Trivial lockdown party scandals expose our lightweight leaders
With no shortages of genuine crises, the latest Downing Street party controversy is just another unfortunate distraction
For some months, this writer held to the naive hope that the coronavirus pandemic might focus minds. Trivial, post-capitalist divisions — invariably fueled by identity politics — could finally be exposed as fatuous, while received wisdom on issues like globalisation, open borders, state intervention, and the role of business might all be primed for revision.
But this belief underestimated the novelty of coronavirus and its ability to position itself as the new battleground for political and cultural conflict. The merits of vaccination, wearing masks, and the origins of the virus all became fertile ground for displays of righteousness and stupidity.
Coronavirus-related imbecility has most recently been laid bare by the latest Downing Street party scandal, which saw almost 100 people invited to a garden social at a time the public in England could meet only one other person outside and large gatherings were banned entirely. The criticism of the government — and in particular the prime minister, who until yesterday (12 January) was somehow unsure if he attended the No.10 jamboree — has been acerbic and justified. Even Labour leader Sir Kier Starmer joined in.
The obvious double standard and staggering display of government incompetence is dismaying for those who believe serious leadership a desideratum. Yet, just as deflating is how distracting a boozy lunch at No.10 can prove at a time when the world is beset by real peril, most notably in the east.
Currently, about 100,000 Russian troops, in addition to tanks and munitions, are amassed at the border with Ukraine, while a frozen conflict continues in the east of the country eight years after Russia’s annexation of the Crimea. President Putin has already issued NATO a series of deliberately outrageous and unacceptable demands, the rejection of which provide a convenient justification for conflict. Meanwhile, in Russia’s underbelly, the former soviet republic of Kazakhstan is, with Russian help, close to cracking down on protests against rising fuel prices, corruption, and stultified rule. There’s also the Balkans, where Russia and Serbia are doing their best to destabilise the state of Bosnia-Herzegovina. A cursory glance at history will tell you that ignoring crises in these regions of the world never ends well for Europe.
As if this was not sobering enough (but what is for the perennially inebriated at No.10?) inflation is back and here for the long haul, exacerbating an acute cost of living crisis. Inflation hit 5.1 per cent in December, its highest rate in a decade, with the ongoing energy crisis likely to hike this figure further.
Undeniably, there is already much to animate us, and government booze ups should be an inadequate scandal in a context so gravely hostile to prosperity and peace. Unfortunately, however, we are obliged to care. It is precisely because this controversy is not serious that it is such a tragedy. The frivolous and infantile nature of this government’s scandals reflect the government itself — silly, trivial, and too stupid to lead us through the coming storms.