Elites regulating Covid waves for us waive Covid regulations for themselves

The blatant hypocrisy of recently resigned UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock has boosted both the electorate’s awareness of, and resentment at, the governing elite’s long-developing practice of assuming that it’s one set of rules for us, but another for them

Note: Extended version of the article originally published at 1828.com on Monday 28 June 2021.

Few politicians achieve, even in their hour of disgrace, the dubious distinction of epitomising the faults of an entire ruling caste at the precise moment public resentment of those failings is growing exponentially. In this, at least, the former Health Secretary Matt Hancock can claim success.

As the government minister most closely identified with the imposition, and assiduous enforcement, of plausibly the most draconian but least politically scrutinised restrictions on our personal lives outside wartime, Hancock’s cavalier disregard, both privately and professionally, for the regulations which he demanded that we obey literally to the letter, has put rocket boosters under the hitherto latent but now openly expressed complaint of “one rule for them, but another for everyone else“.

It’s hardly as though other recent examples didn’t exist. A mere two weeks ago, delegates to the G7 summit were visibly guilty of double standards when, in contrast to the ostentatious mask-wearing, elbow-bumping and social-distancing practised for the official photographs, the pictures which subsequently emerged of their later informal bonhomie and back-slapping showed not a mask nor a two metres distancing in sight.

Soon after, and at a time when Brits returning from Amber-List countries must pay for at least two PCR tests and self-isolate for ten days either at home or in an insalubrious hotel at considerable cost, the Johnson government moved quickly to exempt thousands of UEFA officials, corporate sponsors and hangers-on from those same restrictions, in response to a crude threat to remove the final stages of the Euros 2020 tournament from London to Budapest. When challenged on it, the government’s unconvincing explanation made little effort to deny its apparent view that accommodating corporate sponsors and elite sports administrators was a higher priority than allowing weddings and concerts.

And all this is before we even start to consider the string of ministers, MPs, scientists and celebrities who, over the past 15 months, have concluded that the regulations affecting the lives of millions of ordinary mortals clearly need not apply to themselves, but have been caught out.

Not only do members of the increasingly authoritarian politico-medico ruling elite appear averse to following personally the very same rules which they impose and assiduously enforce on the rest of us; they also seem, with a combination of arrogance and entitlement born of an assumed superiority, to expect to be personally immune from any consequences when found out and their hypocrisy exposed.

This development is arguably neither recent in origin, however, nor novel in nature. It is merely the latest “variant” – to use the currently topical label – of the ruling caste’s apparent growing distance from, and disaffection with, both the mass electorate as a component of democratic government and, by implication, with mass-participation universal adult franchise democracy itself; it is discernible, and documented, going back years.

As long ago as 2000, in his Fabian Society pamphlet “Coping with Post-Democracy“, Colin Crouch warned of the dangers inherent in the excessive concentration of power in the hands of a professional political elite.

In 2007, in his “The Triumph of the Political Class”, the journalist Peter Oborne described in detail the increasing tendency of the ruling caste to distance itself from the views and attitudes of those whom it purports to represent, to the extent that its members, even in different parties, have far more in common politically with each other than they do with their constituents.

In his 2013 “Ruling the Void: The Hollowing of Western Democracy”, Peter Mair predicted a widening gap of mutual alienation between rulers and ruled as political elites re-modelled themselves as a homogeneous professional class.

If not yet entirely manifesting in full what the foremost modern English philosopher of conservatism, the late Sir Roger Scruton, in his 2004 book “England and the Need for Nations” termed “oikophobia” – the loathing of one’s home country and its people – then perhaps “demos-phobia” – an elitist distaste verging on contempt for the mass electorate – is a currently more accurate description.

In its contemporary form, the phenomenon emerged into more widespread visibility in the aftermath of the 2008-2009 financial crisis. The governmental bailout of failed banks at taxpayers’ expense, an egregious example of what would later be called crony-corporatism, had the unusual effect of uniting – albeit for very different reasons – both the free-market Right and the collectivist Left against it, creating a notable public backlash. That backlash may have been articulated as condemnation of “privatising the profits but socialising the losses”, but the “one rule for them, but another for everyone else” narrative, resenting that reckless bankers who had created the crisis mostly got off scot-free while taxpayers were being made to pay, was there.

It surfaced again in the explosion of public anger in the wake of the MPs’ expenses scandal in 2009, as avaricious individual parliamentarians attempted to justify their venality to an outraged electorate by claiming it “was all within the rules” – rules which they had themselves made. The members of the political class appeared mystified by the public’s anger at their indignant defence of behaviour which ordinary voters knew would, if perpetrated in their own lives, get them sacked and possibly prosecuted. Again, an undercurrent of “one rule for us, but another for them” was definitely abroad.

It intensified beyond the possibility of any further denial following the 2016 referendum vote to leave the European Union and the overwhelmingly pro-Remain governing elite’s furious refusal, first to accept it, and then to implement it. Not only was the inability of over half the electorate to participate at all in deciding the country’s future confidently asserted as a given; democracy itself, if it was capable of delivering an outcome so uncongenial to those who considered themselves exclusively qualified to adjudicate such matters, was questioned as a legitimate institution in its own right.

British politics between June 2016 and January 2020 was dominated by the democratically defeated Remain Establishment’s campaign to ignore, dilute or preferably overturn, using any parliamentary, legal or constitutional stratagem available, the biggest popular democratic mandate for constitutional change in UK political history.

It isn’t hard to detect that same antipathy to the mass electorate, which that eventually unsuccessful anti-Brexit campaign internalised in the collective mind of our ruling caste, in the assumption evinced by much of our current cadre of overlords that Covid rules are for us to adhere to rigidly, but for them to ignore if inconvenient. Neither, though, is it possibly to deny that it’s a significant factor in growing public resentment of our ruling caste’s now openly-flouted double standards.

Judging by the immediate reaction of the Prime Minister to the Press exposure of Hancock’s gross political hypocrisy, namely, the hasty acceptance of a lame ‘apology’ offered in a blatant attempt to cling to office and declaring the matter closed, the Johnson administration at present seems oblivious of or unconcerned about the extent to which the “one rule for them, but another for everyone else” narrative is gaining traction.

Such apparent complacency is unwise. The slogan expresses the kind of resentment which, if not addressed, can quickly acquire critical mass, leading to revolt either at the ballot box or, in extremis, in another less benign form.

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