Andy Coulson: The Covid crisis will define Boris Johnson's legacy

27 October 2020, 10:17

Andy Coulson

By Andy Coulson

At risk of severely understating things, it’s been a decidedly mixed year so far for our Prime Minister - a brush with mortality, a new son and the greatest challenge of British political leadership since Churchill’s endeavours in May 1940.

Boris Johnson has always seen himself as a man with a seat at the heart, rather than in the front row, of history. He believed that his whopping majority, gained almost 11 months ago, would be the springboard for a truly lasting legacy.

Now that triumph is almost a footnote and just as Blair will be forever bracketed with Iraq and Cameron with Brexit, so Johnson will be conjoined with COVID. The sooner the PM is at peace with that fact, the sooner he might take back control (to coin a phrase) of how history will judge him.

Coming to terms with your crisis and being ‘present’ in it, is one of the clear lessons to have emerged from my new podcast series 'Crisis What Crisis?'.

Over the first 13 episodes I’ve talked with some deeply impressive individuals who’ve endured a range of existential challenges.

From the BBC Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen who has survived the horrors of war and cancer, Victoria Milligan who lost her husband and daughter in a boating accident, Defence Minister Johnny Mercer who overcame crippling OCD and witnessed the death of his comrade in Afghanistan to Payzee Mahmod who endured a forced marriage and lost her sister to a brutal honour killing.

Today, in the latest episode, former US Ambassador Sir Kim Darroch talks to me about the dramatic end to his 42 year diplomatic career - caused when his private criticism of President Trump was leaked.

All of these amazing people provided essentially the same advice for anyone facing crisis. That it was only once they confronted and embraced the truth of their situation that they could begin to deal with it. And also, that understanding what you can control and what you can’t is the only roadmap you need to get through.

I acknowledged this when I put myself through the Crisis What Crisis? process and was interviewed for the podcast by my friend, broadcaster and journalist Jane Moore. It was only once I surrendered to my (in part self-inflicted) circumstances that I could begin to cope with what turned out to be a five-year unravelling.

Acceptance is very different to giving up. In fact, it’s the very opposite. And I would argue it’s exactly the strategy Johnson and his Cabinet must adopt if they are to get a grip on this crisis. I would suggest three basic steps:

Step One: Stop pretending you know everything, accept and be honest about what you don’t know and communicate to the British public in a more authentic, honest way. In other words, build trust.

Step Two: Stop trying to get through the day by making ill thought out promises you have no chance of keeping. Focus on strategy not tactics.

Step Three: Get out there. Being visible is not PR or spin, it’s a fundamental part of leadership. Paint a clear picture of what life will be once the virus has subsided. People understand the difficulties, but they also need hope. And, as Churchill understood in 1940, that’s your job too.

You can listen to the podcast series 'Crisis What Crisis?' on the Global Player.

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