he control of a pandemic virus requires a huge collective effort, which is only possible if people have a high degree of trust in each other and in their government. That is why the findings of today’s BMG opinion poll for The Independent are so serious. According to the poll, only 36 per cent of the British people trust Boris Johnson to lead the response to coronavirus, against 44 per cent who do not.
This is a problem because it means that when the prime minister asks people to make sacrifices for the common good, they are less likely to do so. They are more likely to ask whether Mr Johnson has got it right, and less likely to comply with rules, even if they agree with them in principle.
Some of this is a natural scepticism about political leaders, common to all nations and all times, a right and proper feature of functioning democracies. But some of it is Mr Johnson’s own fault. He indulged Dominic Cummings, his chief adviser, when he defied the government’s guidance, returning to the office after his wife had symptoms of coronavirus. That episode, and the trip to Durham that followed, had a huge symbolic significance, spreading the idea that there was “one rule for them” and a different rule for everybody else. It was corrosive of the idea of solidarity, that we are all in this together – which depends on people following the rules because they think everyone else is following them.