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Covid, the Cake, and the Cabinet


Covid, the Cake, and the Cabinet

Dr Sarah Lieberman examines the consequences of the latest round of Covid fines to hit the government.

The UK is a state in a state of disarray. For the first time in history, we have a Prime Minister who has been found guilty of a criminal offence – breaking lockdown by attending a party in Downing St.

By now, any other Prime Minister would have resigned. Not only has he not resigned, he has offered scant apology for breaking lockdown rules, rules that the rest of the country were largely obeying – under the threat of criminal action. He repeatedly lied to Parliament – an offence under the Ministerial Code. He repeatedly lied to the public – evidence of moral inadequacy, if not legal criminality. When is a cake not a cake? When you only spend 9 minutes at a party…

As a nation we have become desensitised to the constant rule breaking engaged in by our ruling elite. Do you remember the flack that hit Ed Miliband for inelegantly eating a sandwich? Or John Prescott for owning two cars? Well that has gone. It seems we now live in a world where we can no longer expect our elected leaders to abide by the law, behave morally or respect the sanctity of Parliament.

On Twitter this morning is deluge of support from Conservative MPs – each suggesting that neither Boris Johnson nor Rishi Sunak should be asked to resign. All suggesting that their apologies are sufficient. And all drawing on the war in Ukraine as a justification to keep them in place. The similarity in tone, and indeed words, suggests a central communications steer – in wartime, we do not change Prime Minister.

But we do. And we have. And more to the point, Britain is not at war – Ukraine is fighting off an attack by Russia.

But if our Prime Minister cannot tell the difference between a party and a work meeting, does not understand his own pandemic rules, and is unable to remember whether he engaged in after work activities during lockdown, should he be allowed to deal with a delicate foreign policy situation? Furthermore, if our Prime Minister did know the difference between a party and a work meeting, did understand his own lockdown rules, and acknowledged that party hats, Christmas quizzes and birthday cakes constitute non-work time, then we have a leader who has lied to Parliament, lied to the people of Britain, and broken the trust of both. I suggest we don’t want this sort of leader at anytime – delicate foreign policy situation or not.

Will he resign? No. Sunak may well take the flack for this: the stage is set, his wife has been involved in her own tax scandal; he has been vilified by the press. Johnson has set his own stage: with a courageous trip to Ukraine and a handshake from Zelenskiy, he has cast himself as a wartime PM. It looks as though “Operation Save Big Dog” is still in place. Watch our Rishi, remember nothing is sacred these days.

Oh, and just as an aside… anyone heard from Sue Gray lately?

Dr Sarah Lieberman is Programme Director for MSc IR (Security) and a Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations.

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