So when the powerful or influential break the rules, it provokes fierce public anger and puts society’s inequalities on full view.
Ireland’s Minister for Agriculture Dara Calleary had already resigned over the so-called Golfgate scandal. The dinner was held a day after the government in which he served, facing a surge in cases, imposed restrictions — effective immediately — that limited indoor gatherings to six people, down from the 50 previously allowed.
And in the United Kingdom, the behavior of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, has come to exemplify a double standard in the public mind where ordinary people are expected to follow the rules while the elite can apparently break them with impunity.
The decision by Johnson and his Cabinet to defend Cummings’ actions only made things worse, Michie said.
Other high-profile UK figures have also violated the rules. Scotland’s chief medical officer, Catherine Calderwood, resigned in April and was given a formal police warning after twice breaking lockdown restrictions to visit her second home.
Such actions by influential figures “exacerbate a sense of disenfranchisement because it gives a message that it’s one rule for us, as in the privileged, and one rule for them,” said Linda Bauld, a professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh.
“So it’s very, very damaging, it’s a very unfortunate thing.”
‘The most foolish thing’
Sports stars and members of the cultural elite have been caught flouting restrictions too.
England cricketer Jofra Archer was excluded from a Test match against the West Indies after he breached the team’s bio-secure protocols with an unauthorized visit to his home.
Such examples all have an impact, Michie said, particularly on young men, who are less likely to be sticking by the rules. Michie said she had been urging the UK government — so far to no avail — to make greater use of soccer players, singers and actors as role models in its information campaign, in order to reach different groups in society.
“We know that the more that people identify with the source, the more likely they are to adhere to it,” she said.