Written by: Niyanthri
Edited by: Nichelle
Visuals by: Macy
The ceaseless COVID-19 pandemic has transformed everyone’s lives through the modification of how we go about social gatherings, and huge changes in the school and work environment. World leaders and public health specialists have played a particularly large part in encouraging these modifications to our day-to-day lives, describing them as essential in order to slowly return to normalcy. Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, has been a vociferous proponent of such lockdown restrictions and quarantine rules. However, earlier this month, it was revealed that Johnson had hosted multiple parties at 10 Downing Street, the official Prime Ministerial residence, in 2020. The news prompted widespread discussion by the press and the general public – garnering a lot of attention on social media and on various news sites. Politicians saying one thing then proceeding to do another has long been the norm, so why is it being treated somewhat differently this time?
Firstly, people are spending more and more time online. In 2012, the average person spent 90 minutes a day on social media, according to the data analysis company, Statista. In 2021, this number rose by almost an hour to 145 minutes per day. As a result, this increased exposure to social media has led to the proliferation of news: both fake and real. The increased media coverage in this case, which has been largely about holding the administration accountable, is particularly bad news for Boris Johnson as it has made the scepticism of his claims denying any unprofessional behaviour even more widespread. Johnson has repeatedly stated that the large parties, with more than 100 attendees, were work events. Despite Johnson’s numerous apologies and statements that he was not aware of his government’s COVID rules, the scandal has impacted his political base; polls show that 66% of voters want him to step down from his post. Where in the past, there was more reliance on the printed press and on televised accounts of politicians, the general public is now exposed to many more different perspectives and opinions online. Because of this, it is likely that support for Boris Johnson has been influenced by increased awareness caused largely by social media, leading to the general public becoming conscious of their government’s actions and thereby more opinionated. It is unclear how Johnson’s political career will be impacted by this scandal in the long term, but in the present, the general sentiment within the parliament as well as among the public appears to be unsympathetic towards the administration.. His credibility has been affected to the extent that the leader of the Labour Party, which is the opposition to Johnson’s Conservative party, called for him to resign. Additionally, a member of his own party defected to the opposition, stating that the current administration has “shown themselves incapable of offering the leadership and government this country deserves.”
Furthermore, the scandal being uncovered at this time during the pandemic is particularly bad press for the government as many Britons feel betrayed by the fact that, as the German newspaper Die Welt stated, there seems to be “one rule for those up there, and another for everyone else.” Relating to this statement, an ISM student stated that, “some politicians are definitely held more accountable because of factors like social media and freer press, but a lot of things are still overlooked or considered ‘normal’,” and that “a lot of [politicians] still get away with stuff and are let off the hook because of their status.” This feeling that there are double standards for politicians based on their position is gaining traction in the press and amongst the general public. Consequently, such standards could further impact how critically future cases of politicians acting in a hypocritical manner will be received by a population that is increasingly aware of how status impacts levels of accountability for politicians in different situations. These standards have impacted the case of Boris Johnson as well; Partygate is a revelation that many believe could be one too many scandals for the current administration to handle. Despite Johnson’s status as a politician, his administration is being scrutinised closely by the press and the public for its involvement in the scandal in part because it also presided over the controversial Brexit deal along with other criticised decisions regarding the economy and public health.
To conclude, this extremely emotional time and the increased connectivity within communities have come together to reveal the hypocrisy of one government during the pandemic. However, it is likely that more governments and politicians will be placed under more scrutiny in coming days for corruption, improper conduct, and many other issues as the general public becomes more aware of politicians’ behaviour through social media and the press.In the case of Boris Johnson, the quicker spread of news through social media, as compared to previous years, and critical press both in the UK and internationally, have combined to prompt voters and the general public to be less sympathetic towards his government. Hopefully, this case and subsequent repercussions will spur politicians worldwide to reconsider their hypocritical behaviour.
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