Across the UK, people’s daily lives have been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.
Though they have been eased slightly in recent weeks, the lockdown is still in place, and scientists are clear that social distancing and the lockdown measures introduced by the government in March are the best way of containing and limiting the spread of a virus that has already taken the lives of over 35,000 people in the UK.
Last week, reports emerged that Boris Johnson’s senior adviser, Dominic Cummings, broke the lockdown rules he worked to implement. The Guardian, who broke the story, reported that ‘Cummings and his wife… drove 400km north to his parents’ farm because he feared he couldn’t look after his young son. It then emerged he had driven to a north-east beauty spot with his wife and their and child during the lockdown’.
The trip to the ‘beauty spot’ was a 30 mile trip to Barnard Castle on his wife’s birthday, a journey he claimed to have made to test his eyesight before the drive back down to London. Why does he need to drive 30 miles in order to test his eyesight in the first place? It sounds like an excuse to me. Why couldn’t he have just been honest and admitted he made a mistake?
Even Michael Gove couldn’t summon the strength to defend his ally in a radio interview recently on LBC, evidenced by him waffling and trailing off mid-sentence. He knew attempting to rationalise Cummings’ excuse simply made him look foolish.
Cummings’ actions highlight the hypocrisy of politicians telling you to do something, and then themselves doing something different. Recently, Labour have repeated the damming statement that there is ‘one rule for the Prime Minister’s closest advisor and one rule and another for everyone else’. They appear to have a point.
By seemingly breaking the lockdown rules, Cummings is not doing himself any favours. Is it any wonder that the British public has lost faith in politicians and has grown apathetic when events like this take place?
A 2013 study found that just one in six (17%) people said that they trusted governments either ‘just about always’ or ‘most of the time’, and this debacle, along with past events such as the expenses scandal, reinforce the notion that these political figures don’t deserve the public’s trust.
Knowing the history of Dominic Cummings and his recent success, there appears an underlying irony too. Since Cummings headed and played a major role in the Vote Leave campaign during the 2016 Brexit referendum, he has been seen as the man behind the curtain acting as the indispensable adviser to Boris Johnson. His newfound celebrity status even resulted in a feature length Channel 4 film in which Benedict Cumberbatch portrayed him on screen.
During that contentious referendum, Cummings, for better or worse, masterminded a political strategy which portrayed politicians in Westminster and Brussels as a group of self-interested and self-serving elites that only care about themselves as opposed to the plight of the working people of Britain. By playing on cultural grievances such as immigration, in a similar way to how Steven Bannon did in the US, people voted with their hearts for Brexit, in part as a middle finger to the political establishment.
Now, here is Dominic Cummings accidentally revealing his hand and showing the people that he is just like the political Elite that he sought to demonise.
His decision to travel to Barnard Castle exposes the false pretence that he is a man of the people fighting from within Downing Street against the self interested, Brexit blocking elites of parliament.
By taking the actions he took, he has strengthened the stereotype that political operatives are hypocrites and untrustworthy. The very same stereotype that Vote Leave stressed continuously in 2016 when they cried ‘take back control’.
The public aren’t happy either. A recent poll found that the majority of the public feels as though Cummings should resign, but whether or not he should or will is another issue entirely.
Ultimately, his own political mistake reinforces the political message he so famously popularised. For many now, he is not the hero, but the villain.