This week in Say More, PS talks with Antara Haldar, Associate Professor of Empirical Legal Studies at the University of Cambridge, Visiting Faculty at Harvard University, and the principal investigator on a European Research Council grant on law and cognition.
Project Syndicate: In February, you suggested that UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s attendance at parties at 10 Downing Street during pandemic lockdowns could seal his political fate. While Johnson survived a recent no-confidence vote, about 40% of Conservative lawmakers voted against him, with many citing the public’s loss of trust in his leadership. Is that loss of trust limited to Johnson, or does it have broader institutional repercussions? Is this scandal good or bad for the rule of law in the United Kingdom (the weaknesses of which you highlighted back in 2019)?
Antara Haldar: I’ve just been reading a book called Chums, by Financial Times journalist Simon Kuper, about the Bullingdon Club, an exclusive drinking society at Oxford that gave us Brexit and other national and international delights. Kuper does a great job of chronicling the sense of impunity – and the associated disdain for the “common” person – that is all too common among English elites.
But, while these elites might be able to get away with bending the rules in normal times, there are bound to be consequences when the majority is sacrificing as much as it did during COVID-19 lockdowns, and the disparity with the behavior of the elites is so stark. It has been gratifying to witness Johnson’s popularity wane, as people have woken up to the extent of this divergence.