Britain’s infuriating cognitive dissonance can be illustrated most simply by looking at public opinion towards Boris Johnson throughout the past 3-4 months.
December 2019: people celebrated, or worse still, were indifferent towards the re-election of the Tory party. This party was being led by Johnson, a man whose election campaign was largely grounded in lies, xenophobia and fear mongering.
January 2020: many people shared that they were in solidarity with and supported musician Dave, specifically due to his Brit Awards performance of a remixed ‘Black’, which used the esteemed platform of an awards ceremony to tell the world “the truth is our prime minister’s a real racist”.
February 2020: the month Johnson disappeared amidst national floods and the rise of a global pandemic – and people rightly viewed him as incompetent, but managed to excuse it with more of a ‘what’s he like!’ attitude.
March 2020: the month he gained mass respect from the nation for his “heroic” commitment to doing the absolute bare minimum to protect his citizens from the worst global health crisis since the “Spanish Flu” in 1918 – after jokingly dismissing the severity of it, boasting that he still continues to shake the hands of potentially infected people… before catching it himself.
Boris Johnson as our country’s leader should make our skin crawl collectively with embarrassment.
Social isolation during lockdown is hard enough without logging into social media for a moment’s reprieve from the health anxiety, intrusive thoughts and overwhelming sense of existential doom, to see scores of people celebrating this man. He is still, now more than ever, deserving of your loathing, disrespect and intolerance, and here’s a non-exhaustive list as to the reasons why:
- He was incredibly slow to act. It took over 3 weeks for him to put these celebrated lockdown measures in place, against warnings from China and Italy who had advised him to enforce stronger measures after seeing the pandemic ravage their own countries.
- His advice was ambiguous and unclear. He started by advising people not to frequent restaurants and bars without advising businesses to close, preventing them from accessing protection from their insurances and therefore forcing them to remain open to maintain their livelihoods.
- He was late to restrict global travel. Current restrictions are not absolute enough to ensure customers are reimbursed fully.
- Social distancing and social isolation does not consider those most vulnerable in society; such as those in detention centres, the homeless, domestic abuse victims still living with their abusers, the elderly in care homes.
- Zero guidance has been provided for those with mental health needs during this time beyond basic “self-care”. For those whose informal and formal support networks are now limited, including those who cannot access psychotherapy treatments during this time, we are once again told to prioritise physical health over mental health, or deemed “selfish” as a result.
- Mortgage breaks have been provided for landlords but renters have not been provided protection, meaning those who have experienced job losses and pay cuts during this time are also at risk of eviction if they are unable to make their rent.
- Statutory sick pay at £94.25 a week is not a liveable income – something that even the Health Secretary Matt Hancock has recognised.
- More police power will continue to disproportionately disadvantage black and brown communities as evidenced through decades of institutional racism.
- Those with alternative sources of income; gig economy workers, seasonal workers and zero hour staff, have not been provided financial protection.
- Johnson has consistently advocated for funding cuts to, and the privatisation of all services now deemed essential (from the NHS whose staff the Tory government rejected pay rises, to the transport which has been increasingly becoming privatised), meaning they are stretched beyond measure whilst being clapped for by the public.
- He himself was able to access tests for Covid-19 when presenting “mild symptoms”, whilst advising the public to not access healthcare unless they are presented with severe symptoms. (I wonder how he would fare on £94.25 a week sick pay?)
If that wasn’t enough, here’s a brief and by no means complete list of reasons why you should have had stronger emotions other than indifference to Boris Johnson even before his face-value leadership amidst a pandemic managed to sway your perceptions.
Even if he had magically presented a faultless response to the coronavirus, he is still a racist, bigoted, homophobic misogynist who:
- Likened Muslim women wearing burqas “bank robbers and letterboxes”
- Called black people “piccaninnies with watermelon smiles”
- Described children of single parents as “ill-raised, ignorant, aggressive and illegitimate children”
- Was quoted calling gay men “tank-topped bum boys” and suggested gay marriage was “one step away from bestiality”.
These perceptions of marginalised people are directly influential in Boris Johnson’s policy and decision making, coronavirus-related or otherwise.
He has unapologetically advocated against the working class, the economically underprivileged, racial minorities, women, refugees and asylum seekers and as prime minister, represents a political party whose policies align with these views. The Conservative party are notoriously invested in the best interest of the rich and powerful, and the covid-19 guidance is no different.
Our rightful animosity towards Boris Johnson has got nothing to do with disrespect of the protocols in place to combat the coronavirus. We are not refusing to take the government’s advice because we dislike Boris Johnson, rather we are not in a privileged enough position to do so and not be impacted financially, socially, mentally or otherwise.
Privilege is what is preventing people from seeing beyond the government’s advice at face value. If government guidelines seem reasonable and sufficient for you, it is because their guidance is structured to benefit the privileged.
Those who are not afforded such privilege are simply advocating for their right to equitable justice amongst unprecedented hardship that will only serve to disadvantage them further. So maybe, during this time of isolation, listen to grime if that’s all it takes to remind you of the truths amongst the chaos. Or, better yet, use this opportunity, to reflect on how your privilege is most highlighted in your ability to live comfortably during time, apply that epiphany moment to advocate for people less privileged than yourself, and become part of a revolution so desperately needed.
Evie is a staff writer at Aurelia, as well as a sociologist, domestic abuse specialist and intersectional feminist. @xeviemuir