“Wholly inappropriate” effigies of embattled Downing Street adviser Dominic Cummings and business tycoon Sir Richard Branson have been hung from a bridge in Salford under a banner reading: “Make the rich pay for Covid-19”.
The setting for the menacing protest appears to be a pedestrian bridge over the River Irwell in the Lower Broughton area, close to Manchester Arena and Victoria train station.
“I have always been opposed to violent imagery playing any role in politics and I feel that these effigies are wholly inappropriate to what is a serious political debate,” said Salford’s deputy city mayor and Labour councillor John Kerry.
The phrase “make the rich pay for Covid-19” has appeared in graffiti across the UK, and in many countries, since the pandemic began, often accompanied by calls for groups or individuals to “hang”.
In the UK, the public mood has soured significantly since it emerged that Boris Johnson’s chief adviser drove 250 miles to Durham during lockdown, in what he said was a bid to ensure childcare in case he and his wife fell severely ill with coronavirus.
The prime minister’s defence of this decision, and his aide’s 60-mile round trip to Barnard Castle on his wife’s birthday, has plunged the government into turmoil, with more than 40 Tory MPs expressing their opposition to Mr Johnsons handling of the saga..
The government’s public approval ratings plummeted 16 points on Tuesday, according to Savanta ComRes – the sharpest sudden poll slump in a decade – at a moment when preserving public trust is deemed crucial as ministers ask the nation to make unprecedented sacrifices.
While MPs have reported receiving hundreds of angry emails from constituents, many have expressed concern at anger spilling over into the streets outside Mr Cummings’ home, where he has been heckled by neighbours and protesters alike.
Mr Cummings has sought to blame unfair representation of his actions in the media for the opprobrium, and cited death threats as a result of allegedly flawed reporting on his decision-making during the pandemic as a factor in his choice to travel to Durham.
At the time of writing, nearly 850,000 people had signed a petition calling for him to be sacked.
Sir Richard has also courted controversy during the pandemic, after he wrote to employees saying his aviation firm Virgin Atlantic would need “government support” during the pandemic, offering up his £4bn Caribbean island as collateral for a loan.
Virgin Group, which owns the majority share in the airline, is now desperately seeking new investment after its proposal that the government should provide a £500m rescue package in commercial loans and guarantees was rejected.
It is not the first time anti-government effigies have been hung from Salford bridges, with similarly violent imagery employed as Conservative Party members arrived in Manchester for conference in September 2019.
In a grim apparent reference to the BMJ study linking austerity policies to 120,000 excess deaths from 2010 to 2017, the banner read: “130,000 killed under Tory rule, time to level the playing field.”
Greater Manchester’s Labour mayor Andy Burnham denounced it at the time as “completely unacceptable”, while Tory councillor Kerry Boyd said: “Does this classify as death/terrorist threat? Utterly vile.”
The Independent has contacted Greater Manchester Police for comment.
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies