Public health expert Jillian Evans warns Downing Street faces a tough task to regain public trust after a “significant” and “blatant disregard” for lockdown rules.
The prime minister has been engulfed with allegations about lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street in the pandemic.
No10 has also had to apologise to Buckingham Palace for two parties the day before the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral last year.
One of the parties was a leaving do for the prime minister’s former director of communications James Slack, who has also publicly apologised.
All of this comes days after Boris Johnson apologised at prime minister’s questions after around 100 members of staff were invited to a bring-your-own-bottle party in the No10 garden in May 2020.
Ms Evans, head of health intelligence at NHS Grampian, told DC Thomson’s politics podcast The Stooshie it will take a lot for Downing Street to claw back public trust and compliance in lockdown measures on the back of this.
Ms Evans says the actions of people in authority changes public behaviour.
She highlighted the Dominic Cummings scandal in 2020, suggesting compliance with lockdown rules dipped on the back of the Barnard Castle incident.
Speaking to The Stooshie, she said: “It is well understood how people feel about the blatant breaches of the rules, when so many people were following the guidelines, doing their best and making considerable sacrifices.
“And it does change public perception – seeing what others do absolutely influences your behaviour.
“Having people in a position of authority not working within the guidelines influences the way we behave.
“We saw that effect through the Dominic Cummings situation where compliance dipped as a result of that loss of trust and feeling of unfairness.
“So it is important for leaders to demonstrate leadership, compliant behaviour and to lead by example.”
‘Personal responsibility’ needed
Ms Evans says it will be difficult for Downing Street and the prime minister to regain the public’s trust following such “significant” breaches.
Boris Johnson’s approval ratings have plummeted following the scandals, with recent polling data showing the Conservatives on just 32%, behind Labour on 40%.
Ms Evans adds those involved in the party scandals will to be “honest” and take “personal responsibility” if they are to regain any public trust.
However she adds public trust and compliance with lockdown measures is very different in Scotland, and says this is down to clear and consistent messaging from the Scottish Government.
She said: “The Scottish situation is very different – at the start of the pandemic the chief medical officer breached the rules, and the fast action on that helped to secure that position in the public’s eye.
“In Scotland we have had information that has been constant, reliable, accepting when we don’t know something but not holding back information, and that constant presence and communication through briefings has helped to maintain public trust and confidence, and a feeling that we are all in it together.
“We must remember that while some people are blatantly disregarding the rules, the vast majority of people in Scotland have continued to comply and for that we should be very grateful.”