As Dominic Cummings became unexpectedly the most talked about name in the UK and monopolised media output, the long weekend marked a nadir in our society. What an incredibly selfish community we live in now, where “pile-ons” of those we disagree with are encouraged by Shadow Cabinet members and a general feeding frenzy occupies the Press.
In recent few months there was much hope that Britain would emerge from the divisions of Brexit to build a caring country where kindness and empathy became the guiding light. Sadly it has proved easier for entrenched interests to maintain hostilities.
The anger and bile being flung at Dominic Cummings is driven by a Press pack devoid of any objectivity.
Before the Cummings story exploded, I wrote about the proxy war being waged by the British media. I argued their motives had nothing to do with Coronavirus or lockdown rules, and everything to do with an attempted campaign to extend the transition period. The hounding of the Prime Minister’s chief adviser for making difficult choices for his family (within the law) is appalling to watch. “Dominic Cummings Derangement Syndrome” appears, sadly, to have gripped the nation. Whither the hashtag #BeKind? Genuine ambition or social media virtue-signalling?
It could be claimed the Government made a rod for its own back in holding daily press briefings. Even if necessary, when in good health Boris should have led them all or at least appointed an experienced politician as “Coronavirus Minister”. The true low point for the Press did not occur at the grilling of Mr Cummings on Sunday (although it was clear the journalists were each trying to extract their own “gotcha” moment), but at the daily press briefing 48 hours later. The ever languid Robert Peston attempted ludicrously to draw a parallel with Matt Hancock’s own experience of Covid-19 whilst remaining in London. Mr Hancock shut down Peston’s farcical question quite rightly by stating he (Hancock) had childcare in London, the Cummings family did not. No follow up question granted. Move on.
The anger and bile being flung at Dominic Cummings is driven by a Press pack devoid of any objectivity. Is it any wonder approval ratings for the Prime Minister have slumped in recent days? The Press is orchestrating a witch hunt with a view to holing the Boris administration below the water line. They have even started throwing the “People’s Government” strapline back in the face of Boris Johnson and his chief adviser.
The narrative has evolved to focus on minutiae. Well known journalists demanding to know whether Mrs Cummings is insured on her husband’s vehicle; why she chose not to mention her Durham journey in a recent article she wrote (she is an editor at the Spectator magazine); could Mr Cummings be prosecuted under the Highway Code; why didn’t they have any friends in London who could help? The list goes on and demonstrates how this has nothing anymore to do with lockdown guidance. The commentariat sense the Prime Minister is a wounded animal without his adviser alongside him and are circling like vultures. They must now be treated as hostile by Number 10.
The hypocrisy of all those concerned is breath-taking. Keir Starmer initially asked for facts then decided he would have sacked Cummings. But does this claim stand up to scrutiny? Several of his MPs are alleged to have flouted the lockdown guidance. Stephen Kinnock MP visited his parents’ house to celebrate his father’s birthday. Of course he sat outside and maintained social distancing, but why was this journey deemed “essential”? South Wales police even commented, “This is not essential travel”. No reprimand from Starmer.
Tahir Ali MP attended a funeral reportedly with another one hundred mourners. Ali apologised for his behaviour but the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner commented, “Mr Ali is not serving his constituents by endangering their lives”. Starmer chose not to take any further action. Ironically Cummings was forced to make the heart breaking decision not to attend his own Uncle’s funeral during lockdown, a point rarely mentioned by the media. Moreover Kevan Jones MP was filmed allegedly at a birthday party for a 100 year old constituent and talking to other guests. No disciplinary action was deemed necessary by the Opposition Leader.
Once again the proof is in the pudding, and Starmer chose to sit on his hands and remain silent in all instances. Perhaps in his mind the lockdown guidance only applies to known Brexiteers? Perhaps social events are acceptable but critical childcare choices are not?
Another of Cummings fiercest critics, Alastair Campbell, tweeted a picture of himself standing shoulder to shoulder with a member of the public on Wednesday 27th May, no social distancing to be seen. Very odd given Campbell’s vehement protestations that even small breaches of the rules were unacceptable and justified dismissal. The tweet was taken down swiftly and an apology issued. Draw one’s own conclusions.
A casual glance at the news over the last few weekends confirms how the British public is tiring of lockdown and heading for the seaside. Only last week, the scenes on Southend beach suggested social distancing was a distant memory for most. The Press pack has now conveniently pointed the finger of blame at Dominic Cummings, despite knowing this flouting has been happening since before the Prime Minister’s chief adviser was thrust into the media spotlight. Every scene of lockdown repudiation will be framed now in an anti-Cummings filter. Many of those by the sea and in the parks were already disregarding rules and packing their picnic baskets long before they had a new public enemy number one to blame.
Ultimately voters must make their own minds up. If the polls and approval ratings continue to fall, Boris may take the very reluctant decision to accept the resignation of his Chief Adviser. If that happens soon, then the blob has won. It would be better for those working themselves into a frenzy over this to analyse the facts. The Press has been waiting desperately for ammunition to kneecap Cummings ever since the referendum; some even years before. He is a pugnacious character who has rubbed many people up the wrong way. The attack on him though is pure and simple – a hatchet job. If he goes, it will set off a chain reaction that could cripple a successful Brexit, and put a technocratic Starmer-ish orthodoxy back in the driving seat.
In pursuit of this tawdry exercise, Sky News even went as far as door-stepping Cummings parents in Durham, whose only crime was to help their son in his moment of need. Where is the “new normal” on which we are supposed to be kinder, more empathetic and thoughtful? Would it not be beyond the wit of humankind to accept Mr Cummings actions for what they were – the acts of a man under huge pressure, taking difficult decisions to protect his child and family? Which parent can say honestly they would have acted differently? Surely now, more than ever, we should take heed of the zeitgeist hashtag and actually all #BeKind?
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