The public hysteria over Dominic Cummings, who held an unprecedented press conference today in the Downing Street garden to explain why he appeared to have broken the spirit if not the letter of the lockdown rules, is far more troubling than anything Boris Johnson’s controversial chief adviser may have done.
By Cummings’s own account, several media claims about what he supposedly did in the 14 days at the end of March and in early April, claims which did so much to incite public feeling against him, were false. With his wife sick with what looked like Covid, leaving her almost unable to care for their child, with Cummings himself likely to go down with the virus and hounded within his London house by a hostile and threatening public, he drove his wife and son to a house on his parents’ farm in Durham to isolate there, with his sister and other family members leaving food on the doorstep.
The next day he was duly flattened by the virus, and until he recovered and returned to London the three of them remained in that house – with certain exceptions. They walked in the woods on his parents’ property as he improved; they drove their son to hospital in a Covid scare; they drove to Barnard Castle and back in order to test his ability to drive to London out of concern about his fitness; they sat by a river for fifteen minutes because he felt sick; and his wife and son left the car at one point on this trip to answer a call of nature. He claims he acted with the discretion allowed within the lockdown if faced with a difficult situation involving a young child, and at no point did he break social distancing or other rules.
Whether or not you believe all or most of this account, the public and media reaction that caused this backroom official to field an hour’s questioning (from journalists who mostly asked exactly the same “why the hell do you think you’re God” question with varying degrees of hostility and aggression) has been from the start as brazenly two-faced as it has been hateful.
Consider: people who have been utterly opposed to the lockdown as an infringement on personal liberty, who have been screaming about a police state with snitching neighbours and police officers feeling the collar of anyone sitting in the sun, who have been raging against the lockdown on the basis that people should be trusted to choose to behave responsibly, who have been making veiled and even overt calls for the public to break lockdown and lauding those who have done so – those very same lockdown opponents have been screaming abuse at Cummings for allegedly breaking the lockdown rules and choosing how to behave, have been applauding the neighbourhood snitches who claim to have seen him breaking those rules, and have been demanding that the police should arrest him. All this on the basis that he is a hypocrite, the greatest of all contemporary hanging offences.
Cummings says he didn’t break the rules. Well, that may be a matter for dispute. Crucially, however, he appears to have put no-one else at risk. Yet those crowding the beaches today have told the media: “Why should we keep the rules if he can break them” — parroting the line they have been fed by the same Roman media circus.
The reason is surely obvious to anyone with half a brain – that those crowding the beaches in open defiance of the social distancing rules have been putting others at risk while Cummings, by his own account, did not.
And in any event, suppose for the sake of argument he had broken the rules, thus behaving badly and putting others in danger, and yet was remaining in his post. Why on earth should anyone find in that a justification for breaking the same rules and putting yet more people in danger? It makes no more sense than declaring, if the police decided no longer to investigate burglaries, for example, that there was no reason now to observe the law against breaking and entering.
As for Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour party’s shiny new leader, he has now apparently abandoned his statesman-like stance of rising above the partisan fray and instead joined the pitchfork-wielding mob in demanding Cummings’s resignation. So who exactly is the hypocrite here? In the Telegraph, Tom Harwood writes:
“It isn’t that long ago that Labour’s Stephen Kinnock drove hundreds of miles to see his elderly parents during lockdown or that one of Labour’s few remaining MPs in County Durham, Kevan Jones, attended a constituents’ birthday party. On both occasions, Keir Starmer of course did nothing.
“Starmer’s statement yesterday highlighted the tragic cases of people across this country not able to be with their loved ones in their final moments, and of mourners unable to find the closure and shared consolation of funerals. Yet this was the same Keir Starmer who did nothing to reprimand Labour MP Tahir Ali who attended a funeral in his constituency as one of 100 mourners at the start of April. The point scoring partisan double standards over such sensitive matters leaves a truly bitter taste in the mouth”.
It’s the sheer nastiness of the public attacks on Cummings which is so very shocking. It reveals that a significant section of the public has lost all humanity and decency.
It’s absolutely no excuse to say they’re angry. Yes of course, they themselves have been making sometimes unbearably painful and difficult choices as a result of keeping within the rules. And all credit to them for that, as well as sympathy for the frequently awful situations they have faced.
But there is absolutely no excuse whatever for shouting at, intimidating and bullying Cummings at his house, doubtlessly frightening his small son, chalking insults in huge letters on the road outside and making his home, as he described it, an unsafe place for his sick family to be. Utterly shameful.
Indeed, how many of those now screeching that it’s one rule for him and another for the rest have found themselves facing precisely the same circumstances as he did that Friday evening – not only with a sick wife unable to care for their small son and with he himself likely to go down with the virus (as he did, badly, the very next day) but in a house that, unlike his attackers’ homes, could not serve as a vital refuge because it had become the target of uncontrollable public hatred, intimidation and spite? No-one else. Different rules really should have applied here, one might say, because Cummings was in a very different position from everyone else.
Whether or not Cummings did break the rules (and whether or not he survives a row in which questions remain), such sanctimonious bullying, double standards and sheer absence of humanity suggest once again that the Covid virus is not the only sickness sweeping Britain.