Book Review: Jonathan Calvert and George Arbuthnot ~ Failures of State: The inside story of Britain’s battle with Coronovirus (2021)

Investigative journalists are worth their weight in gold. Clavert and Arbuthnot write for the Sunday Times about Covid-19 from its earliest manifestation. As journalists they write in a very attractive and accessible way. This is epitomised by their chapter headings: Part Two includes Sleepwalk, Holiday, Part-Time Prime Minister all of whom are deeply evocative and accurately prepare the reader for what’s going to emerge.

Their critique is devastating. Their principal finding is that Johnson’s personality weakness are catastrophic. Johnson emerges as a man who literally walks away from problems which aren’t susceptible to ‘quick-media-friendly-fixes’. Boyish grins, thumbs up and playground boosterism might win elections but there’s got to be substance behind the bonhomie: with Johnson there’s none. Glib rhetoric comes far more easily than hard graft,

When barriers are going up….Then at that moment humanity needs some government somewhere that is willing….to make the case powerfully for freedom of exchange, some country ready to take off its Clark Kent spectacles and leap into the phone box and emerge with cloak flowing…I can tell you in all humility that the UK is ready for that role.” [p73]

Johnson’s glib anti-science stance led to procrastination and super-spreader events:-

On Sunday 8 March [2020] France banned public gatherings of more than 1,000 people. Yet, on the same day, thousands of French fans were allowed to mingle in the 67,000 crowd at Murrayfield, Edinburgh…The folly of Britain’s lax attitude was made plain just four days later when a French tourist died from the virus in Edinburgh.” [p166]

This brilliant and important book about tragic avoidable mistakes, which cost tens of thousands of lives in Britain, is a ‘must’ read.

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