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Number 10 Downing Street

Number 10 Downing Street. Photo: Number 10 / Flickr / CC BY 2.0, license linked at bottom of article

Terina Hine looks at what George Floyd's murder, Cummings' arrogance and the latest confusing Covid regulations tell us about those in power and how the movement can force change

Today marks the one year anniversary of the tragic murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.

Today is also the one year anniversary of that infamous press conference in the Downing Street garden - the one where Dominic Cummings told the country how he drove to Barnard Castle for an eye test and expected us to believe him.

On the face of it the two events have little in common - American police brutality and Cummings’ disregard for Covid restrictions - but they were two incidents which changed the course of the politics of the pandemic and both will impact its aftermath. They show without doubt the distain authority figures have for ordinary people, and how those from minority ethnic backgrounds are denigrated and abused by those in positions of power. They also show how a movement can be born, can sweep across continents and how mass protest can bring about change.

It is difficult to worry too much about the latest antics of Cummings, but the recent news regarding the government’s response to the new variant first detected in India, and now prevalent in much of the UK, indicate how little has changed in No 10 since his departure: confusion, chaos and contempt remain the modus operandi.

Although guidance to limit the spread of the new Covid variant was published on the government website on Friday evening asking people to avoid meeting indoors and travelling in or out of the affected areas (Bedford, Blackburn, Bolton, Kirklees, Leicester, Hounslow and North Tyneside), it was discovered only on Monday night. No announcement was made and no notification sent to local representatives or MPs. It took four days before local health officials, councils and MPs found out about the change in policy, and that was thanks to the investigative reporting at the Manchester Evening News. Hardly surprising the government is now facing accusations of imposing local lockdowns by stealth - although of course for four days no one even knew there was a local lockdown.

To make matters worse, one of the listed areas is Hounslow in London, concerning because it is the neighbouring borough to Heathrow airport. Significant numbers of Hounslow residents work at the airport, which begs the question whether it is safe or advisable for them to go to work. Of course no help is forthcoming for them to stay at home.

This all comes fast on the heels of the government’s failure last week to publish data on the spread of the new variant - data due out on Thursday but not released until late on Saturday night, with crucial information about in-school transmission still missing.

Let us not forget that it is people from poorer and ethnic minority communities who will suffer most if the new variant spreads: the death rate among the Black and Asian communities has been 30% and 49% higher than their white counterparts (taking into account age and baseline health). Disparity on hospital admissions is even greater. And although vaccinations will help only 44% of the adult population have received the necessary two doses to protect them from this new variant.

It is not news that Johnson and his acolytes have scant regard for the health of the population and even less for the health of poorer and more marginalised communities, but these recent ham-fisted attempts to suppress data, information and guidance on the spread of the new variant act as a stark reminder that this government’s first principle is not the protection of the lives of its citizens but the protection of itself.

Dominic Cummings, not satisfied with his performance in the Downing Street garden last May, is in the process of writing one of the longest twitter threads in history as a revenge tweet. Tomorrow he appears before a select committee of MPs where he will continue to embark on his blame game. We will hear how as the most influential advisor in government, his advice was ignored. We will hear how the government followed a policy of herd immunity as though this was no longer happening. There will be debates about the meaning of herd immunity, but the semantics are irrelevant when we can see with our own eyes that acting fast with clear messaging to suppress the virus before it takes hold is not and never has been part of the government’s plan. We do not need a Cummings’ tweet nor select committee hearing to tell us this.

A year ago today George Floyd’s murder reignited the BLM movement and lit a flame among thousands of activists who took to the streets to demand change. The movement opened the eyes of many, engaged a new generation of activists and showed them how protest and public outcry can begin the process of change. On 26 June we must do the same and support the People’s Assembly demonstration so that the voices of ordinary people are heard. We must demand change, and demand an end to this corrupt and deadly government.

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