By Sara Chitseko:
Last week, it emerged that the prime minister's chief aide, Dominic Cummings, breached lockdown rules by making the 260 mile journey from London to Durham, while his wife had coronavirus symptoms. Government guidance unequivocally states that, "If you, or someone you live with has symptoms of coronavirus, you must not leave your home for any reason."
As a result, the government has spiralled into meltdown. While some Tory Backbenchers have condemned Cummings' actions and many more from Labour and SNP have rightly called for Cummings to resign; other Cabinet Ministers have unashamedly stood to his defence. In last Sunday's briefing, in an obstinate display of arrogance, Boris Johnson, went as far as to support Cumming's actions, calling them "totally understandable" and suggesting he "followed the instinct of any parent." In Monday's briefing, he added salt to injury, saying he regrets the “confusion, the anger and the pain people feel." Boris' response is nothing short of gaslighting the nation.
Cummings' behaviour and Boris' refusal to take appropriate action is not only inexcusable because it is contradictory to government guidance; it also makes a mockery of all those that have made incredible sacrifice in this period, even in the face of great grief and loss. Around the same time that Cummings went to see his parents in Durham, the family of 13 year old Ismail Mohamed Abdulwahab were unable to attend his funeral. Many others have suffered severe mental and emotional distress by abstaining from seeing family and friends in hospital. The whole incident is a slap in the face to NHS staff who, on top of continuing to work tirelessly to save patient's lives, have also had to explain to those who have lost loved ones, that they can't even say goodbye. Yesterday, in an unusual press conference outside Downing St, Cummings attempted to justify his actions suggesting his circumstances were 'exceptional.' It seems his privilege has blinded him to the fact that having a small child and one parent being unwell in the context of a pandemic is actually incredibly unexceptional.
What's more, the government continue to prioritise a punitive approach to enforcing lockdown measures. Data for London in April shows that there were 30,608 uses of stop and search, compared to 23,787 in March – a rise of 22 per cent. Black people are four times more likely to die if we contract coronavirus and we are also 40 times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people - a policing power in which physical contact is inevitable. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has had to admit that all 44 charges brought under the Coronavirus Act were wrong, which is surely in part, due to the vagueness of the measures police were tasked to enforce. The government approach is not only unsupportive of public health, it has also further entrenched inequality. The UK is the second worst hit country in the world in terms of deaths from coronavirus and the worst hit in Europe. Our political system not only serves to protect the elite, but the actions of the rich directly perpetuate cycles of trauma, violence and harm in our communities.
Taken together, this shows how how deeply entrenched the hypocrisy and elitism which underpins government notions of "law and order" runs. But unfortunately this incident is not the first, nor is it likely to be the last, in which the political elite demonstrate that it is one rule for them and another for the rest. It was only a year ago in the run up to the Tory leadership elections, that a number of politicians including Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Rory Stewart, Andrea Leadsom, Dominic Raab, Jeremy Hunt, Matt Hancock and Esther McVey admitted to having taken illegal drugs. Their admissions provided a striking example of how institutional racism and classism affords the rich and powerful the privilege of owning their drug use without consequence, while the most marginalised are persecuted, criminalised and incarcerated by the very policies that these MPs have created.
Just a year later and we see a similar pattern unfolding in the context of COVID-19. While Black people are criminalised and incarcerated without cause, Dominic Cummings and his cronies break laws and risk lives as they please. The revelation that Dominic Cummings broke government guidance may be a stain for the government in their handling of the crisis in the public's mind in the short term; but the deeper issue we must address is; how can we dismantle the tiered structure of our society which fundamentally negates accountability for the elite, at the expense of the poor and minoritised? Only then will we be able to speak of "justice," in a way that is meaningful, transparent and inclusive.