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What we need to remember when talking about Boris Johnson and coronavirus

The prime minister has been hospitalised with coronavirus and moved to intensive care, after first testing positive for the disease 12 days ago. But whether or not you agree with his politics, no one should be celebrating his illness, says writer Nell Frizzell.

To say that I’m not a fan of Boris Johnson is like saying that wood is not a fan of axes. But I am not going to celebrate on Twitter the fact that he’s been taken into intensive care, like those using the heartless #FuckBoris hashtag. I don’t have to pretend to admire Johnson as a politician, or in any other regard, in order to wish him well.

I dislike his approach to society, I dislike his approach to women and I dislike his approach to Brexit. I dislike his approach to diplomacy, I dislike his approach to the economy and I vehemently dislike his approach to race. The man has been dangerous and embarrassing, both on the world stage and in his domestic politics. But I want him to get better. Because revelling in the fact that the prime minister has a potentially fatal illness doesn’t do any of us any good. Making crass jokes about a seriously ill man is offensive and unhelpful.

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One of the many lessons this upheaval should have taught us is that criticising someone else’s mistakes does not erase our own misdemeanours. Celebrating someone’s illness does not protect our own health. Someone else’s pain does not eradicate our own. Having those you dislike or disagree with brought low does not raise you up. 

Doctors vow to treat all patients to the best of their ability, without being influenced by judgement of that person’s personal, moral or political ‘worth’. And so the doctors treating the prime minister have my sympathy, my support and my best wishes. I’m well aware that my personal feelings about Johnson are unlikely to have any effect on his health. But I am also aware that wishing an ill man further suffering is a terrible way to behave. I want Johnson to get better because I want anyone suffering from coronavirus to get better.

Boris Johnson's government is now advising people to stay at home and practise social distancing.

Of course, there are criticisms to be made. Yes, Johnson ignored social distancing measures put in place by other countries struck with the virus by shaking hands “with everybody” during a visit to a hospital treating coronavirus patients – which was clearly stupid.

And yes, in early March, Johnson and the UK’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance spoke of “herd immunity” and Johnson did almost nothing to prevent the spread of coronavirus through the country – like, for instance, by closing pubs, gyms, schools and restaurants as early as possible and protecting the income of those working in them – which was, in hindsight, a terrible mistake. 

Rather than sating our fear and frustration with an attack on Boris Johnson, it would be far more effective to take responsibility for reducing the effects of the pandemic in any way we can. Few of us are in the position to speed up the availability of testing or the production of a vaccine. But we can all take the precautions suggested by the NHS, take the time to check in remotely on those we suspect may be in need, be realistic about what is ‘essential’ shopping, travel and exercise. 

We can all look after each other by staying at home where possible and being incredibly careful when not. Coronavirus is not going to turn Boris Johnson into Jacinda Ardern. It may not even bring about an emergency coalition government; something that could perhaps make a real difference to our ability to solve problems and save lives. But we have the power to mitigate its effects, right here and right now.

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Personally, I hope Johnson’s spell in an NHS hospital, particularly in intensive care, is short-lived. I hope he can get back to doing what is needed of a prime minister: sorting out the crisis that grips the country. I hope that his experience of how scary, humbling and debilitating the virus can be might help him make better decisions in the future. 

I hope he can reflect on what the years of Tory underfunding of our health and care services have done to this country. How the NHS has been impacted, and the devastating consequences for all those heroic people now working on the coronavirus frontline. The key workers. The NHS staff. The bus drivers. The shop workers. The cleaners. The builders. The delivery drivers. The post men and women. Every single person still having to go to work to make sure life in this country, in some way, continues.

Now is not the time to rejoice that the prime minister has become seriously ill with coronavirus. Now is the time to wish him better. Because we need the people who make major political decisions – decisions that affect all our lives – to work through the consequences of those decisions. We need them in power. Changing leaders, in any organisation, makes it harder to plan, harder to take a long view and harder to learn from mistakes that may have been made. It is better for those in power to stick around and finish the job. Then they can be judged accordingly.

Who to vote for on Thursday: Boris Johnson during a general election campaign visit to King's Mill NHS Hospital in Mansfield
Boris Johnson during a general election campaign visit to King's Mill NHS Hospital in Mansfield.

So I wish Johnson a speedy recovery. Not because I like him or admire him, but because that is what humanity is. It means wanting each other to be safe and well. I also want him to recover so that he is well enough to sort out this mess. So he can find a solution to the Universal Credit delays, the dehumanisation of “low skilled” workers, the underfunding of the NHS and, of course, the ignoring of advice on the pandemic that got us here in the first place. When we recover from this pandemic, and when it is safe to hold a general election, Johnson and his premiership will be judged. And then I will campaign for a better future for me and for my son. And then I will celebrate. But not now.

For now, I’m going to try to be kinder. Hopefully we all will.

Images: Getty, Unsplash

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