Ifan Morgan Jones
The response from many people to the revelation that Dominic Cummings broke the UK Government’s own rules on coronavirus travel has been to shrug the shoulders.
Yes, he should resign, they say – but he won’t. Nothing matters any more. The public are apathetic, the government has no sense of public duty, there’s one rule for them and another for us.
There’s a danger here that we have slowly been condition by years of Trump and Brexit to think that nothing government does has any consequences any more. They always get away with it.
But I think this is fundamentally different. The reason all the Brexit bad news did not harm the government was that most people, or at least enough people, supported Brexit come way may.
In a hyper-partisan political divide, perceived incompetence does not matter, because most people would rather a seemingly incompetent government which agrees with them that a competent one they fundamentally disagree with.
But this is what makes the case of Dominic Cummings completely different, in that the public overwhelmingly support the lockdown.
More than that, the vast majority of people have adhered to it, even at great personal cost to themselves. People have not been able to attend the funerals of close family members because of the lockdown.
As a result, the news that the top advisor of the UK Government which imposed that lockdown on them disregarded it so flagrantly will genuinely anger an awful lot of people.
According to the Daily Mirror, shortly after the lockdown was imposed Cummings’ travelled 250 miles from London to his parents’ home in Durham with coronavirus symptoms.
Mr Cummings and his wife, who was also unwell, stayed at his parents’ home while self-isolating.
Going to stay with elderly parents when you come down with Covid would seem to me, and no doubt most people, to be the exact sort of thing the rules were designed to discourage.
The UK Government’s own rules which remain in force despite the lockdown being relaxed are completely unambiguous: if you have coronavirus symptoms you must stay at home.
My partner and I were ill with coronavirus at about the same time as Dominic Cummings. We were looking after four children, including what was at the time a two-month-old baby.
The idea that we should, while symptomatic, have driven to my partner’s parents’ house – just five miles away – for help with the childminding duties was clearly at that time totally contrary to the strict lockdown rules imposed across the four nations.
Not everyone will have caught the coronavirus but people across the UK will have kept their distance from loved ones and will in many cases have not been able to work because they thought they weren’t allowed to take their children to elderly parents.
This strict message was reinforced by the resignations of top government scientist Neil Ferguson and Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer Dr Catherine Calderwood for less severe breaches of the rules.
Whether to sack Cummings is clearly going to be a tough decision for Prime Minister Boris Johnson. He is very much the ideological cornerstone and administrator of the whole government’s approach.
But the UK Government only has two options – do the right thing or watch the story become an open sore that weeps for days or weeks.
In the days of Corbyn’s opposition they may have been able to shake it off, but Keir Starmer will be pouring salt into that wound for however long Cummings remains in post. It will endlessly undermine anything the UK Government has to say on the lockdown.
And if they choose to keep Cummings it will also have the side-effect of fundamentally undermining the lockdown in the minds of the public. And in the midst of a pandemic that has already killed tens of thousands, that would be inexcusable.