MAIL ON SUNDAY COMMENT: PM needs experts to steer us away from fear and towards freedom

When Boris Johnson dreamed as a boy of becoming ‘World King’, he must have thought that power would bring him pleasure.

Now he knows that this is rarely so. 

His arrival in office was swiftly followed by a crisis that has offered nothing but hard choices, bad news and heavy responsibility. 

He is bowed down by hard work, strain and worry. 

Everyone of goodwill must wish him well and offer him solidarity and support in these stressful times. 

It is hard not to sympathise with a man who has so rapidly exchanged a carefree life of popularity, mirth and admiration for a grim, austere post of duty where he is incessantly brought news of deaths and infections.

It’s hard not to sympathise for Boris Johnson, pictured during a constituency visit to Uxbridge on Friday, as he is left, more or less alone, to decide which advice to take

And it is impossible not to feel for him as he is left, more or less alone, to decide which of two increasingly conflicting sets of advisers he must heed.

His own scientific counsellors appear to want the country locked down again, or something very close to it. 

Other scientists often take very different views about the level of danger and the best way of tackling it. 

But they are still excluded from the heart of decision-making.

Meanwhile the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, and several others high in Government, warn that more severity will have catastrophic effects on the economy – effects that will themselves cost lives.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak and several others have warned of the catastrophic events further lockdown measures could bring

The Prime Minister does not have to weigh a simple choice between saving lives and preserving the economy. 

The economy is life. If it seizes up, the NHS shrinks, creaks and fails.

If it does not prosper, jobless misery destroys the health of those who suffer it. 

If it weakens, all our First World luxuries of good housing, clean air, pure water and high food standards will vanish.

Various hysterical sections of the media, especially the BBC, continue to act and speak as if the extirpation of the virus – probably impossible – justifies practically any stringency.

The Scottish Government, always anxious to demonstrate its ability to act separately from London, pushes repeatedly for policies much more severe than anything Mr Johnson has done or wishes to do. But by acting in this way it increases pressure on him to steer towards lockdown rather than away from it.

The London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, is also urgently demanding tighter restrictions on household mixing. 

It is very hard to tell quite how he thinks such things will help the battered, half-deserted capital.

It is as if there was a competition to see who could make life as wretched as possible.

These zealous lobbyists of lockdown should pause for a moment and ask whether the measures that Mr Johnson announced on Tuesday are actually doing any good.

Sadiq Khan has also urgently demanded tighter restrictions on household mixing in London

So far the evidence suggests that they have crammed people more closely together than before, and may have done actual harm.

There are, even so, hopeful signs. Downing Street has been seeking the views of a wider pool of experts, as The Mail on Sunday urged two weeks ago.

This is in itself a good development, as it was always a mistake to believe there was only one scientific response to the virus.

If taken seriously and continued, such a response offers what is almost certainly the best way back to the world we used to know.

If Boris Johnson can confidently cite high-powered advice from eminent experts, which suggests a different, less economically damaging course of action, then he can steer the country away from fear and austerity, and towards freedom and prosperity.

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