This weekend’s news has been dominated by questions about the judgement and behaviour of Boris Johnson and his chief adviser Dominic Cummings.
I think it’s true to say that since I was first elected as an MP 5 years ago, I haven’t received as many spontaneous e-mails about a single issue over a 72 hour period than I’ve received about Dominic Cummings since Saturday. Many of the people who’ve written to me have never done so before, but are understandably angry at what they describe as the poor judgement and hypocrisy of the Prime Minister and his chief adviser.
Most people are aware of the facts; that Mr Cummings made a 260 mile trip to Durham at a time when the public were being advised to stay at home, and then made a further trip to Barnard Castle before returning to London.
In following the Government’s advice to ‘stay at home’ many people have made huge sacrifices. People have gone months without seeing children, parents or grandchildren in the flesh and without being able to hug those dearest to them. Some people have missed the chance to say goodbye to loved ones or not been able to attend the funeral of friends or family members.
They have made these sacrifices because the Government said it was necessary to stay at home to control the spread of coronavirus – to save lives and protect the NHS. People are therefore justifiably angry to learn that someone at the heart of government – and a key figure in drawing up that advice – has been behaving as though the rules that apply to everyone else do not apply to him. Mr Johnson has backed his adviser despite the public outcry.
But what many people have found most infuriating is Mr Cummings’ insistence that he did nothing wrong and his refusal to apologise. This is not just unacceptable but potentially dangerous. A number of the government’s advisers on behavioural science have said that they believe Dominic Cummings’ actions and the defence of him by the Prime Minister and his senior ministers compromise the government’s public health message which, in turn, could put lives at risk.
Despite Mr Cummings’ press conference, many people will, like me, be very sceptical about his comments. His statement that his trip to Barnard Castle with his family (on his wife’s birthday) was intended to test whether his eyesight was fit for driving seems scarcely credible, as does his assertion that he undertook the trip to Durham without telling the Prime Minister.
Many people have written to me to demand that Dominic Cummings should resign or be sacked. Labour Leader Keir Starmer has said that if he were Prime Minister he would have sacked his chief adviser. Responding to the Prime Minister’s press conference, Keir Starmer said:
“This was a test of the Prime Minister and he has failed it. It is an insult to sacrifices made by the British people that Boris Johnson has chosen to take no action against Dominic Cummings. The public will be forgiven for thinking there is one rule for the Prime Minister’s closest adviser and another for the British people.
Labour will continue to call for an urgent inquiry. Parliament is in recess this week, but when I return next week along with my colleagues, we will try to convey in person the strength of feeling expressed by so many of our constituents.