Gaby Hinsliff is absolutely right to raise parallels with the 1914-16 Asquith war government and our own parlous situation under our current political leadership (Doctors and nurses are dying for lack of equipment. Is Johnson up to this?, 2 April). At that time, an intelligent but lazy prime minister with a complicated love life, renowned for deferring difficult decisions, was accused by the press and sections of his own party – as well opposition politicians – of inaction and drift. It seemed obvious that a collective national action plan, involving all sectors of industry and the body politic, was urgently needed if the country were to avoid a national catastrophe. Comparisons with Germany’s far better state of preparedness were added to charges of incompetence levelled at the prime minister at that time of national crisis.
Unfortunately, today we seem to lack a Lloyd George – a man of energy and wide popularity, commanding the respect of all sides of the house and the country, and seen by friend and foe alike as the only man with the necessary will and gravitas, as well as a brutal willingness to abandon a former friend and colleague, to lead us through these dark times. Unless, of course, the present chancellor of the exchequer, like his predecessor Lloyd George, at some point decides there is no alternative but to knife his friend the PM in the back. To emulate Lloyd George, Rishi Sunak would need to get the new leader of the opposition on board and, preferably, sitting with him in a new government of national unity. That prospect might seem improbable now but, as this crisis unfolds, who knows? Stranger things have happened.
• I quote from Lytton Strachey’s Eminent Victorians (1918), on what greeted Florence Nightingale at Scutari. “What had occurred was, in brief, the complete breakdown of our medical arrangements at the seat of war. The origins of this awful failure were complex and manifold; they stretched back through long years of peace and carelessness in England; they could be traced through endless ramifications of administrative incapacity – from the inherent faults of confused systems, to the petty bunglings of minor officials, from the inevitable ignorance of Cabinet Ministers to the fatal exactitudes of narrow routine.”
I notice Sir Keir Starmer has chosen his words carefully in saying he will work with Boris Johnson; this does not imply unconditional support.
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