Over one hundred days have passed since Boris Johnson announced lockdown restrictions across Great Britain. As our Prime Minister – a man who evidently envisions himself akin to wartime leaders such as Churchill and FDR – sat proudly in front of the Union Jack, clenching his fists in the face of looming danger, I could not help but sense he rather relished the challenge ahead.
I imagine few have encountered a lockdown reality more contrasting their March 23rd expectations than Boris himself. While such a dogmatic man could never admit, in a professional capacity, something as foolishly shortsighted as ‘surprise,’ surely even he would acknowledge a degree of alarm at the various repercussions of Coronavirus, least of all those to have affected him personally.
His tribulations began, of course, with his own scrape with Covid-19. It seemed quite ironic at first, given his televised avowal to continue shaking hands, however it soon became clear, even to Boris’ most fervent detractors, that the situation regarding the Prime Minister’s health was more sinister. Thankfully, he survived, and his stint on a ventilator is an event now all too easy to forget.
A little over fortnight after Mr. Johnson’s discharge from the ICU, came the birth of wee Wilfred – the latest member of the innumerable Johnson brood. While Wilfred’s arrival was to be expected, the circumstances surrounding it would have been inconceivable to Boris and Carrie eight months prior, as they lay in bed following some post-fracas consummation. Freshly appointed residents of Downing Street – with police guarding, not knocking on, their front door – the future seemed so bright. Eight months on, how different it all must have been.
And then, in May, as if any more out-of-office theatrics were needed, Mr. Johnson found his significant other embroiled in a scandal of their own. No, not Miss Symonds; the other one. In response to the breaking story, the Prime Minister took the uncharacteristic step of hosting his own Government’s daily Coronavirus briefing, in which he tried to quench the fire-breathing journalists hot on Dominic Cummings’ heels.
Instead, Boris found his assertions of integrity and fatherhood only whetted the nation’s appetite for answers from the aide-in-chief.
Sure enough, less than twenty-four hours later, ‘Dom’, as he seems to be affectionately known, slithered into the Downing Street Garden under the guise of transparency, and, perhaps, remorse?
Rather, from a spindly neck spurting out a baggy shirt (I like to imagine found minutes earlier hanging on the back of Boris’ door) came more self-determined exoneration. Mr. Cummings’ explanation for driving to Barnard Castle: to check his eyesight – with his four year old in the backseat, on Easter Sunday, which was, happy coincidence, also Mrs. Cummings’ Birthday, before the family frolicked through the woods while taking a piss on their way home – was flabbergasting; set to crescendo of what sounded, to my untrained ear, jarringly reminiscent of a vuvuzela, I found the debacle to be borderline nauseating.
It was not so much Mr. Cummings’ actions which I found, though egregious, to be sickening in and of themselves, but the sheer conceit of Britain’s two leaders in their defence. Boris’ blind declarations of innocence were Trump-esque; Mr. Cummings’ lambasting of the media and inability to demonstrate even an ounce of contrition were Trump reincarnate. Yet, as their orange-tinted friend across the Atlantic does time and again, Boris and Dom survived scandal intact. One could argue their integrity has been irreparably damaged, but, to be frank, I doubt either one of them gives a shit. When they curl up together within the walls of no.10 each night, I doubt their sweet nothings are preoccupied by regret over how they got here: exactly where they want to be. For Boris still holds the highest office in the land, the one he has coveted ever since he was Wilfred’s age, and he still has his closest confidante by his side; his closest confidante who can return to jogging bottoms and graphic t-shirts and whatever other pleasures sustain his arachnid existence.
Now six weeks on from Cummingsgate, the two men launch their plans for post-lockdown Britain. Still, I find the saga beckons an important question: would the duo still be in the position to lead their aforementioned revival if each had been forthright in their responses? I believe this question to be of far greater significance and intrigue than whether or not Mr. Cummings actually deserved to survive.
Politicians (though maybe not advisors?) have always embellished – this much goes without saying – however, in recent years their deception has ramped up. The blame for this cannot entirely rest with them. So swift are we to wholly dismiss figures based on their mistakes, it is now borderline-beneficial to deny these controversies ever happened. With public figures all having access to a social media platform on which they can defend themselves freely, the proof of wrongdoing must be irrefutable for a genuine apology to be worth making; even when the evidence is overwhelming, the accused can cite media narratives or public witch-hunts in their tweeted defence. It is both easier and safer than saying sorry.
Once you say sorry, you can’t go back.
In order for us to demand honesty from powerful figures, we must be willing to accept it. This does not mean clemency. This does not mean freedom from consequence. It means a discussion, a debate. It requires an understanding that if the crime is so severe and the person therefore undeserving of whatever significance they have achieved, in time, their power can dissipate. In time, they can be (for while there are infinite better words, this seems to be the word of the moment) “cancelled.” I believe the constant quest for overnight cancellation frequently offers the perpetrators a way out. When “cancellation” is, as if often the case, prescribed to solve nothing more than a differing in opinion, actual accountability is undermined.
Cancellation of people and views is impossible. Dismantling their influence is not. It begins with transparency, which requires an environment ready for discussion; an environment where, though certainly not guaranteed, redemption is possible; an environment in which telling the truth is more beneficial than blind denial…
…Which is not the environment we currently have. The fact of the matter is, had Dominic Cummings admitted wrongdoing, he would have found himself in a hole he could never have clambered out. Because of his refusal to cave, no matter the pressure, he still has his job. And with it, now, finally, at long last, Boris & Dom/Dom & Boris (I think I prefer the latter?) can guide Britain towards their vision for the future. Free from disease, Mark Sedwill, and, once and for all, those pesky bastards at the European Union, their Promised Land awaits!