So now we know. All the things said about Dominic Cummings – that he shattered the lockdown, that he thinks it’s one rule for him and another for everyone else – are far truer of those protesting at the big Black Lives Matter demo in Trafalgar Square on Sunday, than they are of Cummings.
The demo’s message was clear. It shouted to the nation that the virtuous and right-thinking are more important than the rest of us. Their views and their rights count for more than ours. So while people will be shamed for sitting on a beach or taking part in VE Day celebrations, those who have the right opinions can press the flesh in a huge public gathering with seeming impunity.
Politically, the gathering on Sunday was a confused affair. Quite what the British government can do about the brutal killing of George Floyd in a country 3,000 miles away is anyone’s guess. Shouting ‘Fuck the police’ at the cops at Downing St, who bear no more responsibility for police brutality in the US than the protesters themselves, was particularly bizarre. It was hard to escape the conclusion that the protest was tweeting made flesh, a noisy display of virtue disguised as a radical assembly.
But at least one clear statement shone through this disjointed display of rectitude: ‘We can do what we want.’ It was a genuinely remarkable sight: the same people who have been raging against Dominic Cummings over a mere car journey to Durham were now thronging together in spectacular defiance of the lockdown guidelines. It’s one rule for them and another for the rest of us.
Many of those on the left were at the forefront of demanding the lockdown. They sneered at people in Warrington who did a socially distanced conga line to celebrate VE Day and mocked anyone who attended anti-lockdown protests. ‘Second spike!’, they cried.
But the massive crowd in Trafalgar Square and along Whitehall? That’s fine. Because they’re good people, you see. They have the correct views. They’re nice. Not like those vulgar suburbanites who danced to celebrate Victory in Europe or those frightful chavs who drink bottles of beer on Brighton beach.
The double standard was made crystal clear by Labour MP Dawn Butler. When in mid-May Boris Johnson relaxed the lockdown rules and said some people could return to work, Ms Butler fumed. She said the PM was being ‘reckless’ and, get this, was ‘sending people out to catch the virus’. And yet when Conservative MP Kevin Hollinrake criticised the BLM demo on the basis that it could cause a second spike, Butler responded: ‘Don’t you dare! Don’t even go there!’
There you have it, clear as day, the hypocrisy of those on the Labour left. When Boris says workers can start to return to their jobs, they kick up a storm. When the middle-class descend on Trafalgar Square to advertise their awareness of American racism, it’s absolutely fine and in fact these people are beyond criticism.
For weeks, people who protested against the lockdown have been mercilessly criticised. Americans who rallied against lockdown measures were mocked. They were depicted as dumb rednecks and cranks whose reckless assemblies would help to spread the virus.
Brits who gathered in Hyde Park to express their opposition to the lockdown were similarly denounced. Now is not the time for political assemblies, we were told, not least because the Coronavirus Act effectively bans such gatherings.
And yet when Black Lives Matter protest, virtually nobody criticises them. Hardly any politicians are condemning them. No doubt they will say it’s because this public gathering was important: it was about police racism in the US. That is indeed an important issue. But to many people, celebrating VE Day is important. And opposing the lockdown is important. And going to the beach to escape your tiny flat is important.
We need to come out of lockdown. We should have come out of it weeks ago, in my view. We need the schools up and running, workers back on production lines, and our right to protest reinstated. But this reinstatement of liberty must be for everyone. To celebrate gatherings of the self-righteous while shaming people who want to return to work or hold street parties is to create a dangerous new divide between the virtuous and the sinful.
That’s what the double standards on display over the past few days really capture – that many on the left see themselves as morally superior to the rest of us, and therefore deserving of more rights. It is elitism in radical garb.