Over the course of the pandemic, there have been many failures to curb the spread of Covid-19 across the UK. For instance, prior to the first lockdown, we allowed large gatherings such as the Liverpool vs. Real Madrid game and the Cheltenham Festival to take place. Not only that, but lockdown was implemented several days after scientific recommendations.
Later, we left lockdown too early, created the Eat Out to Help Out scheme which caused a spike in Covid-19 cases and then told people to gather with their families for Christmas before snatching it away at the last possible minute. Now we’ve just started to ease out of a third lockdown- hoping that the vaccination programme will allow us to live our lives once more.
We are being gas-lit by Boris Johnson and his government into believing that all of those failures were unavoidable.
Gaslighting is a term that is typically used in relationships to explain one partner's manipulation of the other in order to make them question and deny their reality. It is extremely applicable to Boris Johnson's treatment of the British public that he was elected to serve.
In a press conference, the Prime Minister said that he was “sorry for all the lives lost” and “takes full responsibility for everything the government has done.” This came after the UK passed 100,000 Covid-19 deaths in late January, a figure which has since increased to 120,000 as of 19 February.
In the next breath, Johnson undermined that responsibility by saying they “did everything [they] could and continue to do everything that [they] can to minimise loss of life and suffering” during the ongoing crisis. Boris Johnson and the Tory government have time and time again failed the British public over the past year, continually changing their minds and enacting measures that went against advice from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE). Despite this, he is trying to convince us that they did everything they could, that there was nothing more to be done in order to prevent a death toll that is twice the number of people killed during the 1940-41 London Blitz in World War Two.
The burning question is whether the government could have done more to control Covid-19. Many believe that they could have cancelled those big events last March, which have been proven to have contributed to the large number of cases during our first lockdown. They could have left us in lockdown for a few months longer, prioritising the lives of the British public, and their loved ones, rather than focusing on our economy – an economy that continues to falter regardless.
We only have to look at countries like New Zealand, or Taiwan, with staggeringly low case numbers and death tolls to see that our methods have not worked. Meanwhile, in Britain, we passed the anniversary of the first lockdown while still being in one, and we are stuck in an endless cycle of locking down, seeing cases going down, leaving lockdown too soon and seeing cases spike once more. Johnson’s lockdown roadmap, announced in late February, is fully underway now as children returned to school on March 8, the rule of 6 implemented once more on March 29 and outdoor hospitality returning on April 12.
With the more contagious South Africa and Kent variants circling, and ongoing research into whether the vaccines will be effective against them, the government must be clear as to whether lifting lockdown will cause more harm, and contribute to more deaths in the future. While we are making headway into the vaccination programme, it is not a cure-all for the pandemic as we need to ensure we keep cases down to leave Covid-19 behind once and for all. Currently, cases have been kept low but there is no telling how the rush to beer gardens and non-essential retail will affect the rate of cases.
We can’t predict the future, and hindsight is a wonderful thing, but we trusted our government to protect us and they didn’t do their job. As a result, Boris Johnson is gaslighting the British public, distorting our reality and attempting to preserve their electability by removing themselves from any accountability. Currently, 41% of the public intend to vote for the Conservative Party if there was a general election – clearly, Johnson’s rhetoric is working.
The Tories’ gaslighting is not limited to the pandemic. In recent weeks, with protests against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts bill and images of violence towards protesters by the police, the government has continued to dismiss concerns over the bill and the violence, supporting the police instead of the people they are supposed to protect.
Additionally, the release of the government’s race report last week, commissioned to look at whether the UK is institutionally racist, completely went against the lived experiences of people of colour in the UK . It stated that the UK is not structurally racist and ‘should be regarded as a model for other white-majority countries'.
The report is another example of the government gaslighting the public, particularly people of colour, using it as a means to pat themselves on the back as if they’ve never done anything wrong.
We need to see through their gaslighting. We need to hold them accountable for their actions (or lack thereof) over the past year, which has caused untold suffering to so many in the UK.
Michele Theil is a freelance journalist for many publications- including The Independent and Women’s Health