With multiple U-turns, constant lies, and Boris Johnson’s approval rating shrinking month-by-month, it is fair to say that the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic has not been well received. Every week seems to bring a new political scandal to the headlines, with one of the most recent being Johnson’s choice to cancel Christmas for millions of people at the last minute, after ignoring scientific advice for weeks. However, despite all these failings, not a single cabinet minister has resigned since the pandemic took hold in March.
With the next general election not until 2024, it is starting to feel like we are stuck with a government which refuses to take any responsibility for its mishandlings.
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Is honesty the best policy?
Lies, scandals, and misconduct do not have the political impact they once did. Lying is almost considered an acceptable political tool now, as it has few to no repercussions on political figures. Take Dominic Cummings, for instance: his Barnard Castle fiasco should have – and would have, under ordinary circumstances – led to an inevitable resignation. Political figures in the past have resigned over much less damning events. Yet, despite huge public pressure, covid has shown us that whilst lying may harm their public image, it does virtually nothing to damage their position or credibility in government.
Cummings has been just one of many individuals involved in a scandal recently. Priti Patel, Grant Shapps, and Gavin Williamson have all faced intense pressure to resign amid accusations of bullying, the Kent lorry crisis, and the downgrading of millions of A-level grades in the summer. Although the pressure is mounting and their approval ratings are low, there are still almost no consequences for their actions.
These issues are perhaps even more apparent on the other side of the pond, where blatant lies are seemingly part of day-to-day politics. The Washington Post reported that Trump has made over 20,000 false or misleading claims during his time in office – and these lies only just seem to be catching up with him. For many, Trump’s demise has come far too late. With the US facing over 400,000 deaths linked to COVID-19, an incompetent and compusively lying President should have been removed long ago.
Shifting the blame
The government has taken a ‘carrot and stick’ approach to the pandemic, telling us that if we use our common sense and follow the regulations, we would have a normal Christmas. Inevitably, the localised ‘tier system’ has not laid out strict enough rules to stop the spread of the virus. Instructing pubs, bars, and gyms in lower tiers to stay open has added to a spike in coronavirus cases, as staff and customers are in close contact. Instead of taking responsibility for the failing tier system, ordinary people are blamed for ‘not taking the virus seriously enough’, when in reality, people were actively encouraged to mix.
A typical example of this was in September when the government ordered students to head back to their university towns for the next semester, dangling the carrot by telling them that they would be offered a mix of in-person and online teaching. Students were then packed into busy accommodation blocks with strangers before being told they had to quarantine, often for weeks on end.
To anyone with common sense, it seems obvious that cramming people from all over the country into small flats would lead to a spike in Covid cases in the student population. The government acted with no foresight at all. This was at the expense of students; nearly three quarters said that their mental health had declined during lockdown. And still, the government has consistently blamed students and young people for spreading the virus, rather than accepting that they mishandled the issue.
How can we hold the government to account?
It seems as though we are stuck in a never-ending spiral of lies, scandals, and public outrage, which have no real-world consequences. Whilst the next election is a long way off, it will be an opportunity to implement major change. But, will voters remember Patel’s workplace bullying, Williamson’s A-Level crisis, or Johnson’s cancelled Christmas when they’re standing at the ballot box in three years’ time?
Whilst in-person protests have been put on hold due to social distancing, other forms of activism such as signing petitions, writing to your MP, and joining pressure groups are good ways to pressure politicians between elections. Individually, we can help to tackle the spread of misinformation by boycotting media outlets which blindly support the government. However, we must also not feel helpless that the next general election is so far in the distance, as, if recent history is anything to go by, it could come around a lot sooner than anticipated. As Johnson’s popularity is a shadow of what it once was, his position is far from secure.
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