I asked fellow blogger, Mary Smith, to write about her experience of the chaos in the UK. The United States is not alone in its struggle to come to terms with an election outcome that may be the result of Russian Interference.
Sometimes, when I look at the UK’s current political picture, I feel as though I’ve fallen down Alice in Wonderland’s rabbit hole and ended up in a land where everything is topsy turvy and incomprehensible. Bizarrely, Prime Minister Boris Johnson says he’s proud of how the coronavirus pandemic has been handled – this in relation to the 40,000 deaths so far, the highest death rate in Europe. In fact, at the moment of writing this, the UK has the third-highest death rate in the world. When he boasts about being a world leader in defeating Covid-19, is this really what he means? This, from the Prime Minister who went about boasting he’d shaken hands with Covid-19 patients. Until he got it himself and ended up in the hospital. Then you get the people who break the very rules they brought into force in the first place. If members of the public break those same rules they face paying a hefty fine.
Down the rabbit hole, we’ve also come to realize the most powerful person in the UK is not actually the Prime Minister. In fact, we see and hear from him so infrequently there is even a hashtag for him: #wheresboris. No, the man with the power, the man who pulls the Prime Minister’s strings is political strategist, Dominic Cummings. Boris appointed him as his chief adviser in July 2019, an appointment which horrified many in Westminster on all sides of the political divide. Former Prime Minister David Cameron described him as a ‘career psychopath.’
In the lead up to the 2016 referendum on whether or not the UK should leave the EU, Cummings was the campaign director for Vote Leave. The Electoral Commission found that Vote Leave overspent £675,000 by channeling the funds through a group called BeLeave. Cummings refused to answer a Commons select committee’s questions about it and was held in contempt of Parliament. Cummings boasts about winning the EU referendum by blitzing Facebook users with 1.5 billion adverts, working with Cambridge Analytica’s sister company, Canadian AIQ using psychological profiling and targeting techniques. The most well-known of the ads was the one stating the £350 million the UK gives to the EU each week would be given to the NHS, others pandered to those concerned about immigration by stating, wrongly, that Turkey would soon join the EU and thousands of Turkish migrants would head to Britain. And his ‘Take Back Control’ slogan went down a storm in some quarters. And one ad maintained the EU would stop people in Britain trying to save Polar Bears.
Then, he campaigned to ensure Boris Johnson won the election in December 2019, with a large majority. Covid-19 was on the horizon but we didn’t yet know it.
By early March, when the WHO was imploring countries to ‘test, test, test’, the UK abandoned its testing and tracing programme, deciding to trust to herd immunity. Large sports events went ahead – something experts say could have caused many avoidable deaths. Health staff were screaming for protective equipment – there were not enough masks or gloves – and every day they – and we – were assured it would be arriving soon. It never was. Testing was resumed, but too slowly. The UK Statistics Authority has criticised the Government for continuing to mislead the public on the number of tests being carried out.
When lockdown measures were announced in the UK to prevent the spread of Covid-19, millions of us gave up our civil liberties. We agreed to stay in our homes, only coming out to do essential shopping and for our allowed daily exercise. We agreed not to meet friends and families, not to gather in the streets to protest about climate change, not to drive to beauty spots and picnic places, to give up all cultural and leisure pursuits from concerts and theatre to coffee and cake in cafes or even prayers in church. Cafes, restaurants, hotels, pubs all closed. We did this willingly because we believed it was the most effective way to halt Covid-19. Indeed many of us wondered why Prime Minister Boris Johnson hadn’t brought in lockdown restrictions much sooner – instead of doing nothing while we all saw the numbers of deaths rise each day.
We did it even when Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer was caught visiting her second home – twice. She apologised and resigned. We did it when Neil Ferguson, who had advised the Prime Minister on putting the country into lockdown, was caught when his married lover visited him. He apologised and resigned.
Then, it was discovered Dominic Cummings had driven 260 miles from his London home to his parents’ estate with his wife and child. Not only that, towards the end of their stay, the family went on an outing, a sixty-mile round trip, which Cummings said he made to test whether his eyesight was okay for the drive back to London. He was allowed to hold a media briefing in the rose garden – something unprecedented for an adviser to do – during which he attempted to justify his actions.
People who had stuck to the lockdown rules, who had not seen family for weeks, who were struggling financially and emotionally, who had not been able to sit at the bedside as loved ones lay dying, were understandably furious. As were many politicians in the Conservative Party. One government minister resigned, a doctor resigned, Dominic Cummings did not resign. He said he had no intention of doing so.
Boris Johnson supported Cummings, and despite seeing his popularity slump sharply, he has refused to ask him to resign. What hold does Dominic Cummings have over the Prime Minister? This article may provide some of the answers, including Steve Bannon, an illicitly obtained data base, and a suppressed Russian report:
Instead, he told us to continue to stay alert, rushed to lift many of the lockdown restrictions – letting people go out to play to take their minds off the scandalous behavior of his adviser – and told those of us who can, we must go back to work. Soon, he’ll be opening pubs and restaurants. Soon, the second wave of Covid-19 will be with us.
But guess what, it won’t be the Government’s fault because now thousands have taken to the street to protest the murder of George Floyd and support BlackLivesMatter. When the number of Covid-19 cases starts to increase – it is we who will be blamed for it. One final thought: If Dominic Cummings is pulling Boris Johnson’s strings – who is pulling his?
Mary Smith is a Scottish blogger, poet, and journalist who works as a reporter/feature writer for Dumfries and Galloway Life.
(c) Mary Smith, 2020