The near week long campaign for justice witnessed in our newspapers and across social media is no longer just about the idea that Dominic Cummings may have ignored, stretched or reinterpreted the government’s lockdown rules. It never really was.
Whether or not Dominic Cummings broke lockdown or should have resigned is a matter of opinion. The confirmation by Durham Police that he may well have broken the law and the precedent set by the forced resignations of Professor Ferguson and Doctor Calderwood suggest that maybe he should no longer be in his job, but it is clear that not everyone agrees.
One thing that is now certain is that Cummings will not resign and will not be sacked. The continued outcry from the media, swathes of the British public and even Conservative MPs, then, tells us that this is about far more than just a resignation that will likely never happen. That is why this isn’t going away.
Instead we are finally witnessing sustained pressure on a political party who, for many years now, have been able to control public opinion and discourse via a well oiled PR machine. The Conservatives have hidden, covered up, lied about or simply ignored anything that could reflect badly upon them as a party. And whenever they have been unable to do this, they have simply replaced their leader and claimed to be a brand-new government (with an largely identical cabinet). ‘I think it is time that we all move on’ is their latest slogan, so used are they to deciding such matters.
A few examples of their ability to escape sustained scrutiny are the Windrush scandal, the Grenfell Tower fire, the gradual deconstruction of the NHS and the promised but never published Russia Report. Each of these issues have been subjected to some form of inquiry or investigation, but within weeks of them making the news, the government has managed to wish away any bad press to come from them. Inquiries are far too easily brushed under the carpet – it is clear that scrutiny must happen in the now.
So, the media have decided to stand up for themselves for the first time in years and scrutinise the government properly. They are no longer part of the government machine (apart from the papers now publishing government sponsored articles of course), and that has come as a shock to those loyal to the establishment. This is a chance for journalists to make amends for enabling a government, whose incompetence and contempt has led its country to have THE SECOND HIGHEST EXCESS DEATH RATE IN THE WORLD during the covid-19 pandemic to be elected with such ease.
So while the media and public could let this go, they have every right to be angry – not just about Cummings, but about the way they have been let down entirely by the very people elected to support and protect them.
This last week has epitomised ten years of Tory rule. From the return of the ‘I’m sorry you feel that way’ excuse for an apology, to the elitism, the inability to accept any guilt whatsoever, and even the rewriting of history to suit their story – it has been a week, sadly, like almost every other. The statements made by ‘Downing Street sources’, Mary Wakefield, Number 10, senior cabinet ministers and Dominic Cummings himself are all full to the brim with inconsistencies. The lies being peddled by those in power are no longer even disguised as truths. Senior cabinet ministers have been seen on live television bending, reinterpreting and rewriting published public health policy. Suddenly an underdeveloped Test, Track and Trace program has been brought forward as a distraction, with its new ‘It is your duty’ message (I.e “there are no longer any real requirement for you to follow the rules, just like there never had been for us, but please do anyway”).
And that’s the worst part about this whole affair. The government has undermined its own public health message, rendering it useless. They have again forced themselves to wipe the slate and conjure up a new slogan on the spot. It is this government reaction that is 100 times worse than Dominic Cummings’ initial act. It will make millions wonder why they should bother to listen to any further government instructions at all. This therefore cannot be forgotten, forgiven or dropped – it is a highly visible symptom of the far larger problem of a government that has dismally failed its people at a time when they needed it the most.
And all of this comes after weeks of criminally negligent acts and omissions like the use of nursing homes as covid-19 hospices, the fiddling of testing stats, and PPE orders which hadn’t even been made when they were announced. Failing after failing, blamed on ‘the science’ which they refuse to publish, had already left millions losing trust.
So yes, the mass of journalists and photographers outside of Cummings’ house is frankly an embarrassment; yes there is a danger of focusing too heavily on this one issue, or allowing anger to cloud journalistic judgement; and no, Dominic Cummings and his innocent child should not be made to feel unsafe. But that does not mean that those in charge of the country should be allowed to get away with yet more poor governance.
Claims of ‘bullying’, political point scoring or that the mass media are looking for a sensational story are, in this case, nonsense. What we are witnessing is democracy. The British government is so unused to being subjected to any form of scrutiny that they have developed an intolerance to it – they despise it and will do anything to avoid it. The idea of accountability terrifies them more than anything. Their loyal supporters are too used to the media simply telling them what they want to hear. This has to, and will, change. The future of the country depends on it.
So, if you are growing tired of hearing about Dominic Cummings, just understand that something much larger and completely necessary is happening here. Think for a moment about those who have suffered the most during this pandemic, and how they are far more tired of this government and its unelected, all too powerful adviser failing them than you could ever imagine. This is not a circus, it is a desperately needed campaign for justice.