Colin Brazier: Peppa Pig might be Boris Johnson's Waterloo
What if he pulls off another victory?
For Margaret Thatcher it was the poll tax. For Tony Blair the Iraq War. When prime ministers find they’ve suddenly run out of road, it tends to be for something profound and worthy. Not so Boris Johnson.
His Waterloo may be Peppa Pig World and that strangest of speeches. Is this the beginning of the end for Boris? Perhaps. But there are still plenty of voters for whom there are worse things than failing to treat business leaders with the respect they think they deserve. And for them, it’s not that Boris can do no wrong. Rather that he got one thing right – Brexit - and they haven’t forgotten that yet.
So before we write Boris off, consider this. What if – against all the prevailing wisdom, in spite of all the mis-steps and mistakes and misadventures, he pulls off another unexpected victory. What if he might soon be able to point to covid as evidence of his competence. Competence. Not a word we associate with this prime minister. But in recent weeks a dawning reality may have started to emerge. That Number Ten, so lamentable in those early skirmishes with coronavirus, actually and latterly made good call after good call. Even as our neighbours got things irrevocably wrong.
Today, for instance, as Prince Charles visited a new one billion pound Astra Zeneca research centre, the pharmaceutical giant’s boss was explaining that the Oxford jab was probably one reason why Britain was not facing a fourth wave of covid.
By stimulating T-cells it gives older people longer lasting protection. This is the vaccine that was rubbished by Emmanuel Macron as “quasi effective” and half-heartedly embraced by Germany. It turns out, it works a treat.
But that initial scepticism left a mark. Only 67m doses of the Oxford vaccine have been used on the continent, as opposed to 440m Pfizer jabs. And having heard OUR vaccine badmouthed, some Europeans are reluctant to view ANY vaccine in a good light. In Austria, where the government has taken the outrageous decision to make jabs compulsory from February the first, only two thirds of people have been jabbed.
But it’s not just that Britain’s vaccine may have ended up being a world beater. By pushing ahead with Freedom Day in July, England allowed the virus to let rip. Cases soared over the warmer months when the NHS was less busy. We effectively frontloaded our infection caseload, brought the exit wave forward, and bolstered immunity as winter approaches. All that natural immunity may be one reason why other parts of the UK, comparatively, are doing less well. Today Nicola Sturgeon announced an extension of a vaccine scheme, and in northern Ireland there was new guidance on working from home.
And then there’s Britain’s booster programme. About 350,000 supplementary shots are being administered every day. Yesterday we heard that the UK could be the first country in the world where covid is no longer viewed as a pandemic, but endemic, in other words a potentially deadly but manageable disease like flu.
If there’s one thing we’ve come to learn about covid, it’s this. It’s folly to assume that just because a country’s doing well at one stage, it will throughout the course of a long, rolling crisis. New Zealand, for instance, held up as a paragon of coronavirus management this time last year is now threatening to hunt down unvaccinated citizens.
Of course, the covid wheel of fate may yet turn full circle. But right now it feels like the British model is working. It’s a model that’s allowed our people freedoms denied to the citizens of comparable countries, where rights we take for granted are now denied. Imagine the uproar here if, as Vienna proposes, people were forced to submit to a compulsory medical procedure.
How much credit does Boris Johnson deserve for all this? Well, it may have been Whitty and Vallance who agreed to let the virus rip this summer. It may have been Professor Sarah Gilbert who helped create what really was a world-beating vaccine at Oxford University. But as the prime minister always said, the buck stops with politicians. He took the brickbats when things went badly, and now deserves a few bouquets when things are going better.
Is this why he fell into a hole of his own making yesterday? Because it doesn’t matter if the media think he’s a buffoon. It doesn’t matter if columnists think he’s a clown. Or that business leaders think he’s treating them with contempt. What matters is the big stuff. What matters is that Number Ten can now say, with some grounds, we have covid on the run