The reality is that Johnson has learned only some of the lessons from his failures in the first wave. He has proved consistently slower to take action to suppress the virus than other leaders—even compared with those in the U.K. itself. In fact, Johnson’s reluctance to act and his optimism that he won’t have to in the future have become a pattern. As far back as March, he was predicting that the country could “turn the tide” of the pandemic after 12 weeks and “send coronavirus packing.” In July, he claimed that Britain would not need another national lockdown. Even when he was forced to impose fresh restrictions in October, he moved slower than leaders in Wales and Scotland and slower than the opposition demanded, appearing to resist further restrictions until given no choice. As recently as Sunday, he said there was no doubt in his mind that schools were safe—only to announce their closure a day later.

In the end, both Walport and Boyd described Johnson as trying to steer a middle course, managing the pandemic without destroying ordinary life and the economy. This was entirely reasonable, both acknowledged. Yet, as Walport noted, “The resulting compromises may have not succeeded in preventing severe damage either from the disease or from its social and economic consequences.”

In other words, Johnson—famous for his stated desire to have his cake and eat it, too—tried to have it both ways, but got neither.