The MP Margaret Ferrier has faced a wave of criticism and calls for her resignation this week after it has been revealed that she travelled across the country on public transport, after finding out she was positive for COVID-19.
This has only added to the growing discontent for the political elite as the ‘one rule for us, one rule for them’ mindset has become more and more evident throughout the pandemic. The combination of high-profile rule-breaching, confusing and contradictory rules, and the early easing of lockdown has all lead to plummeting trust in the government- at a time when the government desperately needs full public support to control the virus.
After having COVID-19 symptoms, Ms Ferrier had a test on Saturday in her SNP constituency of Rutherglen and Hamilton West. According to guidance, Ms Ferrier should have isolated from the moment she presented COVID-19 symptoms; instead, she attended Mass at a Church in Glasgow with up to 50 people and then travelled to London on public transport. On Monday, she spoke in The Commons in a debate about COVID-19. After receiving positive COVID-19 results on Monday evening, Ms Ferrier travelled back up to Glasgow on Tuesday morning on public transport, with the plan to isolate at home. The Met have said they are investigating offences related to the health protection regulations, as new COVID- 19 legislation means that if you ‘recklessly’ disobey isolation rules you can be fined up to £4,000, but the Scottish Police have dropped the investigation.
Ms Ferrier has said she had made a mistake, and that the virus makes you act out of character. However, the general consensus seems to be that MPs represent their constituents, and therefore should be responsible for their actions. It seems morally questionable that Ms Ferrier would choose to continue to stand as an MP, and for the public, frustrating that she could get away with this mistake unscathed. She has been suspended from the Scottish National Party, but she is still serving as an MP. MPs can only be removed from their post if 10% of their constituents call for a by-election, or they resign. The Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has personally asked her to step down, echoing the across-party sentiments in the UK and Scottish Parliaments.
However, the calls for Ferrier to resign from the Conservative Party have not been well received. After the events of Dominic Cummings’ mid-lockdown trip to Durham, the Tories do not have much of a leg to stand on when it comes to breaking COVID rules.
Many have argued that the Cummings’ incident was the turning point of lockdown; up to this point, there had been a real ‘we’re-all-in-this-together’ attitude among the public towards beating the virus. The public reaction of anger towards Mr Cummings burst through the Westminster bubble, and as the Prime Minister stayed firm on his decision to keep Mr Cummings, the consensus grew that it was one rule for us, one rule for them.
The actions of Ms Ferrier have only added to the list of inconsistencies in the rules which have only seemed to benefit those in power– in any other job, Mr Cummings and Ms Ferrier would indeed have been fired. One of the chief advisors to the government on the virus, Professor Neil Ferguson, quit his role in May after breaking lockdown regulations by visiting a woman not in his household. The difference in response between Prof Ferguson and Mr Cummings has led to confusion and suspicion of those in power, which only grew as the pandemic continued. Besides, 695,000 people have lost their jobs within the pandemic; the fact that Ms Ferrier and Mr Cummings have clung on to theirs’s adds insult to injury.
The critical difference between the treatment of the political elite and the general public is hard to ignore. 18,646 fines had been issued by the 22nd of September to those caught breaking lockdown and isolation rules. In particular, BAME people have been disproportionally targeted by COVID related fines, receiving 54% of all fines between 27th March and 11th May. It seems absurd that the high-profile cases discussed have not faced the same punishment, and it has not gone unnoticed by the general public.
Recently it was revealed that through a loophole, parliament’s many bars and pubs would be allowed to stay open past 10 pm, despite the curfew in the hospitality industry for the rest of England. This was quickly rectified with reassurance from Parliament that this would not continue, however word had already spread. Esther Webber’s tweet breaking the story was retweeted over nine thousand times, showing that once again, this story had reached people who would not usually engage with politics.
The inner workings of parliament’s drinking holes and eateries are not common knowledge to most, so it also came as a revelation on Twitter that not only can they stay open later, they are heavily subsidised, and they are not subjected to the same mask regulations.
In a time when the hospitality sector is struggling to survive due to new regulations set by the government, it has been seen as a massive insult that the political elite seems to be above the rules. At the end of the day, it does not matter if the rumours are false, and regulations have since been changed; once this information is out in public, it is hard to sway minds.
It is not surprising then, that these events have heavily impacted the amount of trust the public has in the government. Combined with the early lifting of lockdown regulations, trust in the government has plummeted. Research from UCL shows that the Cummings debacle and lockdown easings have played a considerable part in this, and so it is likely Ms Ferrier’s rule-breaking could bring down public trust further. Notably, as she is an MP for a party opposing the Tories, it could affect the public’s trust in the whole parliamentary system, not just the government. After all, if Parliament can’t follow their own rules; who will?
Featured Image from Daily Mirror