Failures of State review – never forget the Johnson government's Covid disasters

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A damning assessment, by investigative journalists Jonathan Calvert and George Arbuthnott, of the handling of the pandemic by the British government

Publishing, like politics and like comedy, is all about timing. The timing is not right for this book, which is a damning assessment of how the UK government of Boris Johnson mishandled almost every aspect of the coronavirus crisis, so that Britain suffered both the highest death toll in Europe and an economic slump more devastating than in any other G7 nation. The timing is off because of the one thing the government got right. At this moment, polls suggest a nation grateful to be vaccinated efficiently and at speed, with case numbers and deaths falling daily, schools open once more and the first sound of the key being turned on a lockdown that has seemed to last for ever. Spring is in the air and people are itching to break free. Those chunky Tory poll leads do not suggest a public eager to immerse itself in the horrors of the last year and work out what went wrong and who to blame.

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That time will come, however, and when it does, this book will serve well as the charge sheet. More than that, it reads like the first draft of the report that will one day be delivered by the inevitable public inquiry, even if it is balder and more scathing than those texts, written in mandarin English – indirect, coded, implied – usually dare to be. If you’ve ever wondered what an actual catalogue of disaster might look like, look no further. Failures of State is a Christmas-at-Argos sized catalogue of the government’s errors, page after page filled with its mistakes, misjudgments and even its possibly actionable crimes (it quotes lawyers who believe Johnson could be charged with “gross negligence manslaughter”).

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