The Cummings chaos encapsulates Westminster’s horrific mismanagement of this pandemic

Dominic Cummings. Picture by Radical Larry (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Mike Parker

I’d like to say that my lack of ‘lockdown diary’ pieces in recent weeks was because I’ve been so focused on my book writing, but it wouldn’t really be true.  I’ve managed to exhume a little of my literary mojo, and for that I am deeply grateful, and bloody relieved, but the true reason for my radio silence is that the original ambition of these pieces was to explore the many wry absurdities of this strange hiatus, and they have been pretty much killed stone dead.

For there is not a shred of lightness to be found in the horrific realisation that our own government is prepared to sacrifice the lives of thousands of its citizens in order to save the careers of a small handful of incompetent ideologues.  It’s like looking for the funny side of having a brick hurled into your face.  The word ‘punchline’ isn’t supposed to be quite that literal.

And that is what this last week boils down to.  The UK is already one of the worst-affected countries on the planet for deaths from Covid-19.  The mismanagement by the Westminster government has been on a scale that defies comparison with anything that has gone before.  Hospitals are bracing themselves for further spikes of this brutal disease, as the lockdown breaks down irretrievably, in England especially.  It is chaos out there, and the single biggest reason for that, by a country mile (in fact, by 264 of them) is Dominic Cummings, forever destined to be the poster boy for the ‘Do As I Say, Not As I Do’ school of political leadership.

I shan’t replay the story, for that’s been better done elsewhere, but I do want to report from one small corner of it.  Welsh Conservative MPs, so braying and vocal only six months ago when they almost doubled their number at the election, have been uncharacteristically shy over the Cummings fiasco.  None would appear on Radio Wales to talk about it.  When the Western Mail sent a few very specific questions to all fourteen of them, only three even replied (and one of those only to say that she wouldn’t say anything).

My Tory MP since December, the unnaturally affable Craig Williams, sent what appeared to be a considered response when I wrote to him about it.  “I can see from your email that you are a genuine constituent with very relevant concerns regarding this matter and I will do my best to outline my thoughts”, he told me (as opposed, apparently, to one of those “usual campaigners that await any opportunity to destabilise the Government”.  Oh, Craig!  Flattery will get you everywhere.)

He levelled with me, as if offering a rare confidence at the bar in the rugby club (the high altar for Montgomeryshire Conservatives): “I completely understand the anger with which you have written to me”, before assuring me that he “certainly would not have taken the actions Mr Cummings did” and that it is “entirely reasonable for people to vehemently disagree with his explanation of events”.  If an email could clap you on the back, in a kind of pre-social distancing manly manner, this one would have done.

 

Prophesy

But then he snatched back the pint he’d just stood me.  “I have made ​it very clear to the Prime Minister’s office the strength of anger from some of my constituents about Mr Cummings’ behaviour, but I do not intend to take the matter further than that.”  But…why on earth not Craig?  Surely you can see the public health disaster engulfing us in slow motion because of Cummings, and the fact that no-one has even made him apologise, let alone resign?  Surely too, you’ve noticed that 45 of your Conservative colleagues – though none of the Welsh Trappists, sadly – have defied the party line in order to say that he must go?

Craig then finished off my pint, and it seemed to embolden him, albeit in the wrong direction.  First, he tried to make a virtue out of his pusillanimity, hollering that “when other politicians and leading figures ​such as the Welsh Labour Health Minister, ​are called to resign when ​they appear to have breached guidance, I refused to jump on the bandwagon. I refuse to do that again now.”  Ah yes, the grossly false equivalence of a ten minute stop to eat a bag of chips, with six hundred miles of journeys, dripping with the virus, dropping it off at god knows how many places and then flagrantly lying about it.

As a further justification for his doing nothing, the Honourable Member for Montgomeryshire also repeated that “Mr Cummings’ own difficulties were exacerbated by the fact that his home in London has for some time been a target for protesters, some of whom have threatened violence against him”.  The words “some time” are doing the dance of the seven veils there.  I’ve looked long and hard, and there is no mention by anyone back in March of his house being targeted by protestors.  It appears to be another one of those little details – like his own ability to prophesy a pandemic – retrospectively added by Cummings.

I spoke to a friend in Llanidloes over the weekend, and she too had written to our MP.  Her father died in April, without anyone by his side, because they had all obeyed the government diktat.  Along with almost all of her family, she’d been unable to go to his funeral.  She told Craig Williams of this, of her mother’s hell unfolding “at exactly the time when Dominic Cummings was giving himself permission to flout the laws he had created”, and finished her letter with, “I’m not interested in hearing the party line.  I am interested in knowing your feelings, as a human being.”

She received the exact same reply as me, word-for-word, comma-for-comma.  He didn’t even bother to refer to her father’s death.  He assured her too that she is “a genuine constituent with very relevant concerns”, and finished, as he did to me and presumably hundreds of other voters who contacted him, “I hope whether you agree ​or disagree with my rationale you can take some closure from this correspondence.”  Closure?  Not by a long chalk, Mr Williams.


Read more in Mike Parker’s series for Nation.Cymru below:

Part 1: We’ve been told before that things will never be the same again – can we mean it this time?

Part 2: Last weekend’s pandemic-panic awayday was inevitable – but so was the visceral response

Part 3: Will we use this crisis to rediscover the value of community – or for more suspicion and othering?

Part 4: The BBC needs to start listening to doctors – not government spin

Part 5: In a pandemic, fake news can become a lightning conductor for our fears and frustrations

Part 6: Could the pandemic bring us all back together while keeping us apart?

Part 7: This pandemic is the moment tech giants have been dreaming of – even I’m shoveling my data online

Part 8: Will the pandemic change the superior ‘screw you’ attitude of entitled second home owners?

Part 9: Lockdown is making it even harder to escape from our online echo chambers

Part 10: How have we managed to turn thanking the NHS into a pissing contest?

Part 11: This pandemic has revealed which countries are being governed by grown-ups

Part 12: After the Covid barriers come down, the psychological ones will take some dismantling

Part 13: The optimistic internationalism of VE Day risks being trampled by saccharine exceptionalism

Part 14: It’s 10 years since the Lib Dem-Tory austerity coalition birthed Brexit and our brutal tribalism

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