Tag Archives: coronavirus

Boris Johnson is not ill

9 Apr

Of course, Boris Johnson is ill. He is ill enough to warrant a bed in ICU. But the relentless positivity of the messaging from the Downing Street communications team is resonant of Soviet regimes in the 1980s: leaders were in fine fettle until it no longer became possible to hide the fact that they were dead or dying.

From the start, the messaging surrounding Johnson’s health has been of a different trajectory to this actual health. So even when he moved from ‘mere’ hospitalisation to ICU, the messaging has remained positive. It is all part of a toxic masculinity that is common in contemporary politics. Leaders cannot be seen to be ill or to be taking time off because this could be seen as a sign of weakness. They must be portrayed as super-humans. This is plainly nonsense. No one (or at least very few people) look to political leaders as moral exemplars so why should we expect them to defy the physical and biological laws that mean that most of us get sick every now and again?

The official and political narrative of Johnson’s illness suggests that all of Johnson’s spokespeople and senior ministerial colleagues have been speaking from the same nonsensical brief. Thus Johnson merely had ‘mild symptoms” when he began social distancing. During that early phase he was ‘leading from the front’ and chairing cabinet and COBRA meetings via a video link. When he was hospitalised, this was merely ‘a precautionary step’ – as though hospital beds in hotspot London were a-plenty. When he was moved to ICU, his character was invoked. Johnson was ‘a fighter’ and thus COVID-19 didn’t stand a chance against a man of his mettle. After a day in ICU he was ‘improving’ and ‘responding positively’ to treatment.

At one stage during the last US Presidential election campaign, it was pretty obvious that Hillary Clinton had a flu or some other illness of the sort that we all get from time to time. She looked pretty awful, yet she had to be seen soldiering on. Rather than admitting that she was human and fallible, and taking a few days out of the campaign to recover, her team maintained the fiction that she was fine. It backfired in that speculation around her illness dominated the headlines and the story was inflated. Politicians have gotten themselves into unsustainable territory. They are becoming the embodiment of Baudrillard’s The Gulf War Did Not Take Place – hence the “Boris Johnson is not ill” title of this blog post. Johnson is ill. Everyone knows that. His place in ICU demonstrates that. But expect a relentlessly positive briefing at 5pm.