RICHARD KAY: Did Boris Johnson fall victim to the No10 ‘machismo culture’?
The hardest part must be accepting the sympathy, those reassuring messages that have flooded in, while having to acknowledge that the exterior he has always presented, impervious to triumph and setback, has been breached.
Only a week ago Boris Johnson was determined to ride out his diagnosis of coronavirus with the bravado and positive determination that has characterised his entire political career.
It didn’t work out like that. But as he began his slow return to fitness after five nights in hospital – three of them in intensive care – an uncomfortable truth about how he managed his own health was beginning to emerge.
Only a week ago Boris Johnson was determined to ride out his diagnosis of coronavirus with the bravado and positive determination that has characterised his entire political career. Pictured: Boris Johnson and key adviser Dominic Cummings – both have been ill
Insiders point to a ‘machismo culture’ at the heart of Downing Street which frowns on weakness, and an attitude of denial, all of which may have stemmed from Boris’s own robust approach to ill health.
What was being suggested was that this view clouded the threat the virus posed to the very figure leading the country’s response to the infection – the PM himself.
According to Andrew Gimson, Mr Johnson’s biographer, Boris always strove to make himself invulnerable.
‘Part of that was not taking illness seriously – showing that you were tough enough to work through any possible thing that you might get and that you didn’t need to go and lie down,’ says Mr Gimson.
‘Most people he employs enjoy working for Boris but they work very hard and he never notices when they are tired. I doubt he has ever said to anyone, “Look, why don’t you go home”.’
So how much truth is there in the claims that a macho climate exists inside No10? ‘It is quite laddish,’ says one Whitehall figure.
‘They call Boris “boss”.’ Many of those around him now were working for the high testosterone Vote Leave campaign during the run-up to the EU referendum.
‘They are a pretty shouty gang, there’s lots of bravado.’
The Prime Minister began his slow return to fitness after five nights in hospital – three of them in intensive care – at St Thomas’ Hospital (pictured)
The Vote Leave architect was, of course, Dominic Cummings – now in No10 as Mr Johnson’s key adviser.
He, too, has recently become a virus victim and is off work.
Yesterday the Bloomberg news agency reported that some in Tory circles now believe the macho issue was responsible for those in Mr Johnson’s inner circle failing to take the issue of his infection seriously enough.
Critics suggest this cavalier attitude began after the PM announced UK-wide social distancing policies on March 16 while continuing to hold daily press conferences inside Downing Street packed with the media.
Insiders point to a ‘machismo culture’ at the heart of Downing Street which frowns on weakness, and an attitude of denial, all of which may have stemmed from Boris’s own robust approach to ill health
Mr Johnson stood at a lectern, with others nearby and not the regulation six feet apart. Ten days later Boris developed Covid-19 symptoms.
The layout inside Downing Street didn’t help.
‘No10 is like a rabbit warren, very narrow corridors and poky offices,’ said Will Walden, who worked for Boris when he was London mayor.
‘It’s no surprise they all came down with it.’
However, Mr Walden said he doubted that a macho culture contributed to Boris’s illness.
‘Do I think they have been brusque about it? I doubt it. I think they have just been unlucky.’
And one friend pointed out: ‘He wanted to battle on as long as he could because he has asked the country to make such huge sacrifices and that meant he could hardly shrink from them himself.’