None of us imagined we would be locked down for months in the middle of a pandemic. None of us imagined that the Conservative Government would become the most popular in polling history since World War 2. None of us imagined that popularity would start sliding so quickly as the actions of a government adviser created anger on a scale not seen in years.
The change in public mood during the coronavirus crisis has shifted from fear and anxiety to outrage – very much in line with the ‘change curve’ that we all experience during times of upheaval. But the trigger for rage is an interesting one for liberals.
That rage is directed at perceived rule breaking by Dominic Cummings. When 90% of us were dutifully obeying instructions to ‘Stay Home, Save Lives, Protect the NHS’ we thought that just about everyone else was doing the same. So it felt right, it felt secure. That level of obedience is not usually associated with liberal democracies and I admit that I was surprised most followed the rules. But then this was a crisis like no other any of us had faced in our lives. We did it to protect ourselves and others.
So when faced with an individual who clearly chose to do the opposite, who has been well and truly caught out, how do we as open minded people react? Do we accept that people make mistakes and should be forgiven? Pragmatically we might do so normally. But this is different. This is about fairness.
I’ve seen the reactions on social media, spoken to friends and the vast majority feel the same – it is one rule for some and another for the many. It’s that inherent abuse of position and feeling that someone is above the law that goes straight to the heart of what is right and what is wrong.
In George Orwell’s classic Animal Farm, after a period of true democracy, the porky Napoleon and his cabal created a state just as bad as the farmer who’d been overthrown by the animals. The statement daubed over the barn stated: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” Napoleon got his way for a while before the downtrodden masses got angry and ousted him. Their fear was outweighed by their sense of betrayal and despair at their lost friends.
As progressives it is the abuse of fairness which should worry us most about the Cummings affair. It’s not fair for a man to do what he was telling others not to, it’s not fair for his Conservative colleagues to protect him and bend their own rules, it’s not fair to expect people to stop seeing the ones they love the most whilst one of their own does the exact opposite.
This horrible tale will pass in due course but the dangers to our country of an elite dictating to the population and breaking their rules are huge.
This public health crisis will change us in many ways (good and bad) – but those who break that bond of fairness and trust are rarely forgiven.
Remember Animal Farm, we know how that ended. Justice won out.
Liberal Base columnist Cllr Paul Hodgkinson is Group Leader of the Liberal Democrats and Leader of the Opposition on Gloucestershire County Council. He is the councillor for Bourton-on-the-Water and Northleach. He tweets @paulcotswolds