I feel sorry for Boris – at the moment he just can’t win

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a media briefing in Downing Street.

James Marston says that he's starting to feel sympathy for Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Picture: PA - Credit: PA

I’m feeling a bit sorry for Boris.

I know he’s got Chequers to go to at the weekend and a chauffeur but I can’t help thinking that being prime minister isn’t much fun at the moment.

Most of us can turn off the endless news and talk and turn to a jigsaw – he can’t can he? He’s got to be guided not only by the science but also listen to us – the UK’s self-appointed armchair epidemiologists projecting all their frustration on to him.

It is an impossible position and yet he has presided over the most amazing and remarkable mass vaccination programmes in history – though he’s unlikely to get much credit, that will be appointed elsewhere.

Perhaps getting the blame when things go wrong and none of the credit when they go right was ever thus the predicament of the politician – though I suspect history might be kinder to Boris when we finally look back and through the lens of the critical distance of time.

Even his optimism – an attractive virtue that Churchill, a man who was also up against it, espoused; “I am an optimist. It doesn’t seem too much use being anything else.” – lands him in hot water with his critics.

Yet the main reason Boris has my sympathy today is because almost whatever he does he can’t win. As soon as he announces a lockdown he gets accused of being too slow to act, and yet, as soon as the lockdown is in force he is berated for not coming out of it quickly enough.
Nonetheless Boris keeps going, doggedly soldiering on. Whatever his faults and foibles – giving in isn’t one of them.

Indeed, Boris’s latest entreaty to us all to be optimistic and patient resonates, I think, with dear Captain Tom’s motto “Tomorrow is a good day”, but patience is something we aren’t very good at any more isn’t it?

We live our lives funded by credit because we lack patience, we demand instant gratification and quick solutions, we demand that we do not wait – waiting lists, long queues, are a bad thing, waiting means slow and ineffective, patience, is often regarded it seems, as equitable to weakness and not getting things done. Patience is a choice we don’t like to make.

When I was a boy my mother used to quote the following to me: “Patience is a virtue, Possess it if you can, seldom found in woman, never found in man.”

I’m not going to get into the battle of the sexes here – but mother’s point that patience is a virtue is rarely talked about these days, probably because it is not easy to cultivate – it demands self-control which we don’t always think of as much fun. Indeed self-denial, not having what we want when we want it is a far cry from the culture of individualism and secularism we are all subject to.

Yet, according to my little bit of internet research, patient people are attractive to us – we like them – and patience improves our mental health and, by extension, our physical health. Patience also makes us make more rational decisions and builds up our persistence and crucially, at this time, our resilience.

Yet for me, patience, in those moments when I’ve got some, can also help remove anxiety as well as discontent largely, I think, because patience lends perspective to situations and circumstances and helps me see things through a calmer lens.

In recent months we have had little choice but to be patient as we live restricted lives in the hope of the sunlit uplands of the new normal. And I can’t help wondering if that patience we have exhibited – with ourselves and with each other might not be such a bad thing, partly because to cultivate patience required many of us have had to look inward and count our blessings and be grateful for what we have got and who we are.

Many a time, over the last months, I have heard people express gratitude – often for their health and circumstances – in a way they may not have before. The irony is, of course, that expressing gratitude gives us patience and patience gives us yet more to be thankful for. So today I am with Boris on this one – patience is a virtue and goes hand in hand with the optimism and the hope we are all counting on.
What do you think? Are you patient? How do you cultivate patience? Write to James at james.marston@archant.co.uk