The Covid inquiry and toxic politics

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The ongoing inquiry into the UK government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic has revealed more about the ‘toxic culture’ that surrounded Downing Street during the first crucial months of the crisis.

Matt Hancock described Dominic Cummings as the ‘malign actor’ in the heart of government. Deputy cabinet secretary Helen McNamara revealed how women were routinely ignored. Rishi Sunak was quizzed on claims that Boris Johnson presided over it all.

No doubt, those working in Downing Street at the time were under immense and urgent pressure to make decisions with life-and-death implications. Few of us will find ourselves in similar positions in our working lives. But many of us will groan with familiarity at descriptions of workplaces where incompetence, backbiting, and power plays are the norm.

Every workplace – be it meeting rooms in Westminster or staff rooms in a local
primary school – has a culture that looks more or less like God’s kingdom. As the Covid inquiry is revealing, these cultures have power to shape us and make us in their image, bringing out our worst ways of being together.

The Christian’s calling is not only to resist these cultural forces, but to be a
transforming influence on them. And we can all do that, whatever our workplace. Take the new primary school teacher, asked how she was getting on in her job in this new school. She said, ‘the kids are great – it’s the staff that are the problem’. In some ways her staff room was a micro-Downing Street – everyone was out for themselves. And the place this manifested most was the communal fridge.

Such was the inability to get on that no one could be trusted not to steal each other’s milk. And so this primary school teacher decided to do something about it. On the way into school one day, she popped in to the local store, and bought a big six-pint carton of milk. When entering the staff room, she grabbed a sharpie and scrawled on it, ‘For everyone’.

It was a small but significant step towards resisting a toxic culture and making a proactive move towards transforming it. So whatever the Christian’s workplace – whatever your workplace – be it the corridors of power or primary school hallways – we need to refuse to be made in the image of toxic cultures and instead seek to transform those cultures into places where the kingdom is coming, in our workplaces as in heaven.

Tim Yearsley is Head of Innovation at the LICC (London Institute for Contemporary Christianity). To learn more about LICC, visit:

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