MITCH BENN on the Durham dash that has everybody talking.
So anyway, one day I woke up and thought do you know, I’m feeling a bit wobbly; in fact I’m not sure my sense of balance is everything it should be. Rather than take any chances, I decided to test just how good my sense of balance was by walking along a twelfth-storey window ledge while my youngest daughter sat on my shoulders. Just like any concerned parent would.
There was another time when I wasn’t entirely happy with my hand-eye coordination, so again, rather than risk making some tragic error, I decided to test myself by lying on the kitchen floor and juggling knives above my face.
Neither of the above stories is true, nor would I expect you to believe either of them. Dominic Cummings, on the other hand, does expect you to believe that upon discovering that his brush with Covid-19 had impaired his vision, he decided to test his eyesight by putting his wife and four-year-old son in the car and then driving for 30 miles.
He was doing alright until then, wasn’t he? Cummings knows how to bury the truth underneath ‘facts’ and up until the jaw-dropping ‘I drove 30 miles with my kid in the car to see if my eyes were working’ debacle he was, almost, succeeding. Nice, on-brand opening: shuffling out into the Downing Street Rose Garden half an hour later than advertised and muttering ‘Sorry I was late’. Wow, four words in and he’d stretched our credulity already.
It’s entirely possible that he hadn’t intended to keep everyone waiting in diva-esque fashion, but it’s very hard to believe that he was actually sorry about that. Or indeed anything. Classic Dom doesn’t do sorry. Which is a shame for him, the government, and the nation as a whole, because a halfway sincere ‘sorry’ would have buttered infinitely more parsnips than the lengthy prepared – oh, so very prepared – statement of exculpatory waffle that we got.
Cummings’s case, such as it was, appeared to be that he had not in fact broken all the lockdown travel restrictions and guidelines when he broke all the lockdown travel restrictions and guidelines because he had ‘exceptional circumstances’. What exactly those exceptional circumstances were seemed to shift slightly over the course of the presentation… that he has a kid (scarcely exceptional, lots of us have those), that he thought he was ill (less exceptional these days than ever), that people were writing mean things about him (kettle, this is pot; come in, kettle)… It eventually became clear that the ‘exceptional circumstances’ which Cummings believed applied in this instance are the same ones he believes always apply to him: being Dominic Cummings.
The one thing which he managed to avoid mentioning – and which maddeningly the assembled journos didn’t pick him up on – is that while there is, perhaps, a bit of wiggle room built into the lockdown guidelines; a bit of space for judgment and interpretation, especially where looking after one’s children is concerned… all of that goes out of the window once you’re actually infected, or believe yourself to be infected, as Mr and Mrs Cummings did when they set out for Durham.
Once you’re infected, there’s one rule and one rule only: you do not travel. Anywhere. For any reason. No exceptions.
This is why what Cummings freely acknowledges he did is far more serious than the infractions that got Catherine Calderwood and Neil Ferguson fired.
When they broke the rules, they weren’t, as far as they knew, carrying the virus. Cummings believed he was, and yet he and his similarly stricken wife set off up the country, carrying the infection as they went.
Because it’s not really about ‘the rules’; it’s about the virus. I haven’t seen my 79-year-old widowed mum for months now, not because I’m ‘obeying the rules’ but because there’s a virus out there which could kill her and I can’t take the chance. I don’t, as far as I know, have the virus, but I’d greatly increase her risk of catching it by travelling to see her.
And a couple of weeks ago, I was holding my weeping girlfriend’s hand as she watched her beloved grandpa’s funeral on her laptop.
But now here we are; Cummings is – at time of writing – safe in his job, as the prime minister’s statement, and all the cut n’ pasted tweets of craven, supplicant Tory MPs and ministers made clear: he acted ‘within the guidelines and with integrity’ when he broke all the guidelines while risking untold people’s lives for his own convenience.
Boris Johnson is taking a far greater risk by tethering his own fortunes to Cummings’ than perhaps he realises. They have collectively failed to ‘read the room’ on this occasion to an alarming degree. Johnson may not face re-election for four years but in my lifetime, more Tory leaders have been defenestrated from within the party than voted out by the population. Looking at the condemnatory headlines on the front pages of, of all papers, the Daily Mail, one wonders if the party grandees are reaching into the knife drawer once more.