4.30pm – Stephen Kinnock holds Westminster Hall debate on the steel industry.

What I am reading:

Evening Standard interview with “skater girl” Rebecca Long-Bailey

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