Since the Dominic Cummings scandal broke on Friday night, it’s been hard to concentrate on anything else. My blood pressure was already rising following the nonsensical announcement that from the 8th June, anyone arriving in UK from abroad would have to self-isolate for two weeks, a case of bolting the stable door after the horse has had time to go on holiday and clip-clop back several times.
The quarantine guidance, which should have been in place since February to have any chance of making a difference, will not only prevent people in the UK travelling abroad for holidays, it will severely disrupt business travel – likely to be starting up again around that time – and will of course decimate any chance the UK tourism industry had of rescuing something from this dreadful year: 90% of overseas visitors come here for two weeks or less, so the likelihood is the UK will remain on their bucket list, rather than being ticked off.
The Cummings scandal has also put any questions we may have legitimately had about the First Minister’s vague routemap to get Scotland out of lockdown onto the backburner. I run an independent bookshop, am I allowed to open in Phase Two or Three? And when is that likely to be? My husband, furloughed since March 24th, has been assured his job is safe thankfully, but the hotel he works for is unsure which of the phases they will be allowed to reopen during and again, have no idea when that will be. To be fair to Nicola Sturgeon, she has consistently appeared for her daily press briefings and answered questions as clearly as she can. Compared to Boris Johnson, she has handled this crisis well. It’s a pretty low bar however.
Back to Cummings’ travels across the country at the height of lockdown, while he and his family were symptomatic. His claims that these were exceptional circumstances as he needed childcare; that the 60 mile round trip to a beauty spot on Easter Sunday, was to test his eyesight in preparation for the longer trip back to London; and his absolute inability to utter one word of apology or express any contrition, have incensed thousands of people across the nation. The extraordinary spectacle of an unelected advisor giving a press conference and the continued, craven defence of the indefensible by the cabinet, and of course Boris Johnson himself, have failed to snuff out the story.
It is breathtakingly arrogant for the government to claim Cummings acted with integrity and within the guidance. At the very least, he broke the spirit of the guidance he had been instrumental in implementing. It is worse for a succession of cabinet members to now claim that ‘the people’ must continue to abide by that guidance to do their civic duty. There could not be a clearer message that there is one rule for them and one for the rest of us. It has been suggested that if we had read the smallprint, we wouldn’t be talking about this. The implication being, I suppose, that we are all too stupid to understand perfectly clear messaging like Stay Alert.
We have all made sacrifices during this crisis. There are countless stories of stricken parents who managed childcare despite their own ill health. Of family members dying alone in hospital, or care homes, without loved ones to comfort them, or even able to attend their funerals. Births have been missed, babies not held by grandparents and we have all, by and large, obeyed the strong message to Stay Home, Protect the NHS and Save Lives. That messaging now lies in tatters. It is incredible that the government in charge of the greatest public health crisis in generations has thrown away public goodwill to protect one man. Perhaps it shouldn’t be however. The last time I felt this blaze of anger and incandescent rage was the 23rd June 2016, when I realised just how successful Dominic Cummings’ campaign of half truths and empty promises had been during the European Referendum.
If it were not so serious, it would be entertaining that the man who has done more to stir up division and polarity in the UK today is now himself being pursued by the angry mob. He is the one who has done most to frame those in public office and experts as ‘enemies of the people’. For someone whose entire career is based upon the fact that he can read the public mood, he has never seemed so out of touch and although we may have passed the peak of this outbreak, we are not through the bluebell woods yet, not by a long shot. So please, write to your MP. Tell them how angry you are and ask them to feed that back to government as often as it takes for either Boris Johnson or Dominic Cummings to break the habit of a lifetime and do the decent thing.
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