Boris Johnson in his element

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson welcomes volunteers to a vaccination center on February 17, 2021 in Cwmbran, Wales.


Image: Keystone

If you want to hear what a joy a vaccination against the coronavirus is, all you have to do is listen to Boris Johnson. Hardly anyone pronounces the word “jab” – English for vaccination – as gleefully as the British Prime Minister.

In its emphasis, the little word has a downright inspiring effect. And Johnson often speaks of “jabs” because the vaccination campaign, which has been running for two and a half months, makes the headlines. Right in the middle: Boris Johnson. Or also: «Mr. Jab ».

The populist is in his element, his sleeves rolled up and elbow greetings are handed out. Johnson never tires of emphasizing that he is “fit as a butcher’s dog”. Its popularity remains high. “People like him because he seems so optimistic,” says Jill Rutter from the think tank Institute for Government of the German Press Agency. “He looks like you’d like to go to the pub with him. He doesn’t take himself seriously. ” That works.



Buddy mode off, state leaders on

But now it means: buddy mode off, state leaders on. This Monday, the prime minister wants to announce how the exit – the “unlockdown” – from what is already the third lockdown is to take place. Expectations are high: “Finally release the brakes, Boris”, was the headline of the “Daily Mail”. Parts of his conservative party are also sitting on Johnson’s neck and are demanding that all areas of public life be reopened by the end of April. The rapid progress of the vaccination campaign makes this possible. A third of adults now have their first dose. Hundreds of thousands are added every day.

But this time Johnson is proceeding cautiously – one could almost say: statesmanlike -. He will listen to scientific data, not to dates: “Data, not dates”. On the other hand, he announced that Monday’s decision would be “cautious” but also “irrevocable”. The head of government wants to sell his “roadmap” for a slow exit to lockdown skeptics, says Rutter.

Political scientist Simon Usherwood believes the prime minister is taking a high risk. “He can want it, but he has no way of controlling it,” Usherwood says. “It just has to show up a new variant that is immune to a vaccine and we get a new wave of corona.” And the UK would have to go into lockdown for the fourth time. But critics also emphasize that Johnson is currently on top. Usherwood says luck is involved in the success of the vaccination program. However, the move paid off, like going “all in” in poker.

When it comes to vaccinations, he’s suddenly right

All of the vaccination decisions that Johnson made – and some of which caused criticism – have so far been decided as correct: both the early start at the beginning of December after a special approval for the drug from the pharmaceutical companies Biontech and Pfizer and the longer time span between the two Vaccinations.



For a long time it was considered extremely unlikely that the conscientious “Mr. Jab »would be. The prime minister had been too sleek, too ignorant, too erratic since the beginning of the pandemic – and for months did not find the right measure. Promised broken: Time and again, Johnson had to withdraw promises and implement tougher measures than he had announced.

The government rarely appeared to be up to date. The low point is a completely unsuccessful interview with the BBC in early January. In it, the prime minister vehemently defended that schools would open the next day. And had to row back a good 24 hours later – after a day the schools were closed again.

We think ahead

“You have to take into account that he was very inexperienced when he came into office,” says Rutter. Johnson had already carried responsibility as London Mayor and Secretary of State, but the job at 10 Downing Street was not comparable. In addition: Since taking office in July 2019, Johnson has been fully occupied with Brexit and the general election, which he won by a large margin. Until the beginning of the pandemic, he did not have time to arrive properly in office. “It was the counterpart to Chancellor Angela Merkel with her years of experience.”

Meanwhile, Johnson has also gained experience. “We are now thinking further ahead,” Rutter recognized. She attests that the prime minister has a “long learning curve”. That may also have something to do with the advisors Johnson now surrounds himself with. Economic expert Dan Rosenfield has been his chief of staff since the end of November – he replaced Dominic Cummings, a powerful Brexit supporter who was hated nationwide and who was seen as a key puller in the seat of government. The decision-making process in “Number 10” has been more disciplined since then, says Rutter.

The opposition is suffering. Despite months of government stumbling during the pandemic, the Labor Party has by no means been able to overtake Johnson’s Conservatives in polls. “My mother is only interested in when she will be vaccinated,” the online portal “Politico” quoted a Labor politician recently. Especially since Labor supports the strict Corona measures. Rutter says: “An opposition wins because people are tired of the government and not because of its program.”

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