In which it is another day in lockdown, and another post about politics. Thankfully it is a post that strives towards being a-political as much as possible, and instead waffles on about what it even means to be ‘decent’ or ‘take responsibility’ in politics. Hope you’re sitting tight…
Currently in the UK the shit is hitting the fan over the saga of Dominic Cummings. You can find a fuller explanation of this here or anywhere on the internet at all. A huge swathe of the UK is furious – but some argue that what’s going down is not a valid outpouring of rage, but a “leftie witch-hunt.” And sure, I’m a leftie, and I dislike Cummings, and I think he should resign. But to offer a little clarification over why I think he should resign, here’s a bunch of other people who I also think should have resigned when their moment came, not because of ideology, but because of fundamental basic decency, respect and taking responsibility. Sit tight…
I was a child when Blair was elected, but my household was ecstatic. At last a Labour government! A new, fresh face of inspiring leadership who’d do shit right! Hurrah!
There were signs – the massive unleashing of private interest into public spheres for one – that he was not in fact a knight in shining armour come to rescue us. But it was the Iraq War that tipped his leadership over into full-blown turd, dragging a cowardly Labour Party with him. Blair lied to the country and embarked on an unwanted, illegal, unnecessary and unplanned war whose legacy has been destruction and chaos in the Middle East for decades. When it came out that the so-called ‘dossier’ about weapons of mass destruction was a lie, he should have resigned on the spot. When his government went after David Kelly – one of the most despicable acts of modern politics – the lot of them should have resigned and grovelled their way through an actually meaningful public enquiry with actually meaningful consequences, including criminal charges if that’s the way the penny dropped.
Leadership is about responsibility, accountability and truth. It is about respecting the country and people you serve. Decisions should be made based on facts, not bullshit. And since every fact is going to be seen through an ideological lens to a degree, leadership should be about vetting every choice you make through the moral framework of “what serves as many people as possible in the country?” It’s hard, I get it, but Blair and the Labour Party categorically failed their test of decency when that moment came, and in doing so helped create a legacy of global violence and undermined faith in politics in the UK for generations to come.
I was a huge fan of Corbyn’s when he got elected to Labour leadership. At last! A proper leftie who wants to combat crippling economic inequality! And the manifestos – environmentalism, increasing minimum wage, funding the NHS properly, nationalising the railways, scrapping tuition fees, taxing the wealthiest – dude, I was there for it.
Unfortunately, as a leader, he was pretty terrible. He pulled off a bit of a comeback in 2017, but didn’t win the election, and on Brexit in particular, he obfuscated and stalled and waffled and nothing good came from anything. As it became very obvious to everyone that another general election was coming in 2019, I was one of many people who wished he’d resign and let someone else have a go.
Now, this is less about decency – I believe Corbyn to be a mostly decent dude – but about responsibility. The leader of the opposition has the duty to hold a government to account. He has the responsibility to communicate effectively, to get his party into a place where he can win elections. The Labour Party clearly couldn’t do this, but at no point did Corbyn appear to take responsibility for that. And so sadly, I wished he would resign, not because it was necessarily decent, but because it was the responsible thing for a leader to do.
A brief US example, but hey – it’s a classic.
I don’t really care who Presidents get off with. I care when they lie about it. I care when they derail the whole apparatus of state and fatally undermine trust in an institution to do so. I care because in many ways, Clinton’s “what is sex anyway?” attitude opened the door to Trump’s “sexual assault is cool” attitude.
Part of leadership is about trust. If you betray that trust, it’s not just you personally that is undermined – it’s the whole nature of government and democracy. We need faith in institutions that are dedicated to serving us, not themselves. Clinton was part of the ongoing rot of that faith, and should have done the right thing and stepped away.
As for Hilary Clinton… dear lord I wish there was a female President of the USA. The abuse and threats women face in public office is obscene. Here – have an Amnesty International report into social media abuse against female MPs in the UK. However. Dynastic ruling is creepy. Two Bush presidents was massively creepy. If an average US President rules for 8 years, that means you’re only gonna get thirteen different presidents in a century. Whatever Hilary’s personal qualifications, the idea that she was better than a slew of the new, different voices with different ideas, seems doubtful, and once again only helped cement suspicion of an “elite” that has made democracy harder.
Which brings me back to Cummings.
Did he act decently? His argument is that he acted to protect his family, as a good Dad. There are thousands and thousands of families across the UK in exactly the same situation, who didn’t break lockdown rules to be good parents. Thousands of families who didn’t leave home when their loved ones were dying. Thousands of families who looked after their kids while they themselves were ill. Hell, Cummings is an Islington resident and as someone who volunteers in the borough to bring food and vital supplies to people who are in enforced isolation, I’d have rocked up for him. I wouldn’t have liked it necessarily, but I’d 100% have done it because it’s the right thing to do.
The issue here is not what a good Dad looks like. The issue is one of exceptionalism. Everyone else stayed home, despite how hard it was, because that’s what the rules said. et here is a rule-maker not merely breaking the rules, but refusing to acknowledge it. The law has to apply to all of us equally, and we have to be judged by our individual merits, not our connections, by the law. To refuse to accept that is to destroy the very basis of society. We don’t accept it from anyone, because if you do what you have is corruption, not law. Meanwhile, a refusal to apologise – to the families who stayed at home, providing childcare when they were ill – to the NHS dependent on us obeying lockdown – and to the taxpayers who pay his salary – is a lack of decency. It is an utter obliviousness to the truth that to lead, is to serve. And he has served only himself, and in doing so, injured us.
As for the whole “I went for a drive to test my eyesight” that’s not just grotesque, it is – if true – flatly dangerous. He is either lying to the public, or utterly irresponsible and unable to perceive it. We do not need either liars or irresponsible leaders. They will lie to us. They will hurt us by making choices not based on fact, or responsibility, or a moral code that puts the country above themselves. They will be irresponsible with our lives, and we will pay the price.
Some People Who Did Resign
Surprised to see him here, in the ‘did a decent thing’ column? Me too. Under Cameron’s leadership, local governments lost 50% of their budgets – in Labour areas far more than Tory – which slashed social care, education, youth services, environmental services – you name it, it was crippled. Funding for the NHS slowed, private influence increased and meanwhile the loss of social welfare and disastrous reforms to universal credit just increased the weight on the already staggering healthcare system. The U.N., which has no skin in this particular game, ripped austerity apart and quite rightly too. And then he called the EU referendum, and lead an incredibly lazy, bad and mis-informing Remain campaign, which lost.
And when it lost, he resigned.
Sure, there are some who say he should have stayed on to fix this shit-show he created, but honestly I don’t see how. Instead he quit and frankly, it was the decent thing to do. He recognised that he had lost trust and respect, and without those you’re just a waffling straw man without a moral compass. The kind of Prime Minster whose first act is, for example, lying to the queen and the public. Cameron – your rule was a calamity. But there was a tiny shred of leadership there in how you left it, and I gotta respect that.
Remember him? The lead epidemiologist for the government when Covid happened? He broke lockdown. He didn’t drive while symptomatic half way across the country with his also symptomatic missus and kid to visit vulnerable elderly relatives before testing his eyesight by going for more drives with a kid in the back of the car, thus violating the most stringent, sacred rule of lockdown – don’t go anywhere if you’re symptomatic for any reason at all ever – but his girlfriend did come over one day. At which point the entire UK government announced it was right for him to resign, which he did, immediately, because he’d breached lockdown.
What a pillock. It was 100% correct for him to resign for hypocrisy and rank failure of responsibility.
What’s also despicable is the difference between how the Tory government responded to him resigning, and Cummings not. Here, for example, is Matt Hancock, health secretary, on Ferguson. And here he is on Cummings.
At this time of writing (26th May 2020) the UK still has the second highest number of deaths from Covid in the world. For record we are the 21st most populace country in the world, the 49th most densely populated and less densely populated than Taiwan, South Korea, Vietnam, Japan, Hong Kong and India.
The role of leadership is to take responsibility. Our leaders don’t.
The role of leadership is to set an example, to obey the law that they have been elected to uphold. They don’t.
The role of leadership is to serve the people first. To work your arse off for however long you’re in, because being a leader sucks, and your ego is irrelevant, and if you don’t serve the people then damn right you should be voted out.
The role of leaderships is to uphold the law. To say that the rule of law and society is the glue that keeps us together.
To role of leadership is to speak truth, no matter what. It is not to blame the media for creating trouble, when they speak the truth. It is not to lie, obfuscate and deny all responsibility.
Leaders from all side of the political spectrum have failed over the last few decades. That’s no excuse for them to continue to fail. That’s no excuse for them to continue to undermine law, decency, responsibility. And it is no excuse for us to accept failure. Democracy is a deeply flawed thing, but right now it’s deeply flawed and in trouble, for it needs honesty, responsibility and decency to survive.
Whatever your political inclination – however you vote – we all deserve leaders who understand that they serve the nation, and that they have to take responsibility for their actions and the law.