The presentation yesterday by Dominic Cummings in the back garden of No10 Downing Street was fascinating and frustrating in equal aspects. So what is clear and easy to understand is that he was the first and possibly the last SpAd who will make a presentation about himself before the SpAd rules get changed or perhaps before the number of SpAds get significantly reduced. It was also clear based on his own claims and the videos filmed over the last few days that his home gets surrounded by residents or visitors and media and the experience is not a very positive one for him or for anyone else. Clearly that is very unfortunate, although as we can all recall he is the not the first or last person who has made radical public statements and that these have led to neighbours and the media in a range of settings coming out and either supporting or opposing the person concerned. Perhaps we must find new ways of ensuring that if people make radical approaches, that they can be spoken to by people in a way that doesn’t make them feel under threat. However by the same token they must understand that they live in a community and that their neighbours will be very aware of their actions and may want to respond to them.
One of the issues that should have emerged in the statements by Cummings and Johnson and all of the people they were instructing was what lockdown means in practice for all of us including themselves. Given that Johnson moved to at least three places throughout the last 10 weeks and Robert Jenrick was heavily criticised for travelling to his second residence on one occasions this current response should not be a surprise to Cummings. There are other people in Parliament, the Civil Service and who work for agencies such as the NHS and The Police who have had to make very difficult decisions knowing that their normal arrangements would fall outside of the rules laid out by Cummings and Johnson in a way that these three men have chosen not to. In my view Dominic’s prepared statement and then his response to the questions last night failed to address the fact that he has ignored the rules he has written even though he made this first comment before he got into the questions:
I know that millions [of people] have endured awful hardship including personal tragedies over the past few months and people are suffering everyday and I know the British people hate the idea of unfairness. I wanted to explain what I thought, what I did and why over this period because I think the people like me who helped to make the rules should be accountable for their actions.
If he is prepared to be accountable, then his willingness to offer to resign is surely vital. After all his colleagues called for, and supported the resignation of Neil Ferguson who was also exposed to a great deal of public reactions from people who were offended that he ignored his own call for people to remain in their own homes. However Cummings has made it clear he will not do so. Early on he was asked:
Q: Did you offer to resign when you saw the Prime Minister?
A: No I have not offered to resign.
Q: Did you ever consider it?
A: No I have not considered it
and towards the end of the Question and Answer session he was asked
Q: If the episode does rumble on will you review your position in a week or so?
A: Its up to the Prime Minister – if the Prime Minister thinks I should stop, that’s not for me to decide, its up to him to decide!
One of his final statements was:
I know that I’ve made mistakes in dealing with this thing [COVID-19] going right back to January. I think that my behaviour in these 14 days, I think when people hear everything that happened, I hope the people will agree that it was reasonable. They might not think that they would have done the same things but I hope the people will agree that it was reasonable calculations in all the circumstances and I don’t think what I did in these 14 days was a mistake but I certainly made a lot of other mistakes, I make mistakes every day!
So he got this question which seems to suggest he did not consider the prospect of getting COVID as needing a meaningful solution:
QJust finally before you made the decision to drive up to Durham did you make any enquiries with neighbours or friends to see if they or any other people in London who may have been able to help you should you have needed help with looking after your son?
AI didn’t know first of all I don’t think it would be reasonable to ask someone or a friend to come and expose themselves to a deadly disease when a 17 year old niece has already volunteered to do it for me so to be honest I didn’t really think about that, I thought that if this nightmare does happen that is the best thing for everybody.
What is clear is that none of us are able to avoid the risk of getting sick and our illness impacting children or other people in our families. Such conditions mean that we will need to make difficult decisions if we cannot care for our own children and our close relatives. If we are not prepared to ask for help from our neighbourhoods or friends and seem unwilling to pay for assistance if we have the budget to do so, there is clearly something concerning. Equally if we are not willing to resign if our role places us in a difficult position then there starts to be many other questions about our priorities and principles.