These last few months have been challenging for everyone, not least for the United Kingdom.
The coronavirus pandemic has hit the UK hard, with over 36,000 deaths at the time of writing. The highest death toll in Europe and the second highest in the whole world tell you everything you need to know: these have been grim times for Britain.
Soon after Boris Johnson announced a nationwide lockdown on 23 March, I wrote about the need for the nation to come together and strive for national unity during the pandemic. The government needed to be under scrutiny and challenged on their decisions as usual, but now was not the time to earn political points.
Two months later, the same applies. But a lot has changed.
Government failures have been exposed, the death toll has surged far higher than it should have and scores of people across the country are defying national guidelines and rules over lockdown. From excessive beachgoers in Southend-on-Sea to huge groups going to parks in London, the number of lockdown breaches have been alarming.
But no more concerning and controversial than Dominic Cummings.
The key adviser to the prime minister has been in the news this weekend, and for all the wrong reasons. The Guardian reported that Cummings travelled up to Durham from London despite having Covid-19 symptoms, before The Mirror revealed that Cummings broke lockdown rules a second time to visit his parents.
Cummings’ actions have caused uproar across the nation, albeit dividing opinion like never before. The majority general public are disgusted and hurt, calling for his resignation for his act of defiance. Many speak of their own harrowing experiences of not being able to visit loved ones due to the guidelines, while he was allowed to.
On the other hand, Conservative allies have come to his defence. A Downing Street government spokesperson said Cummings travelled to get help for childcare from his parents, after he and his wife fell sick.
In an initial statement, Downing Street said: “Owing to his wife being infected with suspected coronavirus and the high likelihood that he would himself become unwell, it was essential for Dominic Cummings to ensure his young child could be properly cared for.
“His actions were in line with coronavirus guidelines. Mr Cummings believes he behaved reasonably and legally.”
Cabinet members also spoke out in support of Cummings, who themselves were met with wild backlash. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said it was “entirely right” for Cummings to find childcare, Michael Gove claimed “it is not a crime” to care for relatives and Rishi Sunak said his actions were “justifiable and reasonable”.
Whether you believe Cummings was right or wrong to do what he did, there is no denying that he broke lockdown roles – ones that he had helped plan out and enforce.
Cummings should not be criticised for trying to look after his child and help them, but he definitely deserves blame for defying strict guidelines that were brought in to protect the British people. If the prime minister’s senior adviser can breach lockdown rules, what significance do they hold to us?
Johnson has been repeating one thing throughout the pandemic: we’re all in this together. The prime minister tried to create a sense of national unity, assuring us that everyone is going through this together and we will get through this. Everyone is in the same boat enduring the same struggles, but we need to act accordingly and wisely.
“If the prime minister’s senior adviser can breach lockdown rules, what significance do they hold to us?”
But what meaning do his words hold when those in power are treated differently? If the same situation happened with a normal citizen, the outrage would be enormous. A likely positive case of coronavirus travelling hundreds of miles across the country, risking spreading this deadly disease even further.
The government has shot themselves in the foot, not least by dismissing calls to sack Cummings or tender his resignation. This is a disgraceful act of hypocrisy which has torn right into the country, another costly blow to further divide an already battered and split nation.
What makes it worse is their failure to admit a fault- a wrongdoing in the case of Cummings. They refuse to concede that he actually broke lockdown rules, defied their own guidelines and did what 66 million British people currently cannot do under law. It is a classic case of government exemption; protecting their own and refusing to admit mistakes.
Government hypocrisy has tarnished any notion of national unity, damaging the spirit and calls to set aside political differences during the pandemic. People now defying lockdown rules will simply point to Cummings’ actions, comparing their actions to his in a bid to defend themselves and be excused.
It’s a costly mistake from those in power.
It is hard to know what impact this will have in the long term, but what is known is that this will cause further investigation once the pandemic is over. What else have the government been hiding from us? How else have they broken their own laws during the pandemic? How long have they been covering up the truth?
The wounds will take even longer to heal as long as Cummings remains in office, maintaining his position of power right next to the most powerful man in the country. One thing is certain however: We must keep standing together to battle through these unprecedented times.