Photography composite via Wikimedia Commons
It has been nine long weeks since Boris Johnson first declared the national lockdown. Throughout this time, people have witnessed their incomes dwindle, oftentimes to nothing at all, their livelihoods stripped away from them, weddings, concerts, graduations all cancelled. And many of us have been experiencing real heartbreak and tragedy, the kind that before now only really existed in apocalypse films and dystopian novels, with patients dying alone in ICU and their loved ones unable to attend their funerals, with sick relatives struggling alone in their homes and thousands of people enduring a kind of grief that is marked by solitude and self-isolation. All for the sake of the greater good, so that hopefully, other people would escape the earth-shattering losses that they had the misfortune to experience. However, now it has been revealed that all of this sacrifice, forgoing the chance to hold a dying parents hand or help out a struggling friend with children, is in fact “optional”. Well, at least to the PM’s closest and most trusted friends.
A joint investigation by the Guardian and the Daily Mirror revealed that Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson most senior advisor and closest ally, drove 260 miles North to Durham to his parents’ estate with his son, whilst he and his wife exhibited coronavirus symptoms, in turn clearly breaking government restrictions. The story was met with a unanimous, bipartisan fury, people across the political spectrum were rightfully enraged with the news that the restrictions, that have been enforced by police, actually have an asterisk: one rule for them, another for us. The more alarming thing, however, has unfolded after the story itself broke, as people expected a resignation and a condemnation of some kind, Boris Johnson instead decided to unwaveringly back his senior aide in an obstinate press conference on Sunday, denying that Dominic had broken any rules, claiming in fact that he had acted “responsibly, legally, and with integrity”, following the instincts of any parent.
“Black Britons are very familiar with the ducking and diving tactics we have seen on display these last few days”
In the last 48 hours the PM and his cabinet ministers have been on a singular mission to gaslight the entire country, rewriting the past and amending guidelines to fit in accordance with the way Dominic has acted. It is almost astonishing – I say “almost” because this is in no way outside the scope of what the conservatives have been doing for years. People of colour, and specifically black Britons, are very familiar with the ducking and diving tactics we have seen on display these last few days. The Tories have managed to rewrite their histories on a number of occasions, reshaping some narratives and burying others entirely. We have witnessed this time and time again with the Windrush scandal, with Grenfell and countless other instances of deportations and deaths in police custody that have been met either with silence or empty platitudes of inquiries that ultimately came to nothing.
We saw, as a nation, British citizens shackled and sent to countries they had not seen in half a century, and it was merely boiled down to an unfortunate mistake, a miscalculation, an innocent blunder if you will. And now, only a few years later, we see Priti Patel championing, and passing, an immigration bill so draconian and cruel it punishes the very people that are keeping this country functioning. This is not to pander into the “good immigrant/bad immigrant” dichotomy that the Conservatives themselves have hoisted upon us, rather it is to highlight the contempt with which the Tories see all immigrants. And so this uncompromising, unrepentant campaign that Boris Johnson has decided to embark upon in defence of Dominic Cummings may seem counterintuitive and completely detached from the public mood, but it is simply the Conservatives applying the same tactics that they have always used to try and escape scrutiny and accountability.
“Priti Patel has championed an immigration bill so draconian and cruel it punishes the very people that are keeping this country functioning”
Seeing as Covid-19 has disproportionately impacted black and brown communities, with a study from the ONS showing that black Britons are four times more likely to die from the disease, it is even more crucial for our communities that these people are held to account. Dominic’s disregard of rules that he architected is reprehensible for many reasons, not least because the North East has had relatively low rates of coronavirus, but had he stopped at service stations or indeed travelled 30 miles out of Durham he may have further spread the virus endangering the lives of who knows how many people. But also because many will take this to mean that lockdown and social distancing rules are optional, which will have devastating effects on ethnic minorities and working-class communities first. By keeping Dominic Cummings in office, Boris Johnson is prioritising the career of one senior official over the health and wellbeing of the entire country.