So it is almost a week since the Dominic Cummings story broke and we have learnt a great deal about where we are as a country. However, perhaps the most important lesson that we have learnt is that at best the government is not very good at politics. This matters. I am not at all sure whether Dominic Cummings actually broke the letter of the law when he drove from London to Durham but that is irrelevant to how the this story is shaping public opinion. What has taken hold is the fact that the second (or is that first?) most important in the British government has behaved in such a way as to cast doubt on all the suffering, however small, we have all been through during the first lockdown. This is what has really built up the furry and this in turn has exposed the conceit at the heart of the Johnson government – Cummings has got his finger on the pulse of the nation. He clearly has not. Instead what he appears to have is utter contempt for the great unwashed – so much for being the People’s Tribune. Instead of contrition we have had hubris – why, for example, did he not hold the press conference when the story broke on Saturday morning? He did have reasons for his behaviour, whether you agree with them or not. Instead, we were treated to press releases that were, at best, an approximation of the truth and attempt to throw mud at the papers who had the temerity to report on the story.
Boris Johnson has also destroyed much of the trust he had by continuing this contempt by saying he had looked into this and there was nothing to see so please move on. That went down like a lead balloon and he found his authority shot to pieces. All of the stupid tweets of support, including from the Attorney General for England and Wales*, only underlined the contempt that the government was showing towards the people. It was culminated in the way that yesterday when Matt Hancock insinuated, whether intentionally or not, that people were a bit thick for not having picked up on the fact that there was the Dominic Cummings’ get of jail clause as he was at the press conference when it was announced. So you see it was all your fault for not being as brainy as Dominic. (I may well be being unfair to the Health Secretary of England as I am sure he didn’t mean it in that way but given the febrile atmosphere at the moment that is how it came across.)
The story now is that the government are going to tough it out. They have an 80 seat majority and in a week or so’s time this will be soon forgotten – especially when the Premier league restarts – I guess this could be called the Bread and Circus approach. However, this does matter because we are nowhere near the end of this lockdown. We might have weathered the first wave but we don’t know how things will develop as the summer gives way to the first chill of autumn. If things do take a turn for the worse, let us all hope that isn’t the case, then trust in what the government has to say about this and what we all have to do becomes vitally important. (It is now but I think at the moment it has taken a huge knock.)
This morning I heard a government warning about the Coronavirus. In it tried to define what Staying Alert meant which amongst other things means:
“Do not leave home if you or anyone else has symptoms”
My first reaction was to think, ‘Unless you are Dominic Cummings”. And that is the true damage of this whole mess. Far fewer people will accept such messages at face value and this could well be vital in the weeks and months ahead. This is all as a result of hubris, incompetence and contempt. This won’t bring down the government. It won’t stop Boris Johnson from being Prime Minister. It may have little or no affect in four plus years time when there is likely to be another election. But it has severely damaged Boris Johnson’s reputation and that is very difficult to recover from – Just ask Sir John Major.
*Durham Police are now fully investigating Cummings’ behaviour whilst in County Durham and they will undoubtedly pass the file onto the file on to the the county senior prosecutor who works for the Attorney General for England and Wales who has already compromised herself on this case.