Ifan Morgan Jones
“Is this government asking you, the people to do one thing, while senior people here in government do something else?” Boris Johnson began his press conference.
“Have we been asking you to make sacrifices, to obey social distancing rules, stay at home, while some people have been flouting those rules?”
And with his declaration that he was sticking with his top advisor Dominic Cummings, the answer was a clear and emphatic: ‘Yes.’
Johnson and Cummings don’t have a leg to stand on. The Government’s guidance was and continues to be unambiguous. It’s still there in black and white on the website: ‘if you have coronavirus symptoms you must stay at home.’
Johnson and Cummings know this. Everyone knows this. In fact what makes the UK Government’s gaslighting of the people so difficult is that they are still pumping out millions in TV, radio and social media ads reiterating these exact same rules.
In fact, soon after the UK Government sent out yesterday’s statement defending Dominic Cummings’ actions as within regulations the official UK Gov Twitter account published a scheduled tweet telling people not to “break the rules” by visiting the homes of others.
Boris Johnson’s terse statement didn’t even bother to address further revelations of Dominic Cumming’s subsequent trips to Durham – he effectively dismissed them as ‘fake news,’ as if he was some knock-off Trump.
He did not get to grips with the contradictions in Cummings’ own account – which is that he had to travel to Durham because he needed childcare, but then had no contact with his family.
Even if the Prime Minister had put his hands up and said ‘he got it wrong and will apologise’ he might have been able to avoid too much criticism. But just saying that black is white and that we should all move on requires a particular level of arrogance that only the ruling class possess.
The irony in all of this is that Dominic Cummings has styled himself as the man with his finger on the public pulse. But he has badly misread the public mood on this.
Over the last 48 hours, we have heard countless stories by people who missed family funerals or could not visit dying relatives because they respected the UK Government’s own guidelines. They are furious.
And every member of the public will have made big sacrifices for the lockdown. Boris Johnson has essentially just told them that if we really cared about their significant others we would have disregarded the lockdown in the same way as Dominic Cummings did.
Ultimately, this matters not just because of its political impact, but because it makes a complete sham of a lockdown itself. A lockdown that is there, let’s not forget, because of a pandemic that has already killed 40,000 people in the UK, the highest number in Europe.
While the pandemic lockdown is a matter for the Welsh Government in Wales, we know that most people get their political news from a Westminster-centric media that don’t always make that clear.
How many people will be thinking, ‘well if Dominic Cummings can drive 250 miles while his family are suffering from coronavirus, why on earth have I been keeping myself stuck indoors for months?’
Johnson’s decision to put his top advisor before the lockdown risks a public health disaster.
Because if there is a second peak the UK Government will need to impose another strict lockdown. That would have been hard enough anyway – not it’s going to be essentially politically impossible.
And, yes, good luck enforcing those fines.