Akin to Dominic Cummings’ brief excursion to Barnard Castle for “eyesight testing” related reasons, Boris Johnson seems to be playing fast and loose with the very lockdown rules which his government has made, having been spotted on a cycle ride seven miles away from home.
This follows a year of bad press for MPs breaking the restrictions put in place to stop the spread of Covid-19. Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, had to make a public apology after breaching mask rules at a funeral wake, and others such as Jeremy Corbyn, Conservative MP Robert Jenrick, and Johnson’s father himself have all been caught in breach of the restrictions.
But compared to Cummings, for example, Johnson’s cycle seems hardly comparable to driving up and down the country with coronavirus symptoms, does it? What is exactly so bad about Johnson being spotted exercising only seven miles from home? Surely he’s setting an example for people to exercise during lockdown?
It comes down to the always tricky question of public faith in the government.
According to the official Government guidance, found here, the latest restrictions mean that you can leave your house to exercise once a day, and this should be in your local area. ‘Local’ according to this page means staying ‘in the village, town, or part of the city where you live.’
Here is where the problem lies; Boris was caught cycling in the Olympic Park in Newham borough, one of the boroughs hardest hit by coronavirus, with new cases rising to 4,909 as of 11th January. This is despite him living (and working) in the borough of the City of Westminster. According, therefore, to the government definition, Boris has exercised outside of the part of the city where he lives, thereby breaking the very restrictions he put in place.
Whilst the wording of ‘stay local’ is up for a lot of differing interpretations, seeing Johnson flout (or at least push to the limit) his own rules is not going to do any wonders for the already dwindling public faith in the government. Johnson’s bike ride follows the news of two women being arrested and fined for driving only five miles to go for a walk in the countryside. The two women have since received a full apology, but the precedent is there for the policing of exercise – why shouldn’t Johnson be subjected to the same scrutiny, especially considering his position as Prime Minister, through which he should be setting an example for the rest of the nation?
For the rest of the country, I disagree that exercise should be policed to such an extent. Not only have the rules been up for interpretation (something which has been a continuing problem with the government’s handling of the pandemic – just cast your mind back to the ‘stay alert’ slogan), but sometimes the restrictions on travel and exercise don’t make sense in specific scenarios. For example, if I’m going to walk my dog, I’m not going to do it on the streets which are full of families and other dog walkers – I feel safer driving out to the countryside where I won’t come across anybody else, and I’m sure this is the case for a lot of people (particularly those who, like me, have a hyperactive dog who needs time off the lead!). I think a lot of it comes down to common sense; nobody should be crossing borders to go hiking in Wales for example or travelling hundreds of miles up and down the country to go hiking in beauty spots. Travelling a few miles outside of your town though, in my opinion, is not the worst thing you can do.
But back to Boris. I still think what he did was wrong, but only because of his role as Prime Minister. Our whole country has had to make sacrifice after sacrifice and put up with constant blunders and U-turns from the government. Muslims had to give up plans for Eid celebrations with incredibly short notice, and students were given a mere day’s notice of the move to online learning. And post Dominic Cummings breaking lockdown, trust in the government fell to a mere 48%, according to one Oxford University study. At a time when public faith in the government needs to be stable, to ensure that people follow the restrictions which are being put in place, there cannot be any more blunders on the government’s part.
After all, if Johnson can’t stick to his own rules, then what does this imply for the rest of us? Johnson flouting the restrictions shows not only his hypocrisy, but a lack of compassion for the sacrifices that this country has had to, and will continue to make.