Before it was law to stay inside, I was of the last four people in my office. Before that, I was telling colleagues it was fine to come to work, to eat out and to travel on the tube. The rest of Europe had locked down, but we had to trust our own government. I repeated the party line again and again: everything was fine and we should do as we were told.
And now of course, with it very clear the government’s Coronavirus strategy was wrong, I feel naïve. Why did I trust the same people who have spent years dousing us in Brexit misinformation and lies about austerity?
I should never have to be wrong to trust the people whose job it is to run my country. In a time of crisis, all we have is trust. But the British government have done everything they possibly can to foster doubt at a time the people need guidance the most.
I shouldn’t have been surrounded by coworkers as Boris Johnson announced Britain’s ‘stay at home’ order. But I also should never need to be in a situation where I am being protected by a government of liars.
It could have been reassuring that a YouGov poll earlier this month showed the NHS and the UK’s Chief Medical Advisor as better trusted by the public than Johnson, Raab and even the leader of the opposition. But it is not reassuring, because the NHS doesn’t have a voice. Because the medical advisors don’t stand on the centre podium in Downing Street. Because if the people do not trust their leaders, when they tell us something vitally important and life saving, the people will ignore it.
And they do. Basking in the balmy warmth of this spring, Londoners gather to feed ducks in St James’s Park, others roam towns that were deserted at the start of this crisis. Motor vehicle usage trickles up.
But who can blame them when in March the government promised antibody tests in ‘days’, but were forced to return 17.5 million that were not accurate?
Who can blame them when they’re promised 100,000 tests a day by May, but can manage barely 30,000 in the last week of April.
Who can blame them when political strategists are placed on secret scientific advisory groups, and when people whose job it is to spin the press and earn votes are influencing decisions that should be made purely on scientific evidence.
When science is dictated by politics, it is no longer science.
In a time of national crisis we crave information. We check the news obsessively because the more we know the more we feel in control. Graphs, charts, daily press briefings and twitter analyses give us glimmers of hope and moments of positivity.
Even if we personally are not in control beyond staying at home, we all want to know that somebody is. So we are motivated to help them and so we can believe what they say is for our own good.
Maybe gaining trust is not the government’s priority. To them, it does not matter what we think they do, what we believe and who we trust, what matters is that they can restore the economy to normal. That can only happen if the NHS is not overwhelmed, if people stop dying and stay at home. They believe — or at least Dominic Cummings believes — that repeating a slogan is all it takes to make a population comply because it works in elections.
And why share an exit plan? What will it do other than increase morale? An exit plan will not materailly improve Britain's response, curb the spread or protect the NHS and save lives.
A slogan will.
Throughout this crisis, the government have not trusted the people. They have asked us for the biggest sacrifices to our daily lives we will ever experience and in return have failed to offer the truth. They have not just mishandled a crisis, they have mishandled the people.
Britain needs leadership that treats a crisis with the weight it deserves, not as political opportunity. We need leadership that will apologise not manipulate.
Because Coronavirus is not an election. It is a global disaster. Our government should treat it like one. And trust us.