The bad news for politicians is that where Boris Johnson is leading, many others may follow. Don’t be surprised if the political scandal becomes instrumental in, rather than incidental to, our exit from draconian pandemic policies.
Britain’s ever-flamboyant prime minister is in new political danger this week. News has trickled out since late last year about a series of parties allegedly organized by Mr. Johnson’s staffers. At least some of these might have violated lockdown rules in effect at the time.
Until this week, “partygate” concerned allegations of Christmas festivities for staffers in December 2020. Mr. Johnson could claim he had been unaware of what was going on elsewhere in his office-and-residence complex. It helped him politically that these get-togethers occurred during a confused phase in Britain’s pandemic response when adherence to restrictions was starting to slip among the general public.
This week’s bombshell is very different. It concerns a large Downing Street party in May 2020 that Mr. Johnson admits he attended (he said Wednesday that he thought, improbably, it was a work meeting). At that time, the entire country still was in its first and strictest lockdown. Family weren’t allowed to visit dying relatives in hospitals. Children were barred from schools. A local government put police tape on park benches to prevent illegal sitting. Police issued more than 15,000 fines for lockdown violations in England alone.
The pain Britons experienced while Mr. Johnson’s staff partied explains why this has exploded. That pain also suggests such scandals may become a necessary tool for extracting societies from lockdowns, mask and vaccine mandates, travel restrictions, and other trappings of the medically obsolete but politically durable zero-Covid policies of spring 2020.
Scapegoating is more likely and is one of the risks you sign up for when you go into politics. Mr. Johnson may survive partygate, but the effect of this scandal will be to weaken permanently his ability to impose further Covid restrictions. Expect him or any successor to embrace with new enthusiasm advice from scientists suggesting we now approach Covid much as we do the common cold.
This phenomenon won’t be confined to Britain. President Biden’s job is safe, but medical adviser Anthony Fauci’s is not. Rolling revelations about the extent to which he may have been involved in funding gain-of-function research in China undermine the moral authority of America’s chief lockdown advocate without having to wade directly into the partisan bogs of lockdown policy. Such a scandal also would open an opportunity for erstwhile lockdown supporters to vent their personal frustrations with Dr. Fauci’s preferred draconian policies.