Boris may be one of the few politicians to come out of the Covid inquiry with any credit

Boris Johnson Chris Whitty, and Patrick Vallance speak hold a press conference at Downing Street, Tuesday, March 3, 2020
Boris Johnson Chris Whitty, and Patrick Vallance speak hold a press conference at Downing Street, Tuesday, March 3, 2020

In his testimony to the Covid Inquiry, the Chief Scientific Adviser was scathing about Boris Johnson. As a classics graduate, the Prime Minister couldn’t understand what he was told - he was “clearly bamboozled”.

The Chief Medical Officer, Chris Whitty, in his evidence today was less critical. He said the operation around the PM was “chaotic”, but how he made decisions was “unique to him”, and he believed other governments faced similar issues.

Vallance said that Johnson was confused and often changed his mind, and his testimony highlighted his discontentment with the approach of Johnson. Yet, a lack of decisiveness is not a sin; Boris was trying to understand an extensive array of evidence and doomsday modellers’ scenarios. He seemed flexible in his thinking and responded to emerging evidence.

And he was hardly the only one to change his mind. Dame Jenny Harries told the Telegraph that next time round, Britain might be more like Sweden. Early on during the pandemic, she said face coverings were not a good idea for the public because they could “trap the virus” and spread it further. She then flipped. Again, in March 2020, mass testing was considered “unnecessary” by Harries. She again flipped.

Vallance also seems to have forgotten that he sparked major controversy when, in March 2020, he said the government aimed to “build up some kind of herd immunity so more people are immune to this disease”.

Love or loathe him; it is starting to look like Boris’s position was quite sensible in the face of chaos. For example, Johnson wanted to know if infection numbers translated into deaths, suggesting that infection curves follow a “natural pattern” regardless of the interventions implemented.

In the face of a SAGE committee lacking the skills to take a broader outlook, Boris showed a rare willingness to question whether lockdown was a favourable policy or if there were risks. Whitty said he was more focused than others advising the government on the indirect health impacts – highlighting that restricting freedoms has effects on mental health, education and well-being among others. But over time, the “following the science” mantra became a millstone around the necks of the necks of advisers, said Whitty.

If this inquiry has shown anything, it’s that the idea decisions should have been left to the experts is wrong; science, economics, and politics must all be considered. And as for Boris, he emerges with some credit. He was right that the scientists got many things wrong, like the death graphs and the catastrophic predictions of modellers. He was right to question everything. And he was right to try to think his way through the blind panic affecting those around him.

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