Lockdown – Reflections at the end of week 58

Earlier this week, Joe Biden delivered the address to Congress which is customary for a President to give 100 days into their term of office. The occasion was calm and dignified, as was his delivery. He has surprised a number of commentators who had regarded him as a president to oversee a buffer period between the last administration and a more dynamic younger successor by himself announcing a number of far reaching policies to be implemented during his presidency. Whether you agree with those policies or not, they are considered and, in many cases, for the long term. The contrast with the off the cuff chaos and hysteria of the previous four years could hardly have been greater.

By contrast, in the United Kingdom, we have seen a Prime Minister cornered and lashing out at his critics as reports of chaos at the seat of power continue to rumble on. Whether this morning’s reports that the Prime Minister’s mobile number has been available on the internet since he was a shadow minister in the mid-2000s really makes any difference or not is debatable, although it’s likely that he’ll be changing his number soon. He must, however, be regretting picking a fight with Dominic Cummings whose close involvement at the heart of his political operations for a substantial period has created a unique opportunity for a disgruntled ex-employee to damage him, time and time again.

What Joe Biden and Boris Johnson have in common at the moment are the political benefits of a successful Covid vaccination programme and an improving economic outlook, both of which will appeal to voters. In the United Kingdom, where the vaccination programme is implemented by the devolved governments as well as by Westminster, rates of new infections have tumbled notwithstanding the opening up of schools and the easing of lockdown measures earlier this month. The various governments continue to be cautious, but the direction of travel is positive. Compare and contrast that position with the ghastly situation in India and we in the UK have a lot to be grateful for. There have also been some positive forecasts for the UK economy this week with, for example, the EY Item Club, which is often towards the more cautious end of economic forecasting for the UK economy, revising its forecast for GDP growth in 2021 upwards to 6.8%, as opposed to the 5% which it was forecasting as recently as January this year, and a return to pre-Covid levels for UK GDP in the second quarter of 2022, which is three months earlier than its previous forecast.

So against all that, does either the Downing Street wallpaper or whether the Prime Minister did or did not speak of bodies piling up really matter? It seemed to matter very much to the Prime Minister at question time earlier this week when he failed to clear up either issue and seemed to lose his temper against the precise and persistent cross examination which he received from the QC opposite him. So far, however, it doesn’t seem to be damaging the Conservative Party’s standing with voters which will play a significant part in how his leadership in the party is judged.-just ask Arlene Foster what happens when you start to be perceived by your Parliamentary colleagues as an electoral dead weight. Indeed, the success of the vaccination programme and the promise of economic improvement seems to enable Boris Johnson, unlike the unfortunate Brian in The Life of Brian, to be both the Messiah and a very naughty boy at the moment in the eyes of many voters. He may also be getting help from the electorate regarding it all as a small matter against the major issues which are at large at the moment, and the fact that whilst neatly dismantling the Prime Minister at the dispatch box in the way he would operate in court, Sir Keir Starmer’s performance was deliberate and accurate rather than charismatic or evidently show-stopping.

What is really at stake here are the notions of systemic disorganisation and carelessness at the core of government with the possibility of that approach extending into a disregard for the rules. Life becomes difficult for lawmakers who do not themselves seem to respect rules, and the manner of disorganisation spoken of can prove to be a way in for those who wish to gain and exert influence without going through the formal channels. Neither of those would generally be regarded as aids to good government or to a healthy democracy. Whilst Brexit has made most of us very tired of political wrangling and the travails of Covid have not improved our appetite for matters which seem so firmly rooted in Westminster, the men in grey suits and, if he is so inclined, Dominic Cummings, will be aware that the electorate’s focus may change. The Electoral Commission’s investigations are also likely to have a significant part to play in a course of events which seems still to have some way to go.

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that one of the redtops was running a story that Professor Chris Whitty was at the top of the producers’ wish list of Strictly Come Dancing contestants for later this year. There is a pattern emerging here, as today’s Sun is reporting that he’s been knocked off the top spot by Carrie Symonds. Whilst the same newspaper has also reported over the years that the celebrities who appear on Strictly are paid rather less than they might expect if they went to the Australian jungle instead, it’s still worth a lot of wallpaper, but I’m not expecting to see her dancing any time soon.

A touch of pessimism from the weather forecasters in relation to the long weekend - let’s hope they’re wrong!

Ian Waine leads Prettys’ Corporate Services Team and has advised on a large number of corporate recovery and corporate restructuring cases over the last 30 years. He can be contacted at 07979 498817 or iwaine@prettys.co.uk.

Ian Waine
Senior Partner