Monday 25 May 2020

In the Rose Garden

After keeping the TV schedules waiting for half an hour, did Dominic Cummings do enough to save his bacon? It's doubtful his presentation in the Downing Street rose garden changed anyone's mind. If you're prepared to defend the government and Cummings after the weekend's revelations you're going to carry on doing so. After all, for the likes of Dan Hodges and Guidelet-at-large Tom Haywood the truth is a firm second to media profile - even if it means eating shit on the government's behalf. And if you're angry because Cummings flouted lockdown rules, you're still going to be angry.

In an impressive display of doublethink, Cummings said he did nothing wrong. And then admitted to the assembled pressers all the times he disobeyed the rules he helped write:

1. Concerning the events of 27th March, Cummings admitted he went home, discovered his wife was ill, and then returned to work at Downing Street. The rules, of course, were very clear. He should have immediately self-isolated as a member of his household was ill. Now, Cummings has attempted to get round this by arguing Mary Wakefield did not have a cough. If he didn't suspect this was Coronavirus, then why did he leg it back from Downing Street and drive all the way up to Durham to self-isolate? Hmmm.

2. The actual relocation itself was against the rules. If you or a member of your household were displaying symptoms or otherwise suspected of having the disease, you are supposed to stay put. As it happens, the common sense argument Cummings makes in his defence is one, I'm sure, most people would sympathise with. If you had an alternative bolt hole that was even more isolated and you could travel to it without risking exposing anyone else, then why not? Except, again, the rules have been very clear. In the early part of the lockdown there were repeated complaints of our more affluent citizens fleeing London for their holiday homes in the arse end of nowhere. Readers might recall Neil Gaiman had to publicly apologise for heading to Skye for the duration. Cummings has also tried justifying this in terms of "exceptional circumstances", but when tens if not hundreds of thousands of parents have been placed into a similar position and abided by the rules then his situation isn't exceptional at all.

3. You couldn't make it up. He said he stayed on his family's land in a cottage/nissan hut. After having recovered somewhat following a couple of days in bed, he felt his eyesight had been adversely affected. So to see if his eyes were up to driving, he packed everyone into his car and drove 30 miles to Barnard Castle - a 60 mile round-trip in total. I'm sure you would agree this is an entirely normal thing to do. Again, the rules were clear. You were supposed to stay put, and go out once a day in your locality for exercise. Cummings did not. Instead, he was one of those awful people the likes of Derbyshire plod and the Daily Mail were moaning about for travelling into the countryside. Also, entirely coincidentally, the Cummings/Wakefield visit to Bernard Castle was on the occasion of her birthday.

Asked about issuing an apology, Cummings repeated he'd done nothing wrong. Asked about whether he had considered resigning, he said no. Instead, he tried turning it around to the press and blame them for the furore. Perhaps if the Scottish chief medical officer and the author of the lockdown strategy hadn't lost their jobs and the right wing press hadn't demanded their heads - a certain Tom Haywood among them - this would be a non-story worth a shrug and a couple of column inches in Private Eye.

And so he's dug his heels in, and Boris Johnson is backing him to the hilt. Their fates are now tied - they stand together or they full together. And are they going to? There is a real split among Tory ranks on this, if Conservative Home is anything to go by - props to the contributor arguing driving with impaired insight is exactly what you should do). And so far 21 Tory MPs have called for Cummings to resign. However the bulk of the right wing media are also against Cummings, reflecting the anger of their thinning readership. And Tory MPs generally are reportedly in a flap, with their WhatsApp groups buzzing with complaints and those worried by the growing pile of hostile letters from constituents. Good, let them feel the heat.

The question is will it matter? I guess we won't know until we see the first clutch of polls, but it feels like it does. The government were starting to look a bit shaky anyway, and doubling down on the nothing to see here defence is hardly helpful for keeping popular confidence on side. Could this be Boris Johnson's Black Wednesday, the moment when speculation forced the pound out of the Exchange Rate Mechanism in 1992 and afflicted a blow on John Major's government from which it could never recover - despite being fewer than six months on from a famous general election victory? The parallels are there. With widespread doubts over the return to school and return to work strategies, there's nothing like a case of brazen hypocrisy on the part of a self-styled people's government to provoke anger and collapse confidence along with popular support. Whatever the case, the story isn't about to go away. Because of Cummings, the whereabouts and movements of other senior officials and the cabinet itself comes under the spotlight and other examples or rule-breaking are sure to be uncovered.

Cummings has always been fancied as something of a chaos agent, a tsunami of terror that would roll in and sweep way the corrupt establishment that has held back British politics for so long. After today's press conference, it's looking like he'll meet this happy objective.

Image Credit


Joseph said...

I think that this weakens Johnson much more than if Cummings had said that he felt that he had lost public confidence and was doing the decent thing and resigning. Johnson should have told him that he had to go. The trouble is that more people will think that the lockdown restrictions are there to be ignored, and in consequence, the greater the spread of this virus and more people will die.

Alan Story said...

Good piece Phil.

One add: what Cummings was able to do shows the class dynamics at play in this crisis. What percentage of the population can get in a car and drive to a rural bolt hole, etc. etc.

There is some real class anger on display over this travesty. GOOD!

Anonymous said...

Quite a few MPs and ex MPs also own a number of houses each, which of course can include rural bolt hole. They are well paid whether they have family money or not.

People are dying - the Cummings exceptionalism should be challenged.

Dr ZoJo said...

"Cummings has always been fancied as something of a chaos agent" Mostly by himself it would seem. His performance suggests he is more of a fantasist who can only function when the spotlight is not on him. Clever and devious when working behind the scenes, but weak, hesitant and nervous when under direct pressure. It also suggests that rather than a strategic genius, he got lucky with the leave campaign (forget the election, that was always in the bag) by tapping in to an existing mood and running with it. Faced with a current running against him he seemed clueless - when any non-genius could have told him it was time for a grovelling apology and laying it on thick about the sick wife and poor wee bairn. Not being acquainted with empathy or sympathy, he has no idea how to milk these feelings, nor can he fake any emotion that would fool a halfwit (Johnson excepted).

Anonymous said...

We are considered the halfwit population by this government, and indeed somewhat by the 'clever' political class... and yes it is their exceptionalism not just that of Cummings.

Anonymous said...

Is it 60,000 now or over?

Dipper said...

given that we should all be treated the same as Cummings, I wonder if you would all be so kind as to post a full and comprehensive list of your activities during lockdown and be available for questioning so I can ascertain whether you should be dismissed from your jobs or face other summary punishment.

Mob justice. Never pleasant. And they will come for you.

Dipper said...

@ Alan Story

"The trouble is that more people will think that the lockdown restrictions are there to be ignored, and in consequence, the greater the spread of this virus and more people will die."

you sure about that? This says it's done. The Lockdown is delivering collateral death for no benefit.

Dipper said...

You social scientists don't really understand the physical sciences. In physical sciences, there is a reality out there, and that reality doesn't give two hoots what you think about it. That reality is in many cases stranger than we can imagine. We can only get close to it by a very disciplined experimental approach. This virus has already delivered a number of unexpected and unpleasant surprises.

Chucking the odd fact and some random computer projections around that randomly support your personal view may be acceptable in social sciences, but it doesn't really cut the mustard in physical sciences. You just end up looking stupid at best and deranged at worst.

Anonymous said...


The fact is that the number of new infections is rising again, as is the number of deaths. As was predicted.

The British government's response to covid19 has objectively been one of the worst in the world (look at the numbers; there is your objective, quantifiable evidence). They have failed catastrophically and are continuing to do so. Having caused tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths, they just keep going.

We are now facing a second peak in June, because the government couldn't wait until the virus was actually under control, and nor have they adapted to it adequately (for example, by doing what the TUC asked for and providing clear, mandatory, eforceable rules for workplaces).

And not content with failing at the political level, both Johnson and Cummings have been incredibly stupid and irresponsible in their personal behaviour as well.

Concerned Citizen said...

The worst reaction to what Cummings did would be to say, “well if he can do it why can’t I?’. This would be like saying, “well Harvey Weinstein was allowed to abuse women for decades, why the hell can’t I?”

We should instead treat Cummings like we treat dark skinned mentally ill people who wield a knife claiming to be part of a global Islamic network. In order other words we should just shoot the fucker and no questions asked.

Maybe if we think of it like this, Cummings is a deranged suicide spreader hellbent on killing lockdown loving Brits and is part of a global network representing that bad old Islamic nation, Covidisdamnbad.

Let’s even create a black flag with a corona like image in the middle, with some Islamic symbolism thrown in.

Yours Concerned Citizen

Dipper said...

@ Anonymous

The number of deaths is not rising again. You need to go beyond the daily announcements which are skewed by the bank holiday. You know this. The number of infections is a function of testing and we are testing very heavily now.

The British government's response is not "objectively one of the worst in the world" . It may well be that there are particular factors in the UK that meant that a high death rate was inevitable. Major urban centres have been hammered across the western world and the UK is basically one enormous urban centre. Re my earlier comment, there is a lot unknown about this virus, and if you think cherry picking a few facts justifies your prejudices, you are wrong.

Time will tell whether we are facing a second peak, but a lot of scientists don't think we are as explained in the article in The Critic which I gave above. Continuing the lockdown beyond what is necessary will cause excess deaths in terms of cancer diagnoses and treatments missed. Are you happy to have that on your conscience? Or is this the usual lefty drill where some people appoint themselves as judges to condemn others without themselves being subject to any criticism?

theOnlySanePersonOnPlanetEarth said...

In South Yorkshire the hospital admissions are up by 25%.

China did not think about easing the lockdown until they had a week of zero deaths. What we have seen in this country is a revolt by the business class. The Tories and their supporters are fucking terrorists.

Keir Starmer egged on this revolt with his exit strategy bollocks. Keir Starmer sounds like a Nazi weekly, he might as well be.

We are being murdered by all the forces at the states disposal. Fascism finally hits the UK.

End the Exit! Lockdown now!