One of the unexpected joys of lockdown has been spending extended time with our 22-year-old son who, had there not been a global pandemic, would still be in South America using a gap year between universities to travel.
Instead, he’s been forced into lockdown with us, and despite the frustrations of not being able to widen our social contacts beyond each other, it’s been a real privilege to see him develop into such a caring young man who, this time last year, would likely have blamed us for the lockdown, and punished us with petulance.
But it has also meant I have witnessed in real time the dismal consequences on a young and hopeful mind of the Trumpian politics currently at play in our land and I have seen through his eyes the damaging effects of the denigration of democracy and the erosion of truth and trust in our political leaders that he had.
Just over two months ago, we forged a very special agreement with our government when we signed away our freedoms. Such was the trust that we had invested in the democratically elected powers-that-be, that we did as we were told. We complied, like sheep, on the understanding that the sacrifice was for the greater good.
But Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister’s closest aide, has made us out to be fools. He has humiliated us and opened my son’s eyes to the debasement of democracy and etched something in his brain about the ugliness of political motivations that will never heal.
He has seen for himself the way the truth gets twisted, how easily elected politicians are prepared to eschew honour, how government ministers will willingly operate as sock puppets and he has seen a government prepared to mock its own people for their servility. Cummings’ circumstances were not exceptional, they were ordinary.
And as he set out, in agonizingly mundane detail, the “complicated and tricky situation” that led him to break lockdown and drive from London to Durham at the end of March with a sick wife and a four-year-old child in tow, Cummings, whose currency to the Prime Minister is in understanding the common man, revealed himself to know nothing of the sort, because he was blind to the fact that in this pandemic, his situation was no different, no more “tricky” or “complicated” than it is for the rest of us.
I’m angry. Too right I’m angry. Cummings has adulterated all that we held dear.
Rules, respect, trust. All gone and in the process, Boris Johnson, whose ambition as a child was to be the “King of the World”, has shown himself to be nothing more than the hand-maiden to an unelected iconoclast who was the architect of a public health message that we were all in this together…and an egotist who gambled on our collective sense of national responsibility before trashing it.
Nick Baines, the Bishop of Leeds, asked, that if we accept being lied to, patronised and treated by a prime minister as mugs – for it is trust in Johnson that has been most damaged – then what are we to teach our children?
I don’t need to look too far to see the answer, it’s written large in the political disillusionment of my own son.