Either Cummings or No 10 is guilty of gross misjudgmentby Jill Rutter / May 23, 2020 / Leave a comment
Dominic Cummings is supposed to be the smartest political operator in town.
So when he decided that the only way he and his ailing wife could care for their child was to drive cross-country, safari-style, while going down with Covid-19, he must have known that this had the potential to be a story. After all, the one memorable message the government was drilling into us was to “Stay at Home”—and any news involving Cummings is premium clickbait.
The No 10 adviser must have known his actions would look deeply hypocritical; undermining both the government’s immediate message and its moral authority. What possessed him to take them?
He clearly faced a dilemma. Self-isolation is much more tolerable in a nice house on a family estate than in a busy city, even a townhouse in Islington. Family would be on hand to get food, though neighbourhood assistance was available in North London and if things had got really bad, there would have been relatives to care for the four-year-old. Work pointed one way; family the other.
But if Cummings thought he was really doing the right thing, he should have warned the PM and the cabinet secretary. If the PM was too ill to make the call, he should have spoken to his deputy, Dominic Raab. Cummings could have presented them with his dilemma—and asked them to confirm that it was OK for him to go. And Johnson or Raab could have checked in with others in the cabinet—not least because they would need to front press conferences behind a “Stay at Home” banner.
No 10, anticipating the potential story, could have put out a low-key press line. “Dominic Cummings’s family is unwell with Covid-19, and they have decided to self-isolate in Durham, where other family members are on hand to help him.”
But just thinking about the press “line to take” should have made even relatively unsavvy ministers balk at the decision. How would they fend off the questions? Other people have to look after their kids while sick, so why can’t Cummings and his wife? Do they have no friends in London who can drop off their shopping? No other way at all of finding childcare? Where in the government guidance does it…