This crisis is not about Dominic Cummings. It’s not about how far he drove, whether he tried to conceal it, his level of influence over the Prime Minister or his apparently eugenicist views.
It’s not about Boris Johnson either. It’s not about his bizarre attachment to Cummings, his hypocrisy or his shocking, overwhelming, mindnumbing arrogance.
Of course I am exaggerating. To some extent it is about all those things.
But primarily it is about class. It is about how members of the ruling class – or the elite, or the rich and powerful, or the 1%, or whatever term you wish to use – are able to get away with behaving in ways that are denied to the rest of us.
To be sure, most of them are most subtle about it than Johnson and Cummings. If this had happened when Cameron or May were Prime Minister, it would be possible to imagine them pushing the adviser in question to offer profuse apologies, and saying he had done the wrong thing in difficult circumstances, before telling us to move on. Johnson and Cummings cannot even be bothered with insincere apologies. They are arrogant enough just to assume they can get away with it, and more or less tell us that they don’t have to follow their own rules.
But it’s the level of arrogance that varies, not the basic structures. This issue at its heart is about the divide between those who control most of the wealth and power in society on the one hand and the vast majority of the population on the other. Unlike some savvier members of the elite, Johnson has never put much effort into denying whose interests he is serving.
It is easier for Johnson when he can wrap himself in the Union Flag and talk up his faux patriotism. Then he can claim to be representing the “national interest”, a phrase which in pretty much every country means the interests of those who hold the power in that country.
Of course, there are many variations of wealth and power in society. This too affects how the lockdown is implemented. For example, the lockdown was introduced with almost no thought given by the authorities to the support of people with mental health problems. Further, it was no surprise to see that black, Asian and minority ethnic people are 54% more likely than white people to be fined for breaking lockdown rules.
This does not mean that the lockdown is wrong. It means that the basic structures of society are wrong. They need changing, lockdown or no lockdown. The promotion of inequality during the pandemic is simply an intensification of the inequality that grips British society all the time. The majority or near-majority of people in virtually every top profession is made up of people who went to fee-paying schools – who form 7% of the UK population.
It is important that opposition parties and critical commentators don’t fall into the liberal trap of talking as if this issue were all about individuals rather than structures.
This is about power and wealth in a vastly unequal society. The many forms of inequality in the UK cause varying levels of harm to almost everyone in it. And the most important form of inequality is between the ruling class and the rest. Now is a good time to say so.