Everyone remembers the famous Margaret Thatcher quote, “You turn if you want to, the lady’s not for turning”. It epitomised the iron will of the iron lady and her no-nonsense style of governance. Once a decision was made, it was followed through even if the policy received a public backlash. Think of the infamous poll tax in 1990 which was the beginning of the end of her premiership. Despite cabinet splits and public condemnation with riots across the nation, she pushed it through. It was down to Thatcher’s successor, John Major, to scrap the unpopular policy.
It may not be politically savvy to hold principle above public opinion when it comes to the community charge, but these qualities; honesty, integrity, and assured faith in one’s beliefs, are clearly lacking in the present and recent administrations. Ours is not a government driven by ideological clarity and mission, and as a result voters are witnessing incessant u-turns under politicians driven by pragmatism.
Some u-turns of the past 16 months can be attributed to the sizable challenge the government has had in implementing a public health strategy in an unprecedented crisis. Mistakes were likely, and second thoughts inevitable, which is why the public has mostly given politicians the benefit of the doubt.
Some mistakes, especially over Covid guidance on travel and work, went beyond what was acceptable to the people’s sense of fairness and equality under the law.
The Barnard Castle episode in the middle of the pandemic felt like one rule for the elite and one rule for everyone else, igniting a sense that the political class could pick and choose the guidance they dictated to the rest of us. But it was a mistake, he broke the rules and as such fell (or was pushed) on his sword.
But the volte-face has been embedded in this administration’s style of government. The sheer volume of examples is staggering. The circuit breaker, the Christmas debacle, face masks, free school meals, exam results, Huawei ban and much more. And it looks like the public’s patience is starting to wear thin.
On Sunday, after the Health Secretary Sajid Javid tested positive for Covid, Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak attempted to dodge an instruction to self-isolate after being contacted by NHS Test and Trace by joining a pilot scheme which allows participants to continue with normal life by taking daily tests. This came as a massive insult to those whose businesses have been hammered by the havoc of the ‘pingdemic’, which has forced almost 2 per cent of the working population into isolation and could put our economic recovery at risk. After mounting pressure for Johnson and Sunak to live by the rules the majority of the nation is following and isolate, they reversed their decision – going into isolation for 10 days.
This is not the first example of Ministers finding ways to evade their own rules, scheming and conniving in ways the ordinary people of this country would not dream off. After having come back from a jolly watching the Champions League final early this month, Michael Gove was pinged by the NHS app. Instead of isolating, he joined a pilot scheme to avoid house arrest. But for many of his fellow travellers to the final, this wasn’t an option as it only applied to 20 undisclosed businesses signed-up to the scheme. For the ordinary worker whose trade involves manual labour, a ping on the app would mean 10 days out of work, perhaps with no earnings.
If the pilot scheme is good enough for members of the government and 40,000 employees of certain companies, it is good enough for everyone in this country and should be made policy. It is no longer acceptable for the government to interpret the rules in a unique way, evading the rules they have imposed on us using pilot schemes or exceptional circumstances. After a mountain of U-turns and errors, the government must abandon its rule by fluke approach. Principle and standards are desirable qualities for leaders of our country to have. This government is so muddled on so many issues, from the economic recovery to the culture wars or Covid that faith in its ability to guide the ship of state without collisions is fast evaporating.