The Grand Old Duke of York

Most of us can chant the words of the nursery rhyme about the Grand Old Duke of York. He had 10,000 men etc etc.

I was reminded of this famous verse when Boris Johnson appeared on our TV screens announcing the third national lockdown. He is our very own Grand Old Duke. Florid faced, well fed and with his aristocratic accent.

He has also marched us up to the top of the hill and marched us down again – 3 times and counting. How many more times I hear you ask? People’s reactions to the latest failure to get a grip on Covid 19 have ranged from anger to worn out resignation. The nation is tired and some are sick, very sick.

But that anger or frustration is divided. A lot blame the Government for incompetence, but many blame ‘the covidiots’ i.e. the people who break and have broken the rules. There is truth on both sides.

My main issue with Britain’s Prime Minister is his inability to be realistic. His over optimism continually ends in tears and the series of oh so obvious U turns. Yes of course we need some upbeat messages as it gives hope but for goodness sake be realistic and be upfront with us all. That is precisely what has eroded trust and led to lockdowns coming too late. It is a boom and bust scenario laid bare. Trump’s similarly chaotic response to the pandemic was a key reason for his defeat in November.

Here in the UK the U turns are getting more and more frequent. Spurred on by a totally unrealistic view of the situation, the inevitable disappointment swiftly follows. Take the latest debacle in which Johnson appeared on TV one day stating that it was safe for children to go to school, only then to shut all schools for 6 weeks just 24 hours later. That is not the serious and credible leadership we crave in a time of crisis. In Gloucestershire we have had 5 changes of rules in a month – lockdown 2, Tier 2, Tier 3, Tier 4, lockdown 3. No wonder people feel punch drunk and unclear on precisely what they can and can’t do.

The pattern is clear – a failure to act quickly enough and learn from past mistakes. Messrs Davey and Starmer learned from previous mess ups by calling for national lockdowns well before Johnson ended up being forced to take the same decision due to the crisis engulfing the nation. Abroad the calm and measured leadership of Angela Merkel in Germany and Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand have led to many less deaths and a sense of high respect for them both.

What’s needed? Ditch the baloney and the over optimism. Take decisions quickly and be realistic. Be truthful and measured. All these things will lead to more respect. If anything, err on the side of caution so that we are not continually disappointed.

Go back to that nursery rhyme again - the Grand Old Duke of York now has far fewer men and women than he did – at the present time 80,000 less to be precise in the UK. And painfully there will be more to come. Time for the Duke to become the Wise Man.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson is Group Leader of the Liberal Democrats and Leader of the Opposition on Gloucestershire County Council. He is the councillor for Bourton-on-the-Water and Northleach. He tweets @paulcotswolds.

Image credit: (REUTERS/Eddie Keogh)