For the many or the few?

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For the many or the few?

We are living in a crisis that has produced no shortage of surprises, but a couple of recent developments struck me as particular curve balls that I didn’t see coming.

Firstly, when we surveyed CN readers at the start of this month, I was mightily surprised to see how far sentiment in our industry had swung behind the government. Just a few weeks earlier, our previous survey had given the UK’s political leaders a right pasting.

Similarly, I was not prepared for the account given by Mace chief executive Mark Reynolds, who praised ministers for their unexpected keenness to listen and respond to the needs of our industry.

But I fear that these good reports may have been swiftly undone in recent days by the prime minister’s decision to back his adviser, Dominic Cummings, seemingly at all costs.

As I write, polling company Savanta has published approval ratings for both the government as a whole and Boris Johnson in particular that have dropped sharply into negative figures, following Cummings’ press conference about his visits to Durham and Barnard Castle.

At the heart of the Cummings debacle is the notion that some might be seen as more equal than others – that the interests of a great many ordinary people might be sacrificed for the convenience of a privileged few.

This is a complaint that we have heard frequently at Construction News, throughout the lockdown. Construction activity has – despite many false assumptions to the contrary – been both allowed and encouraged by the government from the get-go.

Even in early May, when our survey showed sentiment broadly behind Whitehall’s actions, many individuals still questioned government motives.

“Why is the building industry being told it is safe to work less than 2 meters apart for 15 minutes [at a stretch] when no other industries believe this?” one survey respondent asked. “The building industry is being used as guinea pigs.”

Back in April, another correspondent put his feelings in words that ought to strike a chord with Johnson and all his ministers so moved by Cummings’ urge to protect his family.

“We bleed the same as every other human in this country, we breathe the same air, we all have families at home,” they observed. “So why are we being put at risk of contracting this virus or spreading it every single day we’re put to work, instead of being told to stay home and isolate like the rest of the country? It’s disgusting.”

I wonder if we sampled sentiment across CN in the wake of this Cummings episode, whether support for Whitehall would still be as strong as it was three weeks ago?