Saturday 23 May 2020

Cummings and Goings

If you have Coronavirus symptoms, the government's rules are very clear. You should self-isolate for a fortnight. No ifs, no buts, unless there is an obvious risk to life. Why then did Dominic Cummings, the "mastermind" behind the government's complacent and disastrous response to the covid-19 emergency, drive from London to Durham to drop his kids off when, by his own admission, he was showing all the signs of the disease? We know why. He drove there for the same reasons why Catherine Calderwood, Scotland's chief medical officer visited her second home, and why Neal Ferguson, author of the lockdown strategy, broke the rules to get his leg over. They did it because they could. They did it because the quarantine measures they proffered for others do not apply to them.

News of course for the rest of us. Those parents who were ill with children at home, people banned from the bedside of family members, the bereaved having to grieve in absentia because distancing rules applied to funerals, these sacrifices - which Boris Johnson has the habit of patronisingly congratulating us for - are for the likes of us, not the likes of them. Even when it means pointing people in harm's way, which is exactly what Cummings did. Cummings and his partner were both obviously ill with the bug, but thought nothing of dumping the sprog on the elderly parents. At least his lack of regard for the safety of the old is consistent. Still, given the opportunity to pick a side between the many and the few, true to form senior Tories have marched out to defend Cummings. Michael Gove said "caring for your wife and child is not a crime." Rishi Sunak and Dominic Raab said it was a justifiable action, and condemned political point scoring. At the daily press conference, Grant Shapps went as far to suggest Durham Police were lying about speaking to Cummings's family about the matter. You can find other ministers, MPs, and their social media satraps doing the same. Though, strangely, not our frequently absent Prime Minister.

Speaking outside his house Saturday morning, Cummings told the assembled press pack it wasn't about what "looks good", but "doing the right thing." He added it didn't matter what the journos thought. Typical of him, he's brazening it out. He's wagering that this is a media confection that will bother the usual excitables on Twitter, while out in the country people will see it as a fuss over nothing. Well, he's neglected two things. First is the anti-elite narrative he has carefully crafted since rocking up at Downing Street. Drawing on decades of right wing fulmination against experts and so-called liberal elites, it was easy to weave a story about privileged remoaners when they acted like spoiled brats who simply wanted to set aside the referendum. The problem is when an anti-elitist starts acting like the elite they affect to despise, and do so in the full glare of publicity.

And the second thing? Ho, ho. Pippa Crerar was sitting on a follow-up story about the other time Cummings had broken the lockdown. After a full day of senior Tories making up excuses for "Dom" and trying to pretend anyone interested in the truth had anti-Tory axes to grind, the behaviour of Johnson's essential familiar savages them, Pennywise-style, in the backside. This has led Sophy Ridge to take the extraordinary step of giving Shapps, her Sunday guest, the questions she's going to ask in advance so we can get some proper answers.

This Cummings scandal couldn't come at a more delicate time. Facing sustained criticism over plans to ease the lockdown, the government have blundered into an unnecessary confrontation with teachers which has formed up devolved authorities, metro mayors, and local government behind them. With the plan unravelling, they were forced to concede waiving NHS surcharges for foreign-born staff to try and keep the main objective front and centre. And now the Cummings revelations have wrecked that, and made the government look like complete idiots. Does it matter? Well, yes. It's sure to help speed up the slow erosion of the Tory poll lead, but one shouldn't underestimate the potentially deadly consequences of Cummings's irresponsibility. If the government's spad-in-chief can get away flouting the law and not be seen to suffer any consequences, why shouldn't everyone else drive here, there, and everywhere to have meetings with family and friends. It sends absolutely the wrong message, but the government haven't got a leg to stand on for as long as Cummings resides in Downing Street.


Carolyn said...

My resolutely Tory friend who has so far unequivocally supported the government in the crisis so far has just told me that he no longer has confidence in them. This is really going to hurt the Tories.
And although I know how you feel about Starmer, I do look forward to PMQs this week.

Karl Greenall said...

At a deeper, more fundamental level, if Cummings goes, then where does this leave the government and the prime minister in particular? After all, he is regarded as the brains of, and behind, whole operation.
How would Johnson manage without his "three word wonder" to run his show?
It will be interesting to watch as this unfolds.

Blissex said...

«It's sure to help speed up the slow erosion of the Tory poll lead»

One of the first and major achievement of Starmer has been to shrink the Conservative poll lead to at least double what it was under Corbyn, and this against one of the most "respected and admired" governments this country had in living memory. :-)
But strangely nobody is reporting this significant success of switching to such a popular, magical leader. :-)

TowerBridge said...


I can't find the polls you are referring to...

Boffy said...

The furore over Cummings amounts to rank political opportunism from the government's external opponents, as a cheap alternative to principled political opposition, of which they are quite clearly lacking in the ability to provide, and similar opportunism, from the reactionaries in the Tory Party around the ERG, such as Steve Baker, who found themselves marginalised by Johnson and Cummings over Brexit.

Baker and the ERG have seen an opportunity to weaken Johnson who they don't trust (rightly from their perspective) over Brexit, because at each stage Johnson has capitulated to the EU, as well as stitching up the DUP and NI. They think that if they can get rid of Cummings Johnson will be weakened and they will have a better chance of pushing their reactionary No Deal Brexit agenda.

In the cause of their cheap opportunism Labour and sections of the left have again lined themselves up alongside the reactionaries, simply for very short term parliamentary political advantage. Parliamentary cretinism at its worst.

Anonymous said...


HoC is in recess, so no PMQs this week I'm afraid.