It stretches irony to almost breaking point that Barnard Castle is Durham slang for, ‘pathetic excuse’.
I watched the press conference with a mixture of incredulity and anger. Downing Street was asked for comment by the Guardian about the Cummings road trips over six weeks ago. There was no response. So when the story broke late last Friday it could hardly have been a surprise. But Number 10 only commented on Saturday morning with a rather flaky statement that seems to have been forgotten. Shapps fielded the press and said that neither Cummings nor his family had been in touch with the police. He denied the other trips. Both were untrue.
Then he appeared on Sophie Ridge. With a shrewdness not shown by any other channels, SKY producers circulated the questions online well in advance to help him answer. They were obvious and basic. He hadn’t bothered to research them. He hadn’t even bothered to speak to Cummings. To be fair, I imagine, Cummings couldn’t be a arsed to give him the time of day.
Cabinet and junior ministers rallied round Cummings on Friday morning with a generic tweet, the most sickening coming from Hancock. Dear God. The Health Secretary. They stopped when the Barnards Castle trip appeared. Anyone with half a brain knew that if the retired teacher could match the number plate with the Cummings motor this was a story that stood up. The moment there was silence from Downing Street on this we they were in trouble.
The law of political physics says that when an advisor or a minister becomes the story they go. Even Peter Mandelson resigned. Twice. So when we heard that when the Johnson submersible was going to surface at the Friday presser there was an assumption that he would be driving the bus that Cummings was going to be thrown under. None of us realised that there was more chance of Orville sacking Keith Harris than the PM disposing of Cummings. Red wall MP’s emails were dripping with outrage. But what rattled Number 10 was the MAIL headline, ‘what planet do they think they are on’. Generic tweeting dried up.
On Monday cabinet met and no doubt agreed that they should move on. Moments afterwards they heard the astonishing news, broken by Adam Boulton live, that Cummings would be holding a press conference at Number 10 later that day. I imagine there were sharp intakes of breath. Again, the laws of political physics dictated that this was going to be a sad farewell. The presser was running later and later. Usually a sign of a government in free fall. And then the great man appeared, defying both the laws of political physics and credibility. Everything that could be said about this fairytale has been written.
Then Johnson hosts at the presser later last night. Two interesting things here. Firstly, he was full of arrogance, bluster and failed to answer any question cutting every journalist off with contempt. And then (it’s worth looking at the clip) finished off by getting the message taped to his podium in a bit of a muddle. A Freudian metaphor.
Then came backbenchers and ministers tweeting word for word the same generic messages. They really must take us for mugs. And there lies the problem.
This has nothing to do with Brexit. This has nothing to do with embittered Remainers taking their revenge. And it’s hardly a witch hunt by the left wing press. Tim Montgomery, Iain Dale, Roger Gale, Peter Bone and many others are hardly a bunch of Commies. Like most of us they want the government to succeed in controlling the virus. They have no secret agenda. They just don’t want the government to implode at a time when they should be trying save lives and reassure the public of the importance of obeying the fundamental social distancing rules. If the crowded Bournemouth beach yesterday is anything to go by the public are all acting on their instincts. This will cost lives.
The next test will be tomorrow. It’s the liaison committee grilling of the Prime Minister. So far he has refused to turn up. If he deigns to attend will he answer their questions? Or will it be bluff and bluster laced with arrogance and contempt? The question that MPs and ministers are beginning to whisper is, ‘is he up to it’?
We are in the middle of a national crisis and we are being governed by clowns. Will someone somewhere get a grip? The public are not fools. They have made heartbreaking sacrifices and they are being treated like mugs. This will not go away. Please, no more stunts and don’t confuse leadership with bloody minded stubbornness.