Dominic Raab, and the medical boffins who accompanied him, came to the No 10 podium to deliver a sombre message. Three more weeks of confinement were necessary, he said, and would not give any hint of rule relaxation to come.
The boffins nodded sagely beside him. Our focus must be on maintaining the containment of the nation to our homes, he added, with only the most essential outings. Raab, serious and intense at the best of times, radiated a firmness that was not going to be shifted by pesky questions from pesky journalists.
The government’s message – stay home and save lives – has proved more effective than the politicians thought it would be, and we are staying at home to a degree that has surprised our political overlords. Opinion polling confirms that the policy of continuing the lockdown has our overwhelming support.
Raab was therefore in the unusual position for a senior Minister of being able to announce a difficult policy that carries the full support of experts ,and has widespread public support. In part that explains why he was so relaxed about batting the journalist’s questions away so smoothly.
Yet the Foreign Secretary must know that this is not a sustainable position. This crisis is not the first time the British instinct for doing what we are asked, respecting those authority and stoically getting on with the hand we are dealt, has taken our political masters by surprise.
The history of Britain’s membership of the European Union was one where we applied and implemented the rules more scrupulously than most others. At the time of the Gulf War, Tony Blair looked us in the eye and told us the conflict was necessary. The expert opinion appeared to back him up. Parliament and the people supported the Prime Minister – only to find out later things were not quite as they had been billed.
As Chancellor, Gordon Brown removed many of the rules dating back to the 1930s after the great crash of that time which were introduced to force banks to behave well. As Prime Minister, when the crash came, Brown told us we had to bail them out and nearly broke the British economy to do so.
We didn’t like it but we went along with it because our Prime Minister told us it was necessary. Now the Prime Minister has told us to stay at home. We understand why, we trust him, and we have done so. Brits tend to respect the rules of a game and expect others to do so too.
Just over forty miles away from where the First Secretary spoke to us at No 10, Boris Johnson is convalescing at Chequers. Apart from the emotional and moving broadcast on first release from hospital, we have not seen or heard from him. Not a peep.
Some people are receiving the odd text thanking them for their good wishes, otherwise it is complete silence. We must hope that like Krakatoa, Boris is gathering strength and force ahead of a mighty return to the frontline.
For every day that he is absent, through no-one’s fault, the nation is leaderless and directionless. Like a great ocean-going liner the country is set on a path, a direction. The officer of the watch and the crew can ensure that course is kept but only the captain can order a change in direction.
Only Boris can provide the two things that are now required. First, the nation’s morale needs an uplift. This is the most serious of times but in any great national challenge we need hard work and buckling down to the task at hand tempered by that intangible sense that things will in the end be alright. That we will overcome. We need Boris’s ability to communicate with the public back in the centre stage.
Second, we need the restoration of political leadership. It is a very good thing that Parliament is swinging back into action, albeit virtually. We need our politicians doing their stuff. Most of all we need the Prime Minister back knocking heads together, making things happen, forcing decisions and action.
Of course Boris must rest. Of course he must recover. There can be no doubt how ill Boris was, and how careful he must be to look after himself. But we need him back. All decisions Ministers make are political. They may and should be informed by scientific and medical expertise but that does not make any decision less political.
What is now increasingly clear is that moving out of the lockdown could well be more difficult than imposing it. What we need is Boris’s instinct for liberty and freedom to provide the counter-balance to the weight of continuing the lockdown.
Boris’s relationship with Britain was forged during the Brexit campaign when he persuaded the country to vote to leave the European Union. It was cast in iron at the General Election when we gave him a huge majority to take us forward. So when he spoke to us about the seriousness of the virus, and the need to stay at home, we have listened.
Now it is only Boris, with his personal experience, who can tell us what the country’s next steps are to be, how we are going to make them, and persuade us to follow him once again. Boris delivered Brexit. Now the much more serious and profound challenge is how he will deliver Crexit.