The Guardian view on Boris Johnson’s speech: the politics of a pivotal moment | Editorial

Contrary to the impression Johnson might have given over the past decade, he now says Britain was broken before he became prime minister. But where’s his plan to fix it?

“France in 1789. Russia in 1917. The Europe of the 1930s. The pandemic of 2020. They are all junctures where the river of history changes direction,” wrote the historian Margaret MacMillan earlier this year. Her thesis, outlined in the Economist newspaper, was that the pandemic had exposed society’s weaknesses and strengths. Once revealed these can shape the public mood, lighting fires that could create warmth and comfort or burn and destroy with revolutionary zeal. How the story unfolds – whether the pandemic is pivotal rather than mutinous – will depend, wrote Prof MacMillan, on leadership.

Boris Johnson’s coronavirus stewardship has been disastrous. The utter incompetence and abject lack of strategy at the heart of his government has seen his poll ratings drop and has rattled Conservative MPs. Covid has spread, with hospitalisations and death rates rising. In the last few months, Mr Johnson has only provided broken promises and empty hyperbole. His claim that there will be no restrictions on sizes of gatherings and no social distancing by September next year betrays how desperate things have become.

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