Parliament should be recalled to deal with the crisis of coronavirus, not just that of leaving the EU
In January 1979, a beleaguered Labour prime minister, James Callaghan, returned from a Caribbean summit to a country that appeared in crisis. A week earlier, truck drivers had gone on strike, cutting off petrol supplies in the “winter of discontent”. When the prime minister arrived at London’s Heathrow airport, he held a press conference in which nothing memorable was said. Instead, in a phrase that has become code for political complacency, Callaghan became for ever associated with the following day’s Sun newspaper headline: “Crisis? What crisis?”
His fate was sealed. Callaghan lost the next general election to Margaret Thatcher. The lesson for politicians is the importance of perception in a crisis. If something feels like a crisis, it is effectively a crisis. Britain now confronts its most serious emergency since the second world war. It faces the unprecedented challenge of coronavirus while adjusting to a new diminished status outside the European Union. The country’s health service is at breaking point, and its future as a unified state is on the line. All this goes unmentioned by Boris Johnson, perhaps because he disingenuously promised that Brexit would save the NHS.