OF all the things the UK Government should be worried about during the coronavirus crisis, Boris Johnson’s fragile ego is not one of them.

This week, MPs voted to abandon the hybrid virtual Parliament model they have been working under.

After recess, there will be no more online votes or video-link questions in the chamber.

The move has been criticised by opposition MPs who have pointed out the recklessness of asking MPs and staff to travel to London from hundreds of miles away to do work they have shown they are well able to do from home.

It was reported that one of the reasons the Government is so keen to get MPs back in the chamber is so that backbench Tories can give Johnson their vocal support during Prime Minister’s Questions.

Boris Johnson has come unstuck in recent weeks. He has floundered under Keir Starmer’s forensic questioning and the silence of a near-empty chamber that offers him nowhere to hide. Without an audience Boris Johnson’s delivery falls flat, like a sitcom with the laughter track removed.

During Wednesday’s session he was on the defensive and his red-faced outbursts looked all the more ludicrous when contrasted with Starmer’s calm questions and reasonable rebuttals.

None of this is new, of course. We saw during the Conservative leadership contest and then again during the General Election campaign that Boris Johnson is a politician who is terrified of scrutiny.

During both campaigns, his advisers were keen to keep him out of the spotlight. They calculated that being branded a coward was less damaging to Johnson’s chance of success than it would be to highlight his indiscipline and poor grasp of detail in TV debates and interviews.

And now, as then, Johnson is nowhere to be seen. We are in the grip of a global health emergency and the Prime Minister is AWOL.

While leaders of the devolved UK nations have offered themselves up for interviews and have become regular fixtures of breakfast TV and nightly news programmes, Boris Johnson has been notable by his absence since his return to work.

The UK Government strategy, as elsewhere, relies on the public following guidance. The daily Downing Street briefing is a key part of that but more often than not, the Prime Minister refuses to attend.

Either through ineptitude or design, that critical hour is of public information broadcasting is being squandered. Nine weeks into lockdown and the UK briefing still, shamefully, doesn’t have a sign language interpreter.

They have found time to fiddle with the formula so that members of the public can submit questions – thus leaving less time for

journalists – yet the basics are still being ignored.

If the goal is to relay information in a way that is accessible and easily understood, then one messenger – recognisable, trusted and competent – is the best way to achieve that.

Therein lies the problem. England’s messenger should be Boris Johnson but he is not trusted, even by his own advisers, to front the daily question and answer session.

Instead, what we see is a parade of average and underwhelming Ministers trotted out each day to do his job for him. They face the scrutiny their boss hides away from and they answer the questions that should be directed to him.

It seems that Boris Johnson is unwilling to take the stage unless he is delivering good news or declaring victory. Given that we will be living through this crisis for a long time to come, that is something that should concern us all.

PEOPLE in England are scared and anxious, as we all are. They are worried about their jobs and health and they deserve so much better than this. They deserve a leader who will put their own ego to one side and turn up even – if not especially – when they are greeted with criticism rather than applause.

When questions have been asked about the Prime Minister’s absence, some have pointed out that he is still recovering from his stint in hospital. But if he is not yet well enough to undertake one of the most important functions of a leader, then he should step aside and let somebody else take over.

There will be those who ask why it matters. Just as they have done every other time he has hid away from the scrutiny that we take as a given for any other leader.

Look where that exceptionalism when it comes to Boris Johnson has got us. Where our world has been turned upside down and people still make excuses for a man who is – again – shirking his responsibilities.

There is nothing special about Boris Johnson. His stardust and reputation as a great orator is the stuff of myth. The only thing that sets him apart from most other world leaders during this pandemic is his unaccountability.

His personal brand may have taken a battering during this crisis, but the real damage is being done far beyond Downing Street. The country that put its trust in him has been badly let down. People are asking for clarity and guidance and getting neither.

England needs a leader, but they’ve got a coward.