Trouble at No. 10

“Well, that’s one puzzle solved,” said Michael Deacon in The Daily Telegraph. Two months ago, the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, announced plans for a Covid-19 tracking app, allowing smartphones to communicate and alert those who had been in contact with infected people. He said it would be launched in mid-May and be “absolutely essential” to fighting the virus. Yet as the weeks went by, “the Government’s message kept mysteriously changing”. May came and went, and then we were told it was merely “the cherry on the cake” of a “world-beating” tracing system, and would appear some time later. Finally, all was revealed last week: the app didn’t work and had been scrapped. Germany, Italy and Denmark have all successfully built tracing apps on a system provided by Apple and Google, said Simon Murphy in The Guardian. But Britain decided that it could make a more successful and useful app itself. What we got instead was another “embarrassing” British technology fiasco. Tests on the Isle of Wight found that the app detected contacts with just 4% of Apple phones and 75% of those using Google’s Android. Now we’re back to the Google/Apple system, months behind everyone else.

It was a familiar story, said Patrick Cockburn in The Independent. “Supposedly crucial advances in the battle with coronavirus are greeted with fanfare, only for these successes to evaporate mysteriously or be downplayed as marginal a few weeks later.” Along with “the grotesquely long list of unforced errors”, these “duds” feed the sense that Boris Johnson’s government “has no real strategy” for dealing with the virus. It’s hard “to do justice to this leaderless, directionless shambles”, said Rod Liddle in The Spectator. Johnson has been painfully slow to react throughout. “We were late to restrict entry to the UK, late with testing, late to provide front-line workers with the proper protection, late to impose lockdown, late to cancel big sporting fixtures.” We discharged infected patients into care homes. Could even the staunchest Tory “argue that Boris has handled this well”?

Many Conservative MPs feel that the PM “has lost his grip, and the Government has lost its way”, said Dan Hodges in The Mail on Sunday. Dominic Cummings’ No. 10 operation is said to lack “a basic level of competence”: it’s confused, prone to U-turns and easily distracted. As one minister put it: “Boris and Cummings are great at campaigning, but rubbish at governing.” Some MPs are even considering whether Johnson “may have to be replaced”. He has certainly had a difficult pandemic, said Paul Goodman in The Times. But he still has a majority of 80, and four years until the next election. During the past 12 months, he has become PM, been defeated in the Commons and the Supreme Court, won an election, taken Britain out of the EU, nearly died from the virus, and become a father again. He probably feels that if he can survive all that, “then he can survive anything”.