Poor Boris Johnson, having to spend ‘freedom day’ in isolation – the heart bleeds

The voters are prepared to tolerate incompetence and misjudgements, but they will not tolerate being told what to do by people who bend and break the rules

Sean O'Grady@_seanogrady
Sunday 18 July 2021 15:46
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Boris Johnson to isolate at Chequers following fury over quarantine escape plan

So. “Freedom day”. For the health secretary, the prime minister and the chancellor of the exchequer it was over before it even dawned, a bit of political time travel impressive even for Javid, Johnson and Sunak, the three horsemen of the Covid apocalypse.

For it was them above all others behind the rush to chuck the masks and ditch the social distancing. Now they’re confined to barracks, themselves quarantined on the very day of liberation. Were we not all so concerned for their wellbeing we might find it grimly, richly ironic. Maybe somewhere a few England players are having a little chuckle about it. Which reminds me, has Priti Patel been pinged yet? I think we should be told.

The British have shown during this pandemic that they’re prepared to put up with a hell of a lot. Polls and anecdotal evidence suggests they’d rather keep the masks and a few other restrictions for a little longer if it saved lives and helped us out of the Covid crisis on a sustainable basis. So ministers are already on the wrong side of public opinion, not least because we all know, lockdown did end weeks ago anyway.

The voters are prepared to tolerate incompetence and misjudgements, but as the Dominic Cummings and Matt Hancock scandals graphically proved, they will not tolerate being told what to do by people who bend and break the rules. The wonder is that the Tories seem to think no one cares or will notice. They’re wrong about that.

When lockdown returns, probably sometime in September, the public will be blamed by the government for not taking their personal responsibilities seriously. The public will be entitled to a different view of those in power whose sense of personal responsibility is entirely absent. 

As someone who has tried and failed to sign up for various coronavirus-related trials, I was most intrigued to hear mention of an especially promising “pilot scheme” whereby you can avoid self-isolation if you take a daily Covid test instead. I first became aware of that one when Michael Gove came back from some foreign football freebie, got pinged, but assured anyone interested that he could carry out his normal duties because he had bravely volunteered for this pilot project. Thus, he did not have to be confined to whatever temporary accommodation he’s secured since his estrangement from his wife, Sarah Vine. Even so, he’s gone a bit quiet, hasn’t he?

Now we learn that Johnson and Sunak were also being lined up for this special pilot scheme, but at some point, when the acrid stench of hypocrisy reached the British public, this important medical research was abandoned and they’re all going to have to self-isolate like the rest of us, albeit on full ministerial salaries and, no doubt, the best of medical attention. Robert Jenrick, his face as straight as can be, informed us that this particular Covid pilot study was not yet available to the general public.

Do you know, I’m even beginning to wonder if this pilot scheme ever existed. Could it have just been made up? Might it be hypocritical? Is it one rule for the illiberal metropolitan elite, and another for the rest of us?

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