This is Britain’s 9/11 moment

Originally Published on UnHerd
3 June 2021

Boris Johnson is set to repeat the same mistakes as George W. Bush

It’s been just over a week — yet the real importance of Dominic Cummings’s testimony on the British Government’s handling of the pandemic has been widely ignored. To most journalists, the key story was Cummings’s gleeful criticism of his former boss, Boris Johnson. It was, at least for them, a psychodrama of epic proportions.

For many foreign observers, meanwhile, the most fascinating thing was seeing British politicians and civil servants doing the very reverse of keeping calm and carrying on. As Cummings made clear, the decision-making process during the early months of Covid was not only frenzied but highly emotional and laden with expletives.

In particular, his account of one “crazy” day in March last year — when Number Ten discussed bombing the Middle East, whether to introduce a national lockdown and a newspaper story about the Prime Minister’s girlfriend’s dog — seemed more reminiscent of Fawlty Towers than Yes, Minister.

Yet the true significance of what we learned from Cummings’s remarks is the light they shed on how the modern state copes — or fails to cope — with a crisis. This is not the stuff of tabloids or sitcoms. It is not entertaining. But it is important. For Britain, whether it realises it or not, is facing its 9/11 moment.

When I went to university in the Netherlands, the most boring classes were on public administration. The coursework was filled with abbreviations of unpronounceable names of various government agencies with opaque missions and overlapping remits. 

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