Lawyers sometimes refer to a client’s convoluted and implausible account of their actions as “the utter bollocks defence” writes Andy Stowe.
Explaining a thirty-mile drive with your partner in the front seat and a small child in the back of the car because you wanted to make sure your eyes were in decent working order would be an example.
This may now be rechristened as the “Dominic Cummings defence” following its deployment by Boris Johnson’s advisor at his press conference which was little more than an extended “f**k you little people, the rules don’t apply to people like me” directed at everyone who’s been housebound for weeks, who hasn’t been able to see dying family members and to every single shop or health worker, bus driver or care assistant who has been working and dying through the pandemic.
The fact that the trip to a beauty spot coincided with his wife Mary Wakefield’s birthday was pure chance.
In his press conference to explain why he broke lockdown rules he’d been involved in drafting, Cummings utterly demolished the British prime minister’s career, reputation and legacy. Johnson’s tenure of office will be defined by tens of thousands of coronavirus deaths and a defence of an arrogant, unapologetic functionary.
Big chunks of the Tory Press have turned against him.
Clare Foges wrote in The Times:
“The arrogance and hypocrisy of the PM’s adviser, and ministers’ defence of him, will do lasting damage to this government.”
Foges’ point about Tory ministers is well made. They’d been appearing on TV giving performances normally only delivered by people wearing orange jumpsuits with a Kalashnikov bearing jihadi standing behind them. Forced to recite a script they’d not written and didn’t really understand, they were the incarnation of gutless, unprincipled careerists bereft of all self-respect.
The house journal of British proto-fascism, the Daily Mail said of his press conference:
“You made your own interpretation of the rules, you don’t regret what you did – and for now you are just going to have to contend with the unceasing fury you have unleashed.
Cummings and Johnson know that what he did was unacceptable.
Wakefield wrote an article for The Spectator on Cummings’ bout of the disease, a fable she was allowed to retell on BBC radio’s flagship news programme, without once mentioning their 260 mile drive from London to Durham.
That’s not a minor detail and that breach of professional ethics should disqualify her from ever working for a reputable publication ever again. It is much more likely to secure her a £100 000 a year column in the Daily Telegraph.
On the day Cummings made his statement, the International Centre for Disease Control announced that the UK now has the highest number of coronavirus deaths in the world per million of population – a higher per million death rate than countries will leaderships as dysfunctional as the United States or Brazil.
Medical professionals, the police and the Daily Mail are giving same message about the consequences of Johnson’s endorsement of what Cummings did:
“If Dominic Cummings can break the rules, we can too!’ Fears lockdown will collapse with crowds hitting parks and beaches in 79F heatwave after Boris Johnson’s top aide drove 270 miles to Durham”
The Mail asked, perfectly reasonably “WHAT PLANET ARE THEY ON?”
The answer of course is that they live on the planet where it is considered perfectly normal for family members to live in a castle, as Wakefield’s parents do, or to have a private wood you can stroll in, like The Cummings do. It is the world of the rich and powerful, the world of the ruling class.
It is a tribute to the particular genius of Johnson and Cummings, as well as a statement on the level of class consciousness in the British working class, that these are the people who headed the racist, populist Brexit campaign which got the Tories into office with a huge majority.
Paradoxically it is the populist Tory press and demagogues like Piers Morgan and Julia Hartley-Brewer who are most viscerally expressing the outrage of millions.
Keir Starmer and the Labour leadership are offering measured criticism which doesn’t capture the anger and real hatred that millions are feeling towards Johnson and Cummings.
“It is an insult to sacrifices made by the British people that Boris Johnson has chosen to take no action against Dominic Cummings. The public will be forgiven for thinking there is one rule for the Prime Minister’s closest adviser and another for the British people.
“The Prime Minister’s actions have undermined confidence in his own public health message at this crucial time.”
This is true as far as it goes, but it’s much too tepid at a time when the political leaders of the ruling class are doing things that will kill thousands.
Johnson gives the appearance of a man who knows that he has been seriously wounded politically. The resignation of one of the six Scottish Tory MPs from government will significantly add to that. Douglas Ross, a minister in the Scotland Office is obviously concerned that his constituents will not accept Cummings bluster.
The Tories will not want Johnson in office in the run up to the next election. Neither he nor Cummings will ever be free of the stench of death.