During the lockdown of 2020, I had a daily standing appointment in my diary for the 5pm news briefing from Downing Street, to hear the latest statistics, the updates on any regulations and hear the government ministers and medical and scientific advisors encourage compliance.

On 20 May that year I was a little distracted as I was driving my wife to hospital for the second time that day. Earlier I had to wait in a corridor while she was assessed and we were then sent home. The following morning my daughter was born and when she was two hours old, I said goodbye to her and my wife as they went into the ward for the next two days.

It was Oliver Dowden MP leading the briefing that day, and he encouraged the public to only meet (outdoors) one person not in their household. Less than an hour after he said that, Downing Street staff gathered in the garden for a bring your own booze’ drinks affair. It is reported that the prime minister and his wife were in attendance.

The controversy over the Downing Street parties that may or may not have happened, and whether gatherings were necessary for work or not, has taken a significant step with the revelation that the prime minister’s principal private secretary invited staffers to this gathering, with the email revealed by ITV News.

Technically, it may or may not have been against the law. At that point it was only gatherings in public places which were expressly ruled as illegal, primary legal restriction was on leaving the house without a reasonable excuse, and those working in Downing Street would have had such an excuse for being in their place of work – at least while they were working.

Morally, it stinks.

Now here is my confession. Shortly after this, I knowingly flouted the rules. I met (outside) two people outside my household, so my parents could meet their new granddaughter. Many others made the choice to comply with the stringent rules even when it meant social isolation, missing precious last days, being unable to comfort the grieving. When driving to meet my parents I knew my actions could have consequences.

If I knew that I was doing what government ministers had said I should not, then surely the person who is in charge of the prime minister’s private office knew what he was doing when he sent the email? And one would hope that those working in number 10 knew that while their work managing the government’s response to a crisis was important, it did not give them an excuse to ignore what they were telling the rest of the country. I cannot fathom that they were ignorant of what the rules meant, so the remaining explanation is the hypocrisy of thinking that rules they make for other people do not apply to them.

Government operates by the consent of the governed and a vital component is trust in those who hold authority that the exercise of that authority is wielded for the good of all. There will be disagreements about what to do, or how to do it, and democratic mechanisms provide the check on power that reminds those holding authority that it is theirs to steward and the public’s to remove.

As a broad organisation representing evangelicals across the UK, the Evangelical Alliance seeks to steer well clear of partisan political questions. This is not because they are unimportant, but we recognise that different people will reach different conclusions as to political priorities and who is best suited to exercise political authority. Christian teaching has much to say about many areas of public policy, sometimes with clarity as to the details, in other places providing a principle basis from which multiple approaches could be pursued. Therefore, it is reasonable to expect Christians to disagree on policy questions, and party political choices.

After the pandemic began, new laws proliferated regulating aspects of life never before encumbered by legislative activism. Several times since then there has been an increasing sense that those who make the rules don’t always think they have to follow them. This includes Dominic Cumming’s trip to Barnard Castle, or in Scotland, Margaret Ferrier’s return trip to Westminster while positive with Covid (and also to a salon, leisure centre and church). The series of Downing Street parties take this to a new level.

Focusing on one particular action is not to discount the value of or concern about any other activity of government. But sometimes specific issues illustrate the importance of a broader question, in this case: can we trust the government as they decide on and implement policies affecting the whole country if they choose not to follow them?

We should care about how those who lead our country act as well as the particular policies they pursue. Otherwise we end up excusing behaviour because we think it will help deliver an outcome we want, and that kind of pragmatic utilitarianism doesn’t have a good track record.