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As the tide of coronavirus swells again, Boris Johnson heads into a perfect storm

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Hundreds of thousands volunteered to help their neighbours. Millions joined the weekly clap for carers. Tens of millions complied with the government’s instructions when it dramatically deprived them of some of their most basic liberties.

When a national lockdown was imposed towards the end of March, the country was exhorted to think of it as a collective endeavour. Speaking live to a massive TV audience, Boris Johnson declared: “We will beat the coronavirus and we will beat it together.” This was, in many senses, highly artificial. The dangers posed by the coronavirus and the sacrifices demanded to control it have never been evenly shared. There was nevertheless a palpable sense at the time of the first wave that people wanted to unify in the face of an invisible menace.

In the immediate aftermath of the lockdown announcement, more than 90% of the population backed the restrictions on their lives. The Tory leader enjoyed a big surge in his personal approval ratings. Even among many who had not voted for him, there was a desire to want him to be a good prime minister in this crisis. For a while, he was much more popular than he had been at the time of the December election. Keir Starmer, anxious not to put Labour on the wrong side of the national mood, pledged to be “constructive”. The media, also nervous about running foul of public opinion, largely gave the government the benefit of the doubt. Tory libertarians muttered darkly when the nation was barred from its boozers, but most kept their grumbles to themselves.

Seven months on, the coronavirus is surging again, hospital admissions have risen by 50% in just a week and the government may well be forced into something resembling another national lockdown before Christmas, but consensus has disintegrated. We are heading into what threatens to be a bleak winter, not with a spirit of national unity but with divisions on stark display. Between north and south. Between young and old. Between lives and livelihoods. Between those (a shrivelling band) who still invest faith in Mr Johnson and those (a now much larger group) who don’t. Between government and opposition. Between scientist and scientist. Between Westminster and local government. Between cabinet member and cabinet member. And between prime minister and his own party.

This fracturing is occurring........

© The Guardian

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