Is history repeating itself?

By Emily Glynn

In times of national crisis, we rely on the leaders of our nation more than ever. In World War Two, Winston Churchill made history for leading us to victory, for strong leadership and for raising moral. Our Prime Minister, Boris Johnson now too finds himself at a time of both national, and international crisis. Has Johnson, like Churchill, displayed these leadership qualities necessary in the face of a national emergency? 

Johnson has sought to compare himself to Churchill, both in the face of COVID-19 and before. His book, The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History, revealed how his own life had been marked by Churchill’s, depicting him almost as a mentor to Johnson. His speeches have been inundated with wartime references: we are in a “fight”, needing a “wartime government” and with multiple references to the “enemy”. And yet, Johnson’s leadership could not be further from that of Churchill’s – in fact, many have compared him to the pre-war Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain. 

With strong leadership, such as that which Britain had in World War Two, governments and nations can react to crises effectively

Johnson did not bother to attend the first five meetings of the Civil Contingencies Committee (COBRA), he has been caught napping on the job, and ultimately, like Chamberlain, misread the enemy and fell down on the job. Unlike Churchill, he has been unable to inspire confidence; giving advice about social distancing on rostrums that were less than two metres apart, as well as being unable to act against his own ministers for breaking their own social distancing rules. It is not only Johnson’s actions which have caused us to lose faith, but also the speeches of the government, a requisite for strong leadership in crisis.

When it comes to powerful speeches, Churchill is one of the pioneers, however in the case of Johnson his constant use of war analogies and personification of COVID-19 as the enemy, only serves to reiterate the lack of government strategy. At the daily briefings, ministers only repeat that they are taking “the right decisions at the right time”, implying an omnipotence they of course, do not have. History has yet to decide whether these decisions have been the right ones, but the death toll of Britain amongst other nations, only seems to suggest otherwise.

As Marx said, history repeats itself, “first time as tragedy, the second time as farce

Does the claim that they are “taking the right decisions at the right time” serve to reassure us, or themselves? With strong leadership, such as that which Britain had in World War Two, governments and nations can react to crises effectively. For this has only been made clearer with New Zealand’s speedy recovery under Jacinda Arden. 

Perhaps it is, as Marx said, history repeats itself, “first time as tragedy, the second time as farce”. The comparisons drawn between Churchill and Johnson certainly suggest that history here is repeating itself as the latter. 

Image: Fernando Butcher via Creative Commons

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