Incompetence: a lethal label that could do for Johnson - by Philip Johnston

Updated: Sep 1, 2020

Parallels with John Major's unhappy administration in 1992 are beginning to be drawn and the basic charge against igt then as now was one of incompetence. For John Major, the fiasco was devaluation and sterling's ejection from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism; for Boris Johnson it's public policy in relation to Covid-19. But the common strand is credibility in the eyes of the public.ct. Up-ended by an administrative banana-skin, they lie dazed for a moment before struggling to their feet. Shaking their heads and taking a deep breath they re-compose themselves, straightening their ties and smoothing their hair. Upright at last, they blink hard, shake their heads, and finally take in their surroundings only to up-ended again, this time by a giant bag of flour released stage-left across the floor on the end of a rope.


Parallels with John Major's unhappy administration in 1992 are beginning to be drawn and the basic charge against it then as now was one of incompetence. For John Major, the fiasco was devaluation and sterling's ejection from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism; for Boris Johnson it's public policy in relation to Covid-19. But the common strand is credibility in the eyes of the public.

In this week's Daily Telegraph, Philip Johnston draws some stark conclusions. "The reputation of the Conservative Party has always rested on the virtues of pragmatism and competence." he writes. "Even when the former is supplanted by dogma, as with Mrs Thatcher, the latter has usually been its saving grace. But what voters cannot abide is a total screw-up and the perception of a loss of control."


No matter that Labour then as now might not have done or do anything very differently or better: like the Tories, Labour was wedded to sterling's rate inside the Exchange Rate Mechanism in 1992. "But it was Major who was holding the ticking parcel when it blew up."


Commenting on schools policy in particular Johnston concludes: "Like the ERM, this exams shambles may be one of those turning-point moments when the stench of incompetence attaches itself to a government and cannot be washed away."


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