Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak should not have capitulated over self-isolation
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.
Like so many people I've been pinged by NHS Test and Trace as I have been in contact with someone with COVID-19, and I will be self-isolating until Monday 26th July. pic.twitter.com/X57gDpwDqe
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) July 18, 2021
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.