Boris Johnson has long been criticized for his management in the Corona crisis. The British Prime Minister has now gone “all in” with his vaccination program – and was lucky. But there are also losers.
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If you want to hear what a joy a vaccination against the coronavirus is, just listen to Boris Johnson. Hardly anyone pronounces the word “jab” – English for vaccination – as gleefully as the British Prime Minister. In its emphasis, the little word has a downright inspiring effect. And Johnson often speaks of “jabs” because the vaccination campaign, which has been running for two and a half months, makes the headlines. Right in the middle: Boris Johnson. Or also: “Mr. Jab”.
The populist is in his element, sleeves rolled up and elbow greetings. Johnson never tires of emphasizing that he is “fit as a butcher’s dog”. Its popularity remains high. “People like him because he looks so optimistic,” says Jill Rutter of the Institute for Government think tank. “He looks like you’d like to go to the pub with him. He doesn’t take himself seriously.” That works.
“Data, not dates” – the motto for the “Unlockdown”
But now it means: buddy mode off, state leaders on. In parliament, the prime minister announced how the exit – the “unlockdown” – from what is already the third lockdown. Cautious – you could almost say statesmanlike – Johnson proceeds. He will listen to scientific data, not to dates: “Data, not dates”.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson: He can’t stress enough that he feels “fit as a butcher’s dog”. (Source: Dominic Lipinski / Pool via AP / AP / dpa)
The premier has announced four stages, each five weeks apart – if the infection numbers play a role. The message: everything should be over by the end of June. This decision is “cautious”, but also “irrevocable,” says Johnson. “We’re going down what I hope and believe is a one-way street to freedom, and that journey is made possible by the pace of the vaccination program.” A third of adults have now received their first dose. Hundreds of thousands are added every day.
Expectations were high: “Finally release the brakes, Boris”, was the headline of the “Daily Mail”. Parts of his conservative party are also sitting on Johnson’s neck, they are calling for faster openings. With the “irrevocable” planning, I want to sell for a slow exit, says Rutter.
Political scientist Simon Usherwood believes the prime minister is taking a high risk. “He can want it, but he has no way of controlling it,” Usherwood says. “All we have to do is show a new variant that is immune to a vaccine and we get another wave of corona.” And the UK would have to go into lockdown for the fourth time. But critics also emphasize that Johnson is currently on top. Usherwood says luck is involved in the success of the vaccination program. However, the move paid off, like going “all in” in poker.
An interview as a low point
All vaccination decisions that Johnson made – and some of which caused criticism – have so far proven to be correct: both the early start at the beginning of December after special approval for the drug from the pharmaceutical companies Biontech and Pfizer and the longer period between the two Vaccinations.
For a long time it was considered extremely unlikely that Johnson would one day become the conscientious “Mr. Jab”. The prime minister had appeared too sleek, too ignorant, too erratic since the beginning of the pandemic – and for months did not find the right balance. Promised, broken: Time and again, Johnson had to withdraw promises and implement tougher measures than he had announced.
The government rarely appeared to be up to date. The low point is a completely unsuccessful interview with the BBC in early January. In it, the prime minister vehemently defended that schools would be opened the next day. And had to row back a good 24 hours later – after a day the schools were closed again.
Johnson’s “long learning curve”
“You have to take into account that he was very inexperienced when he came into office,” says Rutter. Johnson had already carried responsibility as London Mayor and Secretary of State, but the job at 10 Downing Street was not comparable. In addition: Since taking office in July 2019, Johnson has been fully occupied with Brexit and the general election, which he won by a large margin. Until the beginning of the pandemic, he did not have time to get into office properly. “It was the counterpart to Chancellor Angela Merkel with her years of experience.”
Boris Johnson, Prime Minister of Great Britain points to an Astrazeneca vaccine vial: His vaccine campaign was a complete success. (Source: Jeremy Selwyn / Evening Standard / PA Wire / dpa)
Meanwhile, Johnson has also gained experience. “We are now thinking further ahead,” Rutter recognized. She attests that the premier has a “long learning curve”. That may also have something to do with the advisors Johnson now surrounds himself with. Economic expert Dan Rosenfield has been his chief of staff since the end of November – he replaced Dominic Cummings, a powerful Brexit supporter who was hated nationwide and who was seen as a key puller in the seat of government. Since then, the decision-making process in “Number 10” has been more disciplined, says Rutter.
The opposition is suffering. Despite months of government stumbling around in the pandemic, the Labor Party has by no means been able to overtake Johnson’s Conservatives in polls. “My mother is only interested in when she will be vaccinated”, the online portal “Politico” quoted a Labor politician recently. Especially since Labor supports the strict corona measures. Rutter says, “An opposition wins because people are tired of the government, not because of its program.”
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