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HENRY DEEDES watches Dominic Raab's emotional coronavirus update from Downing Street

Interview coaches like to hammer away at the importance of first impressions. 

Good job then that Dominic Raab’s entrance into the Downing Street state dining room on Tuesday as the de facto acting Prime Minister was a zinger.  

His stride was bold and purposeful, his welcoming smile icy white. Tie? A daring gold number. Any future employer confronted by such a thrusting go-getter would surely by now have given him the once-over and earmarked him for management. 

What a vast improvement the Foreign Secretary was from the figure who presented himself at the previous day’s briefing. There he appeared hesitant and glassy-eyed, constantly bumbling over his script. Understandable, perhaps, given what we know now about the hospitalised Prime Minister’s fragile condition.

First up was an update on the PM’s health. Boris was stable, we were told. He was getting standard oxygen treatment and did not require an invasive respiratory support. This was, the doctors on television news had been telling us all afternoon, a very good thing. 

Dominic Raab’s entrance into the Downing Street state dining room on Tuesday as the de facto acting Prime Minister was a zinger, as his emotional words about Boris Johnson rang out

Still, that any sitting Prime Minister should be forced to require oxygen to assist with their breathing – by all accounts a traumatic experience – is shocking. But one who bounds through life with the reckless energy of a daft Labrador such as our current PM somehow made it doubly so. 

At such moments one couldn’t help think of his terrified fiancée. Or of his parents, his siblings, not to mention the sheer panic his children must be suffering. Raab, though, had prepared a few flinty words of optimism. ‘I’m confident he’ll pull through because if there’s one thing I know about this Prime Minister, he’s a fighter,’ he declared. 

‘And he’ll be back at the helm leading us through this crisis in short order.’ Mr Raab is not prone to displays of sentimentality but his voice momentarily crackled with previously unforeseen tenderness. 

Staring into the camera, he delivered a lip-wobbler: ‘He’s not just our boss, he’s also a colleague,’ he said. ‘And he’s also our friend.’ As he said this I’m not sure I didn’t momentarily have something dratted in my eye. 

Any future employer confronted by such a thrusting go-getter would surely by now have given him the once-over and earmarked him for management

Accompanying Raab were chief medical officer Chris Whitty and the Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, both loitering awkwardly at their lecterns. Such different creatures these two boffins. 

Almost polar opposites. Refined Sir Patrick spent numerous years in the lucrative private sector as an adviser at that giant of Big Pharma GSK. Oh, and it shows. His urbane suits look like they’ve been hand-stitched in fancy Roman salons. By contrast, you suspect lovable Whitty struggles to find matching shoes in the morning. 

There were the inevitable queries about how the chain of command would work with the PM bedbound. Raab repeatedly insisted decisions would be made by ‘collective Cabinet responsibility.’ Hmmm. Let’s see how that works out. I fear this experience may age Raab a bit over these next months. 

Still nothing encouraging was said about easing the current lockdown (‘We’re not there yet’). Nor did he sound confident about the Government’s ambitious target of testing 100,000 people a day by the end of the month (‘We will do everything we can on every front’). 

The next few weeks will not be easy for Mr Raab. It is true he has always wanted to lead. Ever since those early parliamentary days as gatekeeper to David Davis, those flinty eyes have flickered ambition. 

He would doubtless have preferred different circumstances but we rarely get to pick and choose when opportunities present themselves. Let us see what he’s made of. 

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