Has Dominic Cummings pulled a fast one?

I want to describe his trip to Durham during the lockdown as somewhere between “grossly irresponsible” and “utterly foolish”. But it is a little too easy to write him off.

This is the man who took a pile of grievances about things that had little to do with the European Union and coalesced them into a vote for Brexit — even though this will make life worse for most of those who voted for it.

This is the man who (apparently) took last year’s parliamentary stalement and Boris Johnson’s illegal prorogation of Parliament and enabled the Tories to win a handsome majority — even though the tiny increase in the Conservative vote makes it look more like a vote against a Corbyn government than support for a Johnson one.

His Durham trip has been roundly condemned, but he’s survived. I fear that, once again, he has done something I think is foolish, but which might just work to his advantage.

Covid19 is a strange illness because many people show no symptoms, and many more don’t need hospital treatment. We are taking it seriously because of its severe effects on a minority. But there will be people suffering financially or emotionally because of the lockdown who will want — and perhaps need — to see this as an exaggeration. Occasionally in the UK, and more often in the US, people have wanted to dismiss it as “no worse than flu”. Just because that is a denial of reality doesn’t mean people are not thinking it. Cummings’ dress and behaviour seems calculated to say “the establishment is wrong” — he’s just positioned himself as the hero of people who see concern over Covid19 as “the establishment” making life difficult.

He’s given a perfect excuse to anyone wanting to break the rules, in this lockdown, or in future ones.

The government seems to have been trying to avoid creating a situation where its scientists are drawn into commenting on what Cummings did. That’s probably right, but for people frightened by the scientists’ comments, or who have “had enough of experts”, what he’s done is to sideline them.

The storm has also pushed away from the front pages the very real figures for Covid19 deaths in the UK, which are high enough to put a question mark over the wisdom of relaxing the lockdown. It’s also pushed away the complexity of talks with the EU over a post-Brexit deal and sidelined the wise politicians who are saying that we should extend the transition period rather than have the economy being badly hurt both by Covid19 and by Brexit.

We’re nowhere near the end of the Covid19 saga. Numbers will go up again as the lockdown is relaxed. Cummings has undermined the effectiveness of lockdown, so we will face more stories of very real suffering than we would have done had he stayed in London. They will help to hide bad news stories about negotiations with the EU, which were always going to be difficult, and are now also delayed. They also make easier to blame Covid19 for the very real economic damage of Brexit — especially if we leave without an agreement.

I hope I am wrong. I hope Cummings was just “very foolish”. But if I am right, the first thing we need to do is name the problem. We shouldn’t be blinded by anger at his folly the folly was a calculated ruse to hide something more sinister.

* Mark Argent was the Liberal Democrat candidate in Huntingdon Constituency in 2019 and blogs at markargent.com/blog.

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21 Comments

  • Nonconformistradical 2nd Jun '20 - 9:19am
  • All these people campaigning to remove Cumings have probably spent the week end laying on the beach ,spreading the coronavirus & leaving the beaches strewn with contaminated rubbish. This country is full of hypocrites .

  • Simon McGrath 2nd Jun '20 - 9:34am

    This sounds like just another bonkers conspiracy theory

  • John Marriott 2nd Jun '20 - 10:12am

    Mark Argent refers to Cummings being behind the decision to call a GE last December. Mark, it takes two to tango, or, in this case, about six. The election could have been avoided, as I have written several times in LDV. The fact that the opposition parties were drawn on to what was a sucker punch speaks volumes about the lack of consensus both in parliament and the country in general.

    As far as the ‘Cummings Affair’ monopolising political debate is concerned, that also speaks volumes to what excites the national psyche. Yes, what Cummings did was small beer compared with the bigger picture. However, many of us expect those who tell us what to do to play by the same rules. Johnson and his crew are assuming that a few days sunning on the beach, waving the children off to school or going back to work (if there’s still a job to return to) will make us forget one person’s transgression. However, if that infection rate goes above 1 and the Covid deaths start to climb again, perhaps our collective memories may not in fact be that short. After all, if Cummings can do as he pleases, why not the rest of us? After all, some might argue, this is supposed to be a free society!

  • terry 2nd Jun ’20 – 9:22am…………….All these people campaigning to remove Cumings have probably spent the week end laying on the beach ,spreading the coronavirus & leaving the beaches strewn with contaminated rubbish. This country is full of hypocrites……..

    Not hypocrites; just those who have decided that ‘sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander’..
    No action wwas taken against Cummings; in fact the entire leadership of the country applauded him for “thinking of his child’s wellbeing”.
    Many children have become extremely fractious by being ‘locked down’; how much of a leap is it to decide that ‘a day at the beach’ is “thinking of your child’s wellbeing”?

  • Christopher Love 2nd Jun '20 - 10:28am

    Cummings dress and demeanor are no more than inverted snobbery and extreme arrogance rolled into one
    I agree that he has very probably has constructed a formidable electioneering machine, and of course he controls it. New media (Facebook etc), but old tactics – 3 word slogans so favoured by the Nazis. Take Back Control is not unlike Work Makes Freedom, though the latter is much older peasant slogan appropriated by the Nazis. At any rate, the Nazi used TV and slogan to take control of a democratic state, and therefore we should not underestimate the efficacy of these tactics.
    Other than (all) that , don’t overthink! Arrogance does not make for wisdom.

  • People have been doing a Cummins for months. Does anyone really believe that all those cars are going somewhere vital or that a lot of people haven’t been popping round to see friends and relatives or have carefully avoided opening parcels as soon as they arrive to comply with the recommended guidelines. It’s a farce.

  • We’re nowhere near the end of the Covid19 saga. Numbers will go up again as the lockdown is relaxed.
    Whilst an increase will garner news, a more troubling aspect is the focus on keeping the R value below 1 and ensuring hospitalisations are kept within manageable bounds. This to me suggests that we could be in for months where several thousand people a day are admitted to hospital and we have a hundred or so deaths each day – with this being the new normal.

  • If he got the virus, and saw colleagues in a serious condition, it is quite possible that he had a minor mental breakdown fueled by fear, which would prove nothing more than that he is human. Agree there were lots of infringements going down, esp in the younger population.

  • Glenn 2nd Jun ’20 – 12:07pm………………..People have been doing a Cummins for months. Does anyone really believe that all those cars are going somewhere vital or that a lot of people haven’t been popping round to see friends and relatives or have carefully avoided opening parcels as soon as they arrive to comply with the recommended guidelines. It’s a farce………….

    Those of us ‘at risk’ (at least those I know) haven’t…Elderly dog walkers, like me, are very concious of the risk. This risk, after contracting the virus, increases with age and vulnerability; what is ‘minimal’ risk to a teenager may well be a death sentence to me.

    The relaxation has nothing to do with ‘scientific advice’ on this virus and all to do with the economy; in fact, the sudden ‘leap’ last weekend has even more to do with ‘moving on from the Cummings fiasco.
    But, back to where we are, any ‘second peak’ will put the country back two months with all that entails; hence the warnings from those ‘experts’ whose advice, we were assured just weeks ago, led all decisions..

  • Expats
    I don’t think its just teenagers stretching the guidelines. I think lots of thirty, forty and fitty somethings as well as some older people have been stretching the guidelines more or less right from the start.. There’s a lot pretence. It isn’t just about the economy. It’s about governments imposing rules that a lot of people find lonely, dull and impossible to live by, so after a week or so they started finding excuses to pop round to see a friend or a relative. The assumption has been that everyone is doing what they’re told to do and that they see politicians as examples. I know a lot don’t. I stick to rules, but this is because (A)I’m sort of loud and annoying so anyone I did threaten to visit would probably pretend to be dead or in the midst of an emergency and (B) so I can pompously make a big deal of sticking to rules despite not believing in them on the grounds that if didn’t I couldn’t complain about their arbitrary nature, authoritarianism and inability to actually alter private behaviour in the people I observe. I think it has been an ineffective pointless experiment backed up by cant and the fear of admitting that it isn’t really workable even for the people who demanded it.

  • There appears to be a lot of evidence that people are trying to avoid catching the disease. They are frightened for themselves, and even more for elderly relations. Unfortunately the performance in the daily television from Downing Street has in reality not helped. We have seen ministers who clearly have little idea what they are talking about, ministers who fail to reply to simple questions, but simply follow the script. The comparison graph with other countries is a clear example. We were shown the figures when the U.K. was bottom for infections. This stopped when we moved towards the top.
    The Cummings affair was a catalyst. For many people it showed what they already knew, but this was a human story that people felt comfortable talking about.
    We are in an increasingly serious situation as a country. We still have a government out of its depth.

  • Glenn: not sure where all your cars were weeks ago, they were not round here and I walk over or drive (through work) on the M6 daily.

  • noncomformistradical article is VERY interesting. I also found revealing the articles on Raab and McVey. It helps you to know where/who the Tory brexiteers are .

  • Peter Martin 2nd Jun '20 - 5:30pm

    @ Glenn,

    “It’s a farce”

    You really don’t know what you are talking about.

    The death rate hasn’t fallen from nearly 1000 per day to less than 200 because the virus has decided not to kill quite so many people. It’s fallen because the vast majority of the population has abided by most of the restrictions most of the time. Just like when we’re driving our cars on the road, we aren’t perfect, but we’re good enough to make a substantial difference.

  • John Marriott 2nd Jun '20 - 7:53pm

    @Peter Martin’
    You’re wasting your time with ‘Glenn’. He’s just not listening.

  • Peter Martin
    I mean the pretence that lockdown is working is farce. Also if you don’t perform autopsies, encourage doctors to put covid 19 on suspicion alone and pretend that it is virtually the only thing killing people then of course the figures will not go down. Heart disease, cancers, old age, flu, other pneumonias cannot have all been replaced by this coronavirus>
    The insistence that the attempt at mass house is working at the same time pointing at a high death rates in countries that practiced it is hardly proof of its validity as medical tool, is it? If the lockdowns are truly preventing deaths then the countries that avoided them should have had overwhelmed medical services and much higher death rates than those that did. They haven’t. South Korea which a lot of lockdown proponents claim did the right thing actually quarantined the sick rather the the healthy (people have been doing that for thousands of years), Japan tried it for a bit then gave up, Iceland has had ten deaths, Belarus about three hundred, and so on. According to the model we used to justify this experiment in disease control these countries should have much higher death rates than us or France, Belgium and so on. They do not. You’re then left with the argument that it must have worked in Germany or Greece because they have low death rates, but again this does not explain why counties that did not do the same thing also have low death rates. Let me suggest that a lot of pro-lock down people have got to believe it is working because if it isn’t then the damage to society has been for nothing.

  • John Marriot
    I am listening, but none of you seem to offer proof. You keep asserting it is right policy despite high death rates and refuse to acknowledge that low death rates in countries that are not doing the same thing might suggest that lockdown is the wrong policy. It’s like bleeding people with leeches. Nothing can shake you from the insistence that it’s a great practice even though not doing it doesn’t lead to worse results. Instead you all keep insisting that we should have bled the patient more intensely for longer. But pointing at all the deaths we’ve had in lockdown is hardly convincing proof that we should continue with it.

  • Antony Watts 3rd Jun '20 - 9:23am

    You have to understand, Cummings does not make policy. His game is to take two opposing sides and make them play chicken. The one that ducks first is the loser, the other is policy and on goes Johnson with that.

  • The govn will claim the lock-down has saved 500,000 lives against an extra 60000 deaths compared to the five year average (that curve now close to normal) due to the exponential spread of virus without lock-down, although there is no data showing what would have happened if there had been no lock-down but if 2 million had just been shielded, when there would have been a much higher infection rate but a much lower percentage death rate in the populace (due to the shielding of those most likely to expire).

    Just a thought, but I would like to see the death rate for vegetarians as you rarely see that “type” in the hospital videos (they tend to be more slender than the norm)

  • Richard Underhill 3rd Jun '20 - 9:40am

    Antony Watts 3rd Jun ’20 – 9:23am
    Therefore there could be a disagreement with the Chancellor at some stage.
    When Nigel Lawson resigned the Prime Minister did not, at least not immediately.
    Sir Geoffrey Howe made a famous speech, reportedly his wife was angry with the treatment he had received from Mrs. Thatcher.

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