Coronavirus: Boris Johnson’s language becoming subtly starker in the coronavirus blame game

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The prime minister’s language about his government’s handling of the pandemic has become subtly starker.

Boris Johnson will be defined by how he handled the coronavirus epidemic.

Therefore, managing the blame game – particularly around what happened in March – has become one of his most important political tasks.

It is something he is approaching gradually and carefully, slowly constructing a narrative over time.

                              Coronavirus: Boris Johnson's language becoming subtly starker in the coronavirus blame game

He hopes, Houdini-like, it will get him out of trouble when eventually the public inquiry is held and – more importantly – the next general election takes place.

Today saw a tentative new step.

The prime minister accepted in a BBC interview that the government might have done things wrong and too late.

Earlier in the day, he also told broadcasters that the government did make mistakes.

This is a nuanced advance on his previous position.

At the end of June, he said: “There are plenty of things that people say and will say that we got wrong.

“And we owe that discussion and that honesty to the tens of thousands who have died before their time, to the families who have lost loved ones.”

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Both statements accept the government might have made mistakes – but today, his language became subtly starker.

Still, the prime minister is careful to draw a line.

He stresses that at all times his government was following the scientific advice.

Asked whether the scientists themselves might have got it wrong, he replied “maybe”, before adding there were things the government could have done differently.

This is the first time he has appeared to suggest that the scientists who flanked him at the start of the pandemic – including England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance – might share a degree of culpability.

Their disappearance from more recent news conferences is unlikely to be a coincidence.

In short, mistakes may have been made, and if true, scientists are likely to carry the can.

Mr Johnson has already told the House of Commons that problems arose – particularly in care homes – because little was known about the scale of the spread of coronavirus by people without symptoms.

Today’s evolution of the government line is probably a necessary precondition but it is not where the real battleground lies.

                              Coronavirus: Boris Johnson's language becoming subtly starker in the coronavirus blame game

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YouGov polling suggests the public has made its mind up that the government allowed too many deaths in this pandemic.

Despite this, they are still willing to give the government the benefit of the doubt and say they would back the Tories by a comfortable margin.

If the government makes a second mistake by assuming too lightly there will be no need for a second nationwide lockdown, Mr Johnson may have more significant reputational difficulties to deal with.


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