There may have been some former Prime Ministers who were so saintly that everything they said and did in private in 10 Downing Street would have met the standards of probity set by Britain’s media, but I can’t think of one of them. Nor would I or anyone else that I have ever met want to be judged by the content of our private conversations. Which of us has not once used a word, or expressed a prejudice that would get us into a lot of trouble if it were leaked by a former friend or revengeful colleague? If it were possible to have surveillance on every word and deed of our lives, we would all be cancelled. Everyone has broken one law or another and everyone when asked about it has lied.
If the media can conspire with an insider who witnessed everything that went on in Downing Street to get rid of one Prime Minister, it will not be the only time that they use this power. Sometime in the near future there will be someone else in charge. There will be another insider who knows the secrets and there will be another chance to orchestrate a campaign of revenge that leads to a Prime Minister resigning.
But this is not democracy. It is mediaocracy. It will not lead to intelligent government, but rather to mediocracy. It will be government controlled by a media looking for gotcha moments. A future Prime Minster will be so cautious of any gaffe that he will not dare to do anything, lest Beth Rigby or Robert Peston asks whether he feels guilty about killing a grandma in Preston because of his policy.
In our mediaocracy the Prime Minister will be held to ransom by each misdemeanour the surveillance Cummings picks up. No one else in Britain will be held to this standard of conduct. Cummings himself feels no guilt because he too went to the party nor indeed that he drove to Durham. Rigby and Burley went to parties and who knows had birthday cakes, but they still get to throw the first stone because in our mediaocracy the media is not itself judged by the standards it uses to judge the Prime Minister. Nor are the rest of us.
We have lost sight of the fact that 10 Downing Street is a place of work as well as a home. The standards by which we judge essential workers who continued to work while the rest of us either worked from home or did nothing are quite different.
If a group of nurses during a break in the staff room decided to give one of them a birthday cake, there would have been no prosecution. If a group of firemen after a shift had finished decided to drink some beers together, they would not have lost their jobs. If members of the police bought ice creams and shared them in their patrol car, they would have broken no law.
The rules that applied to essential workers were different to those that applied to the rest of us, precisely because they were essential workers. Nurses frequently practiced dances and then posted them on the Internet. This sometimes involved them not socially distancing. But no one thought it was untoward because the nurses were working hard and no doubt the dancing helped their morale.
The essential workers in 10 Downing Street had perhaps the most stressful job in Britain with the most responsibility. Many of them caught Covid in the early days because they had to continue working while the rest of us could isolate. Boris nearly died because of this. A quiz, or a drinks party in the garden or a birthday cake likewise was crucial for morale and is precisely the sort of thing that would have happened quietly in numerous places of work during lockdown. In hospitals, police stations and in the offices of journalists, the rules that applied to everyone else would have been bent and broken in private. But this was legitimate precisely because these people were essential workers who were interacting with each other every day.
If firemen need to work closely to put out a fire so that social distancing is impossible, it hardly matters if later in the fire station they don’t bother to wear masks. They had already exposed themselves to the risk of Covid. So too if in 10 Downing Street in a small office, civil servants were breathing each other’s air in close proximity, it did not increase the risk of exposure if they had a drink in the garden.
If the media or the police is to fairly judge Boris Johnson, they should investigate equally what went on with nurses, the police and every other essential job that kept our country going. If nurses can make dance videos involving close contact and breaking social distancing, then we have lost all sense of perspective if we object quite so violently to a socially distanced party in a garden.
Ah but it was Boris that made the rules. This is to suppose that there was a choice. There wasn’t.
There will be a public inquiry. Any Prime Minister who disobeyed the suggestions of SAGE would be castigated if it went wrong. More importantly if we had not locked down in March 2020 Peston and Rigby would have looked at the daily figures and said Prime Minister do you feel guilty about murdering all these thousands of people because you didn’t do what the scientists told you?
We had lockdown, because nearly every other country had lockdown and because nearly every scientist told us it was necessary. Most of us wanted lockdown too.
But in our private lives we knew that we could bend and break the rules, because it was unlikely that we would be caught unless we were stupid. I am quite sure that there were policemen who visited their lovers on the sly. There were nurses who drove more than 5 miles and that nearly every MP at one point or another broke lockdown rules.
If there was a surveillance camera on our lives during lockdown, which of us would not be a sinner. It is for this reason that we value the privacy of our own homes and the fact that we will probably get away with minor breaches of the law. None of us could bear to live in a society where an informer would tell the press or the police about our least little lockdown breach. Then why do we expect a Prime Minister to live under constant surveillance with a media recruiting squealers to record his every conversations and deed.
There is lots of anger at the moment. Those who always disliked Boris are out to get him, but be careful because if a Prime Minister has no privacy and is to be judged by what he gets up to in his own house, then there would be no moral case for not extending the same method of judging into your house also.
Never send for whom the birthday candles burn, they burn for thee.
This post was originally published by the author on her personal blog: https://www.effiedeans.com/2022/01/never-send-for-whom-birthday-candles.html