Wednesday, 13 January 2021

Solidarity would be more effective than enforced obedience


The lesson that any normal empathic human would have learned from the Barnard Castle eye-test fiasco is that government messages can be seriously undermined if senior members or officials of the government are seen to be non-compliant with government guidance, even if that non-compliance can potentially be interpreted by some as ‘merely’ stretching a point rather than an outright and undeniable breach. All the evidence shows that Cummings’ jaunt had a serious negative impact on public willingness to comply, and left an unpleasant feeling that there’s one law for ‘them’ and another for everyone else. However, the lesson that Johnson appears to have actually learned is that toughing it out works. Not in terms of such minor questions as reinforcing government messages and protecting lives of course, but in the more limited but much more important – to him, anyway – sense of fending off a potential threat to his own position. To paraphrase an old saying, there are two rules concerning the world king: 1) the world king is always right, and 2) in the event of him being wrong, rule 1 above applies.

There seems to be no doubt that, in the black-and-white matter of what the letter of the law says, taking himself off for a bike ride seven miles from home was not illegal under English lockdown rules (and that’s still true, even if, as seems likely given Downing Street’s apparent reluctance to either confirm or deny it, he and his security entourage drove that seven miles rather than riding it). But there is equally no doubt that, at a time when his own government’s ministers and the health experts are saying that the law is a maximum, not an entitlement, and that people should be avoiding any travel at all unless it is absolutely essential, let alone the continual hints that he and the government believe that current rules may not be strict enough, his trip was directly contrary to most of the messaging coming from himself, let alone those around him. It might be arguable that, for his security (to say nothing of the safety of other road users), having the PM and a posse of security officers riding their bikes in wobbly fashion through the roads of the capital is not the most brilliant idea that anyone ever came up with, and that it was therefore reasonable to use the lack of precision in the law to allow him some safe exercise. With a bit more self-awareness, to say nothing of a willingness to express a degree of contrition or regret, he might have tried that line, and many might even have sympathised. But feelings like contrition are alien to Johnson’s character – and anyway, the world king is always right.

How damaging it will be in the coming weeks and months remains to be seen – the Cummings effect is still strong after many months. One of the strangest aspects of the whole affair was that apparently, in a stark display of his own lack of self-awareness, the PM was so surprised at how many other people were at the park where he went for his ride that he took that information back to the cabinet for a discussion on how the guidance could be more strongly enforced. This, in turn, may well have led to the otherwise inexplicable decision to deploy the disastrous Priti Patel at yesterday’s press conference to promise draconian police action against all those mere plebs who dare to emulate the PM’s lack of compliance with what is mostly guidance rather than law. There is little doubt that stronger enforcement will be popular amongst the overwhelming majority who are attempting to follow the ever-changing rules and guidance and don’t like seeing others ‘getting away with it’. It’s a poor substitute though for encouraging a greater sense of social solidarity where people genuinely feel that the action taken is collective rather than simply individual. Johnson’s words and actions directly undermine such solidarity as does exist rather than increasing it. But then world kings don’t require solidarity, merely obedience.


dafis said...

Lot of fuss and hot air being generated in USA about getting Trump off his perch ahead of schedule, yet he's down to his last 7 days anyway. Here we are lumbered with our own imbecile and his entourage for another 3 years and 11 months, unless the Tory party implodes and wrecks its parliamentary majority or decides to depose the imbecile. However that most likely will only lead to another imbecile like Gove taking the job. At times like this one ends up wishing for independence tomorrow although that would probably give us our own local version of a dimwit at the helm. Any scope for a sharp improvement in the quality of our elected politicians ?

dafis said...

.. and for more evidence of the "superiority" of Westminster's talent pool check this out.
Now that may not be exactly typical of Tory ministerial choices as normally they prefer to engage in some seriously deviant behaviours in their spare time. However at that point in time it illustrates clearly that this thick panto dame had no grasp of her personal ministerial mandate.

Spirit of BME said...

I think the title of your post is spot on.
There are only two observations I have on the broadcast.
The first is poor Priti- awful Patel having to reading from a script created by a committee which just added to the confusion, as it called issues of Law, Regulations and Guidelines as ‘The Rules’ – no wonder Mr Plod is in trouble trying to figure out what all that means.
The man who stole the show was the Army chap who was not dressed in the usual uniform showing red tabs, sam brown and fruit salad on the right chest, but they dressed him in a type of desert combat gear, which I suspect they wanted to send out the psychological message of action, intimidation, and those that do not comply are enemies of the Queen -it all looked a bit odd.
I might be entirely wrong, as he might be leaving straight after to parachute into the Syrian theatre to visit the troop.

John Dixon said...


"poor Priti- awful Patel having to reading from a script created by a committee which just added to the confusion" I suspect that you don't really intend to imply that she might have done better without a script...