Covid: Politicians must live by the rules they set – Christine Jardine MP

The Covid rule breaches by Margaret Ferrier and Dominic Cummings show the importance of those in power setting a good example during this challenge of a lifetime, writes Christine Jardine MP.

Monday, 5th October 2020, 12:30 pm
Nicola Sturgeon on the campaign trail in Rutherglen with Margaret Ferrier ahead of last year's election (Picture: John Devlin)
Nicola Sturgeon on the campaign trail in Rutherglen with Margaret Ferrier ahead of last year's election (Picture: John Devlin)

Just when you think 2020 couldn’t do anything more to solidify its place in the history books along comes something else. A month until the US Presidential elections and the pandemic is in the Oval Office. POTUS has tested positive.

While we all, of course wish the President well, the implications of him being too ill to carry out his duties as commander-in-chief will have been well rehearsed in the media this weekend: the impact on the stock exchange, the foreign stage, the presidential elections.

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TV footage and photographs have been endlessly pored over to determine who of those close to the President was socially distancing, wearing masks or neither.

Then there is the issue of whether it was his own attitude to the pandemic which put him at risk, the slight feeling of inevitability about it all. But it was still that sharp intake of breath moment that no US Presidential Election is complete without.

We might have thought that the TV debate earlier in the week was that moment. But no, 2020 wasn’t going to let it be that run of the mill.

This year demanded something with the potential for a constitutional crisis or history-making moment.

Amid the examination of the footage of Trump’s immediate team, the accusations that Biden was running his Presidential campaign from his basement wearing masks all the time and the hideously inappropriate tweet “We will get through this TOGETHER” political geeks like me had another thought.

It was something which I am sure also crossed the mind of every self-respecting devotee of The West Wing. The 25th Amendment.

We saw here when our own PM contracted the virus that it can leave even world leaders with the finest treatment and care available unable to fulfil their duties.

In the case of Trump that would mean handing over the reins to Mike Pence. But if he too should then contract Covid-19 and be unwell the next in line is the Speaker of the House: Democrat Nancy Pelosi. Wouldn’t that be the irony of ironies. The man who stood between the US and its first woman President when he defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton, laid low by a virus he largely dismissed, setting in chain a process which led to the first women to inhabit the Oval Office – even if only temporarily.

I appreciate that scenario sounds even more far-fetched than when it was used by Aaron Sorkin at the end of season four of his iconic TV drama. But this year?

Nothing seems outrageous in 2020 or beyond the twists and turns of this US election year in which, with a death-toll standing at 207,000, President Trump insisted that “the end of the pandemic is in sight”.

Trump played down the seriousness of this crisis thoughout and was taken to task by his opponent Biden for holding rallies in the middle of a pandemic.

The President has decried the virus as having had no impact on anyone at all and it’s reported that most of the White House staff don’t wear masks because of his disdain.

It will be interesting to see how his supporters react and whether it will have any impact on their own attitude to the virus.

But it is not just the US which finds itself in the fascinated grip of a Covid-19 news story.

The spotlight has been on those elected to protect and promote the interests of the public and how we have responded on both sides of the Atlantic.

Here the behaviour of an SNP politician who travelled from Scotland to Westminster while awaiting the results of a test, and then back after it was confirmed she had the virus has caused outcry.

Even her own party colleagues and leader immediately called for the resignation of Margaret Ferrier. Her actions were undoubtedly mistaken, irresponsible and somehow completely unaware of the serious public health implications of using public transport over a long distance with a potentially fatal infection.

While I also wish her well and a speedy recovery I am stunned that she could have thought even for a moment that such a course of action would be acceptable. To anyone.

As readers of this column will know I had a similar experience a few weeks ago in London. I took myself back to my London base and stayed there until I got the negative result.

I know that when you call to request a test you are left in no doubt about the immediate need for self-isolation.

I appreciate that Ms Ferrier wanted to be home with her family. So did I. But I knew that as not an option if my test were positive.

And I don’t mention any of this in search of praise but merely to illustrate that advice is immediately on hand and non-comprehension of the danger of spreading the virus is, in fact, incomprehensible.

This is not the first case – let’s not forget the Dominic Cummings fiasco – but we should all hope it will be the last.

The full reality of what has actually been happening in both countries has no doubt been masked – for want of a better phrase – by the PR machines of the Republicans and the SNP. Both will shortly go to their electorates asking to be returned to power. Trump’s Republicans sooner than Sturgeon’s SNP.

When we are all facing the health and economic challenge of a lifetime we should demand, and be able to expect, of those in positions of power, that they live by the rules they have set us.

We will know when we see the results whether the electorate believes that expectation has been met.

Christine Jardine is the Scottish Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West

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