This weekend, it emerged that chief government advisor Dominic Cummings – known for his deranged blog posts and successfully masterminding the Vote Leave campaign – had driven 260 miles to his parents' estate in Durham, after he suspected that his wife had coronavirus. According to a press conference held by Cummings on Sunday, he later made three other trips: one to a hospital in Durham to pick up his wife and child, one 30-mile trip to Barnard Castle in Teesdale to – yes, you're reading this correctly – check his eyesight, and then a final trip back down to London to return to work.
After the story broke, anger swept the nation. At a time when people have missed funerals and been unable to visit elderly relatives or newborn grandchildren due to the lockdown, Cummings' revelation came as a slap in the face.
When other government figures, including scientist Neil Ferguson and Scotland’s chief medical advisor Catherine Calderwood, were found to have bent the lockdown guidelines, they promptly stepped down. Different rules apply for Cummings, it seems. During the hour-long press conference in the Number 10 rose garden (just to add to the surreality of it all), Cummings gave his justification for breaking the lockdown. "I believe that in all circumstances I behaved reasonably and legally," he said to the assembled media, "balancing the safety of my family and the extreme situation in Number 10 and the public interest in effective government to which I could contribute."
Boris Johnson and his Cabinet were quick to rally around the advisor. In the midst of calls for Cummings to be fired, Johnson told the public in a daily coronavirus briefing that he acted “responsibly, legally and with integrity”, while Michael Gove told Sky News that taking a 30-mile trip with suspected coronavirus symptoms was fine, as it counted as “some exercise for a limited period." Absurdly, Gove also told LBC that he had, on occasions, driven to test his eye sight.
For the British public, it’s like living in political fever dream, where blatant rule-breaking is defended as responsible parenting. We are being gaslit by our own government, who told us not to leave the house if we had coronavirus symptoms, but who now argue that Cummings' choice to do exactly that was an act of fatherly heroism.
Then there’s the issue of Cummings’ story. Like a bad movie with continuity errors and weird plot holes, the Dominic Cummings saga simply does not add up. Here's why.
1. Why drive 30 miles to a spot of natural beauty to “test your eyesight”?
In Cummings' weekend press conference, he claimed that the reason he visited Barnard Castle in Durham was to check whether the virus had affected his eyesight in a way that would prevent him from driving back to London. Why you would undertake a 30-minute drive with your son and wife in the car if you weren’t sure your eyesight was good enough to actually see the road? Guess that’s just nutty, genius Cummings at it again!
2. If Cummings' eyesight was in question, why didn't his wife drive?
Oh yeah, so on that point about Cummings' eyesight. According to a 2012 Spectator article, his wife – Mary Wakefield – is a capable driver. If his eyesight was in question, a normal response would have been, “OK, darling, perhaps you should drive,” not, “Buckle up, kiddo. We’re going on a danger ride to poplar tourist destination Barnard Castle, where Daddy might not be able to see!!”
3. How is it that Cummings knows no one who could reasonably look after his child in London?
Cummings claims that the motivation for his journey north centred on the need for childcare in case he and his wife became ill. “I was worried that if my wife and I were both seriously ill, possibly hospitalised," he said during the press conference, "there was nobody in London that we could reasonably ask to look after our child and exposed themselves to COVID.”
According to Cummings, this exercised a loophole in the government guidelines that allowed people to leave the home if there was risk to the health of a child.
What the British public are asking, however, is: was there not a single person in the city in which he and Wakefield live who could have taken care of their child? Do they not have one friend in London – or at least, somewhere closer than Durham – who may have been able to help, should they both become ill?
4. If this was so completely above board, why did Cummings' wife write an extensive Spectator article omitting the trip?
On the 25th of April, Wakefield wrote a piece for the Spectator about her battle with coronavirus. It discloses many personal details about the private life of Cummings’ family – the most shocking of which is probably the fact that Cummings calls someone, “sweetheart.” While there’s plenty of detail on how beloved a husband Cummings is and how it is to contract the virus, there seems to be a notable omission: the family’s trip to Durham. Indeed the entire piece is written as if no trip took place. Wakefield even mentions emerging “from quarantine into the almost comical uncertainty of London lockdown.” She forgets to include the bit about emerging via a four-hour drive from the north of England.
5. It just doesn't add up
The government would like us to stop talking about Dominic Cummings’ breach of the lockdown rules. They think that we are stupid or – unlike Cummings, apparently – blind. Unfortunately, implementing a lockdown with the unambiguous rule, "Stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives," means that when a government official breaks said rule, the entire population knows how fucked up it is. As Michael Gove has found, there is simply no way to defend Cummings' behaviour.
Perhaps it's time for Cummings to take one final trip. This time, it should be straight out of Number 10. I think the lockdown rules would allow for that.
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