So, in a wholly unexpected development, the PM Boris Johnson has been carted off where he was subsequently inducted – not into the EU Hall of Fame – but into hospital intensive care.
This has exacerbated the seemingly unabated coronapanic – we at least have to pretend that we need somebody to lead on the plan that is yet to be concocted. Or at least look as if we’re pretending that we need somebody.
So, what does unfold when a UK PM is incapacitated? For a start, we do not have a codified constitution, so there’s no concrete next procedural step.
While this may appear disadvantageous, it will provide pragmatic flexibility that may prove more than meritorious amid the contemporaneous blizzard of frolics, facts, and fakery.
In brief, there are statutory powers which are vested specifically or generally in the various Secretaries of State; The Royal Prerogative, usually exercised by the Queen on advice but hers nonetheless; judicial decisions which form legal precedents; conventions (informal but established ways of operation; and international and EU Law.
Now, the role of the PM falls largely under the domain of convention and the arbiter of government policy is the Cabinet.
That pretty much covers it, so no need to assume the brace position just yet.
So, the PM role is determined largely by a general understanding and acceptance of what has gone before, or by what individual PMs put in place and therefore facilitated by this pragmatic flexibility.
In political terms, the PM appointed a First Secretary of State who is the designated next in line in terms of seniority.
Hang on a minute. That’s Dominic Raab, isn’t it?
This is the same chap who resigned in protest at a deal he had himself negotiated and then voted for the deal he said was worse than staying in the EU because it was better than staying in the EU.
Well, this will at least help to take some pressure off the NHS and their concern about the provision for mechanically assisted breathing as the great British public will doubtless now be hyperventilating at the prospect of his leadership. The next challenge will be a nationwide shortage of anti-depressants. He’s already been talking utter Raabish during the daily briefings.
Oh dear. We’re all going to be rolling in the aisles at the pharmacy, assailing OAPs with a ground-and-pound assault for the last packet of Prozac.
But, Raabie Williams, while he might well be entertaining us, won’t be the de jure acting PM because PMs hold the position until they get canned, or unceremoniously kick a metaphorical one down the road. But a de facto one, yes, in almost all respects. However, it would be tricky for him to claim authority for any step changes during this interim caretaker period, like a cabinet reshuffle.
And what about pressing the big red button? He might issue the order to fire and then start campaigning for unilateral disarmament while a missile was up in the air and en route. The Russians and the Chinese would be Raabing their hands with glee if they actually cared a jot.
But all of that is unlikely in practice. It would likely come down to a majority vote in Cabinet (or the Raable, as they will likely now be known), if urgent. And were the PM to succumb, the Tory Party would appoint a new Leader who would automatically slide into place (leaving a silvery slug trail in their wake). Government Law officers would then doubtless start beavering away at some sort of legislation that would facilitate any further emergency appointment.
All in all, the only real concern at present should be a personal one for the health of a fellow human being.
And this carries me adroitly to the reaction of the public to the present predicament of our leader. While you might have difficulty in currently purloining a surgical mask, there’s no shortage of allegorical ones.
And for some, theirs has truly slipped. Ordinary, seemingly decent folk, who have spat out venom in the direction of our ailing PM with the intensity that you’d normally associate with the feigned self-exculpatory pseudo-disgust for a sex offender.
Then, the obvious hypocrites have all rocked up to the peripheries of the centre stage. These are the ones who cannot get their masks of respectability on fast enough. Those who not so long ago were foisting the worst labels upon the PM’s character are now gushing in their wishes for a speedy recovery. Even if you were gullible enough to accept their sincerity, it says a lot for how they view mental versus physical health. But have no fear – when that time comes around again, they’ll all be wearing their Every Mind Matters wristbands and retweeting inspirational messages that they haven’t even bothered to read.
The coronavirus continues with its catalytic exposure of society’s most egregious.
Finally, we do have those who have simply stayed silent on the point. Far from being disrespectful, this is the gang who have scrubbed up most diligently, and they fall into two groups.
The first believe that if you haven’t got something constructive to say, then say nothing. These maintain their principles, their civility, and their integrity. The second wish the PM well, but do not feel the need to appropriate the story, surf on the wave of self-righteousness, and be seen to be wishing him well.
Whatever your perspective on the politics, there’s a special place in Hell only for the hypocrites, the unhinged, and the downright ghastly.
Stay safe – but in self-isolation, we all need to protect our integrity too.