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Politicians do deserve special privileges

Would you quarantine with these men? (Photo by WIktor Szymanowicz/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

July 19, 2021 - 11:49am

Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak should not have to self-isolate if there is a practical means available for them to responsibly avoid doing so.

In most countries, one suspects this wouldn’t really need saying. They are the most senior members of the Government. They are overseeing the national response to the pandemic. They should therefore be on any pilot scheme that allows for a more efficient replacement for self-isolation.

Moreover, both men have been double-jabbed, and the Government has just signed off a wholesale unlocking of English society predicated upon the vaccine rollout. If fully-vaccinated people nonetheless need to self-isolate in response to a possible exposure to Covid-19, the nation faces a choice between uninstalling the app or grinding to a total halt.

Instead, yesterday witnessed one of the most shameless u-turns seen under Boris Johnson’s leadership. It takes considerable gall to release a video claiming one “briefly considered” using the pilot scheme when the press has an official statement, dated a couple of hours before, confirming you definitely were.

His immediate capitulation to the backlash will have consequences, not least for ministers such as Michael Gove who have already used the pilot scheme. By backing out, both Johnson and Sunak have tacitly conceded that there is something dodgy about it.

It might be that constantly yo-yoing in and out of isolation will encourage the Government to accelerate an alternative to track and trace. Or lead to ministers following the nation’s lead and quietly uninstalling the app. If not, the next few months will make a farcical spectacle of the Cabinet.

Yet as much blame as can fairly be laid at the Prime Minister’s door, this story taps into a deeper and not especially attractive trait in British politics.

It is telling that so many of the Government’s opponents, usually quick to decry ‘populism’, scrambled to attack the very sensible idea that senior ministers should be included in a pilot scheme which cannot, by definition, be rolled out to everyone at once.

It’s the same spirit which refuses to spare a couple of vaccines to safeguard the literal heir to the throne and his wife before it’s ‘their turn’. Which sees MPs hand their pay over to an independent regulator only for some to performatively refuse the pay rises it recommends. Which ensures that our Prime Minister is paid much, much less than the leaders of comparable western, democratic nations.

Ironically, it is often the root of the very scandals — the expenses scandal, the ongoing saga of the Downing Street flat refurbishment — which has so undermined public trust in politicians.

This may be, in some way, the system falling victim to its own success. Our constitutional monarchy broadly separates non-partisan national ritual and ceremony from the political side of things. Our elected leaders do not emulate kings or emperors because they never replaced them.

But this attitude can be taken too far. To have the Prime Minister grubbing around to buy wallpaper or feed his guests undermines the dignity of the state, and a miserly attitude towards MPs’ remuneration goes some way to explaining why so many good people are not tempted by what is often a miserable job.

Perhaps one day we’ll have a leader with the courage, and self-evident moral rectitude, to make this case to the public. Until then, we’re stuck with this spiteful circus, and all its consequences.


Henry Hill is Deputy Editor of ConservativeHome.

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Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
2 years ago

I also believe the method of using Twitter to communicate thoughts, opinion and policy is also a factor in our diminishing respect for politicians, and indeed most of our other institutions. It leads me to believe that we are being governed by people of no higher mental acuity than the Kardashians.

Adrian Burrows
Adrian Burrows
2 years ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

Agreed, no more Twitter please politicians.

Adrian Burrows
Adrian Burrows
2 years ago
Reply to  Adrian Burrows

Addendum: no more Twitter please everyone.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

Twitter keeps the politicos saying the correct thing, look at Trump – he dared to say something Dorsey did not like, and the most powerful man on the planet – Banned!
I just hope somewhere, after the 2022 (Please God) return of the Republicans to the House and Senate, the Social Media can be stopped from being the complete 5th Column they are.

Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
2 years ago

I am glad someone has said this. To see the media hyenas turn triumphantly on the two most important government leaders over this trivial matter is astonishing. Boris is PM,for goodness sake, and should certainly be part of the trial you mention.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago
Reply to  Anna Bramwell

If a General was due for his three day class in institutional Racism and 1619 history, should he miss the battle to attend? Is it possible anyone sane thinks the high powers should be limited by some utterly unimportant technicality?

In USA the VP is refusing to even get a test after being around those traitorous Texas Dems.with active Covid infections. I am disappointed Boris never shows the least amount of spine.

Judy Englander
Judy Englander
2 years ago

For the last few years there has been much talk and controversy about ‘British values’. But if there is any British value that’s genuine, and not imposed as wishful thinking or political manipulation, then it’s a deep sense of fairness or ‘fair play’. It’s why the British believe in orderly queues and the unfairness of queue jumping. The spectacle of government members and royalty being exempted from rules that govern the rest of us would be perceived as fundamentally un-British.
The sentiment runs so deep that when Buckingham Palace was bombed during WW2, the Queen Mother said, ‘now I can look the East End in the face’.
One of the reasons the first lockdown was so successful (in its own terms) was because it was perceived that we were all in it together. It’s a British form of egalitarianism which, unlike Animal Farm ‘people’s democracies’, doesn’t result in ‘one rule for them, another for us’. If you don’t understand that, you don’t understand this country.

Last edited 2 years ago by Judy Englander
William MacDougall
William MacDougall
2 years ago

Our lords and masters regularly demonstrate that current restrictions are excessive, as they themselves can’t live by them. If we don’t open up now, both domestically and internationally, when all adults have been offered vaccination, then when would we? Johnson’s mistake was not that he gave in to the pressure, but that he failed to offer the “trial” to everyone.

Andrea X
Andrea X
2 years ago

Your argument is nonsensical.
I don’t have a problem with the higher echelons of government getting “preferential” treatment, just be upfront about it.
Don’t call it “pilot scheme” when it isn’t , nor do you say that you have been lucky enough to have been enlisted when you haven’t.

Last edited 2 years ago by Andrea X
Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago

It is known a leadership. Show you believe in the rules you propose, and accept to live by them. If you want a special group of people with special COVID rules, announce it ahead of time, and take the flack over who is on it. If you want much more money, announce it ahead of time, and take the flack. Or live within the rules. Inventing a dodgy excuse every time the limits put on your job feel inconvenient is a sure recipe for gathering contempt.

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

If both had indeed continued to work, I do not see that they benefitted personally, since they’e not paid by the hour. The only consideration is the threat of infecting yet more important members of the government.
The hoo-ha is simply BBC et al using the latest snippet as yet another opportunity for anti-Boris propaganda, all the more effective because it gives another excuse to keep mentioning earlier events already covered ad nauseam.

Sharon Overy
Sharon Overy
2 years ago

The arguments about this seem back to front – the complaint from the media and chattering classes is that Boris and Rishi Sunak were going to work when they don’t have to.

They are, like all public sector employees, being paid whether they go into work or not. Yet it’s being couched as ‘privilege’ because of who they are.

Sue Ward
Sue Ward
2 years ago

I do agree with you but I am still kinda happy to see Johnson hoist by his own petard.

What also concerns me is the growing expectation that we are all entitled to know the medical status of other people.

roberthlthomas
roberthlthomas
2 years ago

Well said Anna Bramwell; you are quite right. But also agree with many of you – no more government by Twitter please.
As so often an opportunistic and mean minded media attempts to blow up a trivial issue into a major scandal.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago

Has Boris’s hairdresser also been forced to self-isolate?

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
2 years ago

I thought it was obvious that he doesn’t have one.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  Colin Elliott

He is reaching lower and lower!

Deborah B
Deborah B
2 years ago

Can’t Carrie blow dry his mop before he is let out in the mornings?

Edward De Beukelaer
Edward De Beukelaer
2 years ago

I am not sure why there is a serious discussion about this trivial issue when it has become clear that: 1) positive cases have nothing to do with real covid cases (it is impossible to determine hom many real covid cases have been around), 2) that covid does not spread like measles (from one person to another and more and more people) 3)and that the only benefit for lockdowns is that they have cause more death than they saved..
These are much more pertinent questions to as and examine and hopefully will take us back to democracy (I know, I am an optimist…)
https://www.questioneverything.io/live/

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago

For the record, I think you are 1) wrong, 2) wrong, 3) wrong. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that either of us would be willing to change his mind based on information from the other.

Clare Jones
Clare Jones
2 years ago

Unfortunately, the politician’s are there for their own self serving agendas. They remuneration has nothing to do with their income. Blair was running a blind trust, creating vast wealth and property empire, as were other Labour MPs, so very few are living on there salaries as MPs, and the conservative and there other income generating portfolios provide huge wealth, so claiming dodgy expenses, shows that they are only doing the job for their own self serving agendas, and what they can skim off.

Dennis Boylon
Dennis Boylon
2 years ago

Why should anyone have to “self isolate” for big pharma’s $cience? lol

Bruno Lucy
Bruno Lucy
2 years ago

Dear author
how should I start in order not to be censured ? B
..s would be a good start. One of the main responsibilities for a leader is to lead by example. Hanson proved the point rather pathetically.
Bojo and his Kumpel have no more rights than the average citizen who has had to endure the strict lockdown and excuse me, but I, John Doe, is prepared to be isolated at The Checkers anytime.
i am just reading Pr Sarah Gilbert s book

..here is someone who works like a horse, cycling to work at day break and in the end achieved a lot more than the PM gesticulations, and I n doing so, contributed to the UK leading the vaccination race allowing this freedom day bet. Not that I don’t believe she doesn’t have reservations on the subject.
Did she ask for special privileges? Nope.
Even his Majesty Macron isolated at La Lanterne then.
Enjoy The Checkers . Lovely time of year.

Last edited 2 years ago by Bruno Lucy