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Why Britons are so incredibly angry at Boris Johnson

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Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer. Photo: Getty Images

On May 23, 2020, three days after Boris Johnson had the very relatable experience of leaving his office to witness what he implicitly believed was a work event in the garden of 10 Downing Street only to find around 30 of his staff standing around drinking and chatting in the early evening sun in what, in hindsight, now thinks the British public could interpret as an event explicitly social me too, had an awkward moment in a garden. For the first time I remember, I relieved myself in the hawthorn bush next to Mom’s old vegetable patch.

In my defense, I had little choice but to indulge in outdoor urination. Believe it or not, in England in May 2020 I would have committed a criminal offense if I had dared to quickly enter the house I grew up in to use the toilet before getting into my car to drive home. But the law doesn’t matter. I and a few other Brits were of the opinion that entering the house for a few moments would be tantamount to recklessly endangering the lives of my beloved, immunocompromised parents. COVID-19 cases had peaked in March, but we were still terrified.

Yet, driving nearly empty roads to my parents’ house that day as I rode up Thunder Road, I truly felt like these two lanes could take me anywhere. As the PM’s top official noted in his now infamous email advising staff members to bring your own booze to Garden No 10, we had enjoyed exceptionally good weather for the season. More importantly, it was the first time since mid-March that I had traveled somewhere. By order of Her Majesty’s Government, I had not been more than half a mile from my house in London since the middle of March. Until a slight relaxation of the rules was announced by the Prime Minister on May 10, it was a criminal offense for office workers like me to leave our homes for anything other than food shopping, appointments essential medical or outdoor exercises, which could not last. More than an hour. I had spent two months almost entirely confined to my home with my girlfriend and our two children under 3 years old.

Finally, we had the opportunity to meet another person outside as long as we kept our distance. So I was in my parents’ garden in leafy Surrey, enjoying a few slices of Mums tea cake for the first time since February.

As I tried my best to enforce the law by visiting my parents in the midst of a pandemic, many Britons were bear the almost incomprehensibleLike watching grainy Zoom footage as loved ones were buried or being notified by phone that a relative had died alone in a hospital ward. The majority of us who have been spared such agonies have felt (although it seems rather grand to say it now) that our compliance with the rules and regulations imposed upon us may well help to spare others such miseries.

Judging by the multitude of social gatherings Johnson and his staff witnessed different stages of the lockdown, of which the garden party is just one of the most egregious examples, our government was living on a different moral planet.

In a tightly worded statement delivered to an unusually quiet House of Commons on Wednesday, the Prime Minister said he knew the rage people across the country felt towards him. Its editor chose the right word.

Johnson was well known to us when he entered No. 10 in 2019. An unruly licentious thug, he had never claimed the mantle of moral authority. His shamelessness apparently convinced people that he was hiding a lot less than your manicured, mid-blue suit politician. For all his lies, there was something almost honest about his refusal to conform to the stilted conventions of public life.

But the pressure to govern the country in a public health crisis has transformed the Prime Minister from a lovable thug into a cocky rural pastor, delivering moral homilies every night from his lectern inside No 10 on accountability overwhelming morality that we carry for the health of our compatriots. Ten days before its May work rally, in a broadcast to the nation, intoned the Prime Minister darkly, You must respect the rules of social distancing, and to enforce these rules, we will increase the fines for the small minority who break them.

The thug may have been forgiven his hypocrisy: of course, he would be in the small minority that breaks the law. But it’s just a little too much to find the right vicar in the garden, glass in hand, when he damned us all for dreaming the same thing.

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