Cummings and the cult of exceptionalism
In the first lesson after I started in the Sixth Form at my school, our form teacher announced: “You are now all adults, so you should be treated like adults. We will all refer to each other by our Christian names.” So I said: “OK, Brian.” He responded: “I mean you, not me. I’m still Dr Parker to you.”
By saying this, the teacher (rightly or wrongly) set himself apart from us, despite saying we were all on the same footing. It’s this sort of thinking that led Dominic Cummings, his wife and small child, to drive from north London to Durham under lockdown while at least one of them was already suffering from Covid19. Ignore whether he technically was within the rules or not, what the PM’s chief advisor was indicating by this action was he was not part of the hoi polloi, he was exceptional and therefore followed exceptional rules.
You can see this in other actions by members of the Government, from Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick travelling to his parents from one of this three (count them) homes, to Boris Johnson shaking hands with all unsundry, including hospital patients who may or may not have had the virus, when the medical advice was somewhat different.
It is this cult of exceptionalism that allows some misguided bosses to accept large pay packets and bonusses when putting staff on furlough, that makes Des Walker think it’s OK to host sex parties at his Cheshire mansion during lockdown, or persuades the man with the beer on Brighton beach complain about all the people day-tripping in the seaside.
Try telling people who can’t drive 250 miles to get childcare, who can’t visit ill members of their family in lockdown, who can’t even attend family and friends’ funerals, that Cummings’ or Jenrick’s behaviour is OK.
While politicians and the media go back and forth about who did what and when in the Cummings affair, the overall message that his actions are giving is that our leaders are somehow better than the rest of us. How different from 2009, when the then Tory leader David Cameron said: “We will not make it if we pull in different directions, follow our own interests, take care of only ourselves. But if we pull together, come together, work together — we will get through this together.”
Boris Johnson and his team have taken the Conservatives and this country in a different direction. The message now appears to be “do as we say, not as we do, because we are exceptional”.