Now Leo Varadkar is breaking lockdown rules too, no wonder there's an us versus them mentality spreading

There is a sense of being out of touch – as when Prince Andrew described a ‘perfectly straightforward shooting party’ – that wholly undermines public figures who can’t play by the rules the rest of us follow

Sean O'Grady
Tuesday 26 May 2020 12:43 BST
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar: Coronavirus "knows no borders"

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


“Do as I say not as I do” is an infuriating attitude at the best of times. Now, when there is such emoting about sacrifices, obeying instructions to save lives and praise of unprecedented heroism spouting from our leaders, it’s doubly insulting to see them act so irresponsibly.

Trebly, actually, when our top corona-hypocrites try to pretend they haven’t actually just done what they wanted and defied the rules they impose on everyone else – a practice known in these times as “gaslighting”.

Catherine Calderwood, Neil Ferguson, Dominic Cummings – all different circumstances, but all flouting the very rules they expect the rest of us to obey, and which they had a hand in framing.

Now enter Leo Varadkar, moobs out, enjoying a bit of craic and a picnic in Dublin’s lovely Phoenix Park. The Irish taoiseach, no less; an actual head of government.

Only a week before, a spokesperson for Varadkar said: “If you’re visiting a public amenity try not to stay too long at the site or have picnics. Please do your exercise and go home” – which the prime minister of Ireland didn’t. He also didn’t look as though he was consistently keeping his social distance from his partner and two friends. The photos speak for themselves.

Like Dominic Cummings over in England, Varadkar sticks to a legalistic but unconvincing defence of his actions – except when attempting to deny they even took place. The two men’s respective armies of keyboard warriors disparage the reporting of hypocrisy, and the genuine anger from the majority of decent people who do stick by the rules. Those who report on or criticise Calderwood/Ferguson/Cummings/Varadkar are deemed to have an “agenda”; they should have better things to do; they’re just spiteful.

Maybe so – but even then, that wouldn’t mean that Varadkar didn’t host a picnic in the park, or that Cummings didn’t drive to Durham, or Ferguson didn’t entertain his lover under lockdown, or that Calderwood didn’t visit her second home despite clear advice not to do so. The rules that the rest of us would be fined for breaking were indeed broken, or least twisted to suit the elite in such powerful positions. Loopholes and exceptions are created after the event, regulations adjusted retrospectively to suit.

I suppose some of the disgust felt by people who do play by the rules is also down to the curious arrogance with which the powerful assume that can get away with it. That no one will recognise them, or that they’ll be indulged because they are brilliant and work so very hard for us (for which they get paid well and enjoy splendid perks).

Well that certainly didn’t work for Varadkar or Cummings, and now they’ve been caught out. There is a sense of being out of touch – as when Prince Andrew described a “perfectly straightforward shooting party” and spun a ludicrous line about a trip to Pizza Express in Woking – that wholly undermines them. Cummings actually had the audacity to say that the country cottage on his private family estate he stayed in was “not a nice place to be”, presumably compared to his £3m Islington townhouse.

They tell us what do, they do something else, then they insult our intelligence by denying it. And, all too predictably, they get away with it. We are right to feel aggrieved.

We do expect more of our leaders, because they ask more of us. This might be our mistake, and theirs.

In circumstances less serious, admitting they are human, that they make errors of judgment, that they too are as morally frail as the rest of us, would do the trick. They plead guilty, beg mitigating circumstances to be taken into account, pay the fine and move on. And if these public figures had been caught speeding, that's exactly what would have happened.

But endangering lives by potentially spreading a deadly disease while the rest of the country stays at home to prevent exactly that is a bit too much for these grandees to own up to.

Fine. But no wonder we've ended up with an us and them mentality. And don’t ever ask anyone to believe you’re not part of a hypocritical elite - or ask people to obey rules you think don’t apply to you.

See you at the second peak.

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