"EVENTS, dear boy, events", Harold Macmillan is supposed to have said when asked what determined the course of a government; Harold Wilson is credited with the observation that “a week is a long time in politics”.

A year is longer still: the fact that there is no direct evidence for those Prime Ministers’ best-known quotations demonstrates the difficulty of establishing the facts and retaining a clear memory of even very recent politics. But no one doubts the insights, just as no one would question the (unattributed) judgment of one headline that for their successor, Boris Johnson, it has been “a hell of a year”.

Many Tory MPs viewed their new leader with a desperate gambler’s optimism about the last throw of the dice. The bet came off triumphantly when, in December, Mr Johnson’s party won the election with the largest majority since Tony Blair’s landslide, taking seats Labour had, in some cases, held for a century. He delivered the Brexit many had thought, and some hoped, impossible, unveiled a raft of ambitious spending, and rode high in the polls.

Then came the coronavirus. The consequences for the NHS, personal liberties, economic turmoil and a host of other areas were unprecedented in peacetime and unthinkable six months ago. It would be premature to judge the government (or any other government) on its handling of the crisis, but Mr Johnson, who had direct and traumatic experience of the disease, has not looked in his element, and much of his previous agenda has, for obvious reasons, been sidetracked or derailed.

It has been almost forgotten – it does seem a long time ago – that his early months in office did not look all that promising, however. Even if one ignored his personal enemies, the diehard Remain faction or the fact that Scotland and London seemed resistant to his particular brand of charm, he looked up against the wall.

His own backbenchers were unsupportive, and many defected or were expelled; he had continual setbacks in the Commons, reversals in the courts, and could neither pass legislation nor get consent for the election he hoped would provide a mandate. When he at last did, Mr Johnson’s uncanny ability to persevere against adversity, shown on numerous occasions in his chequered career in journalism, as a backbencher, as Mayor of London, de facto leader of the Brexit campaign and Foreign Secretary, was again evident, even if he looked politically secure, if not quite unassailable, for only a matter of weeks.

It is not impossible that Mr Johnson could once again demonstrate this rubber-ball quality; if his natural exuberance and tendency towards boosterism have not been the appropriate qualities for the height of the crisis, they may nonetheless be just the ones the country needs as it emerges from it. He understands the needs of business, and that encouraging work, productivity and growth demands a supportive government, but one with a light hand on regulation and tax. He demonstrated real commitment, as Mayor of London, to diversity, social mobility, liberty, and the importance of tackling education, housing and social care. The complaint that he is casual about detail is a fair one, but – assuming that can be hammered out by others – it may be that what is most required from the PM is vision, leadership and optimism. He sees the opportunities, and not just the hazards, of a post-Brexit Britain, and the strengths of a United, if devolved, Kingdom.

This week’s visit to Scotland was a welcome reminder of that commitment – he is, after all, Minister for the Union – but he will need to engage more, and make his case constructively, if he is to obtain a warmer welcome. Few Prime Ministers have faced such a turbulent start, but if success comes from keeping your eyes on the prize, rather than worrying about stumbling, Mr Johnson could yet bounce back again.