Mark Gilmore says the revelations of sexism, ego and a toxic culture in No. 10 are a reminder that Christians really should care about the character of their elected representatives. There’s a reason why our leaders are called “ministers”
Perhaps, like me, you have been waiting impatiently for the Covid Inquiry. Or perhaps, understandably, you were keen to move on from the events of the 16 months that affected us all so profoundly.
We all knew we weren’t likely to enjoy what we would hear, and the revelations would probably open more than just a can of worms.
We are only now beginning to uncover the true state of decision making in this time. However much we may wish it were different, it’s not helpful to deny the evidence we are hearing. Our country was entirely unprepared for a deadly pandemic. The government was ignorant about many parts of the state it was responsible for controlling. Our leaders pursued an ideological approach to an unknown threat. And the weight of decision making rested on far too few shoulders.
A culture of disrespect
Perhaps the most simultaneously shocking and revealing aspect of this inquiry, however, is what we have learnt about the culture within Downing Street that allowed for such complacency. Dominic Cummings sheepishly held his head in his hands as the language he used about his colleagues in this extremely tense period was revealed. Even he described his own words as “deplorable”.
Politicians are not uniquely sinful, but they are also no less fallible than the rest of us
The lines are not worth repeating, but they are the kind that has led to the death of political satire. How can satire be effective when Dominic Cummings freely utters insults that would make The Thick of It’s Malcom Tucker blush?
It seems that the Anglosphere has gradually departed from the belief that character and behaviour should matter in politics. Our leaders have happily drifted towards the idea that, as long as the correct decisions are being made, the culture does not matter. Yet the evidence we are now seeing suggests otherwise.
How did this shift happen?
We call those in Government ‘ministers.’ The word comes from the Latin for ‘servant’ and we still use it as a verb to describe the act of caring for someone. It reflects how Christianity has profoundly shaped our system of governance.
In pre-Christian history, it was readily accepted that leaders could be as domineering as they wished. It was only after Christ’s example of leadership that service, rather than subjugation, became what a leader should aspire to (see Matthew 20:25-28).
The environment in No. 10 tells a different story. Helen MacNamara, deputy cabinet secretary throughout the Covid period and victim of some of Cumming’s insults, stated that there was “very obvious sexist treatment” in Downing Street and the Cabinet Office. Rather than a picture of service, “the dominant culture was macho and heroic”. Rather than shared decision-making and being guided by evidence, “debate and discussion were limited, junior people were talked over”. Most frighteningly, she admits that when the country most needed wisdom, “everything was contaminated by ego”.
It is easy to see why so many voters feel jaded about politics. How can we expect our politicians to treat the country with respect if they cannot treat each other in the same way?
Believing for more
The temptation may be to abandon politics altogether, but that is a luxury we cannot afford.
There are plenty of good, servant-hearted politicians out there that did enter Parliament to serve others first. We must not abandon them. We must not conclude that Christians are incapable of changing politics for the better. Philippians 4:13 reminds us that “I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” Politics needs Christ’s message of forgiveness and reconciliation now more than ever.
No danger is so great that it justifies tossing aside the appropriate checks and balances
But we also know that this does not come at the expense of justice and accountability. Christians have taken a wide variety of views on the necessity of the lockdowns. Whatever view we hold, this moment reminds us that the government is not our God. A precedent for this level of state intervention without proper accountability must not be set. Politicians are not uniquely sinful, but they are also no less fallible than the rest of us. We must learn that no danger is so great that it justifies tossing aside the appropriate checks and balances.
Many will despair at seeing the how these important decisions were handled. As Christians, it is our job to point to a better story. A story that says character matters in politics, that making idols of the government will only lead to disappointment, and that servant leadership still can, and does, exist.