Like everything else in political life the cover up can be seen to be more serious than the crime. What I find so shocking about the Cummings allegations is that nobody at the centre of government thought it a wise precaution to have a ‘line to take’ in case his trip to Durham ever became public.
It was inevitable that this story would break. As the Prime Minister’s most senior advisor all his calls, wherever he is, would be routed through the Number 10 switchboard. And even when unwell he would have had access to secure comms. So the switchboard, the security services and key players at Number 10 knew that he at least had the symptoms and his whereabouts. Then, there are the police, a notoriously leaky bunch, who probably contacted the press. They usually do. After all, they visited the parents as complaints were made by the public after seeing Cummings and his son playing in the garden. So, one day, some how, the story was going to break.
To be fair there was a hell of a lot going on at the time. There was a power vacuum in Downing Street. The PM was seriously ill. The Health Secretary had the virus. Raab was technically deputising but without much cabinet enthusiasm. In the worst national crisis since the war the decision making process was creaking. So the Cummings goings were right down the list. However, when the Scottish Chief Medical Officer resigned, followed by Professor Lockdown, alarm bells, klaxons should have been deafening that small circle of people who knew the truth.
But they weren’t prepared. The initial response from Number 10 was silence which in a criminal court attracts an inference of guilt and in politics a signed and sealed confession.
Ten minutes ago Downing Street issued a statement.
“Owing to his wife being infected with suspected CV and the high likelihood that he himself would become unwell, it was essential for Dominic Cummings to ensure his young child could be properly cared for.
His sister and niece had volunteered to help so he went to a house near to but separate from his extended family in case their help was needed. His sister shopped for the family and left everything outside. At no stage was he or his family spoken to by the police about this matter as is being reported. His actions were in line with CV guidelines. Mr Cummings believes that he has behaved reasonably and legally.”
It should have ended in the way that the Little Britain sketch of the disgraced politician standing at the bottom of the gate with his family, saying, ‘and that is the end of this matter’.
It won’t be.
This looks very much like the prepared statement of a very guilty client written by a solicitor at the police station. It is not so much an explanation as a suicide note. So let’s analyse it.
‘Mr Cummings believes that he has behaved reasonably and legally’.
Really? Remember Matt Hancock ‘instructing’ the public who had symptoms of CV on live television?
‘Do not leave your home for any reason’.
‘At no stage was he or his family spoken to by the police about this matter as it is being reported’.
The key words here are, ‘as it is being reported’. He is not denying that he or his family were spoken to by the police. Clearly they were as the Mail reported, ‘Durham Constabulary officers didn’t fine Mr Cummings but ticked him off...’
So why did they tick him off if he was doing no wrong?
Neighbours reported him in his parents garden with his son singing ABBA’s Dancing Queen. His parents are over 70.
And then there is the cover up. When it was first reported that Cummings had symptoms the Downing Street official spokes person said, ‘I think he is in touch with Number 10, he is at home self isolating. He has some symptoms’. At best this is being economical with the truth. At worst it is a lie.
Strange, as well, that Cummings’s wife wrote a piece in the Spectator about lockdown with no mention of Durham and kindly family members. It gave the impression that they were at home in London.
And now Downing Street is making it worse by briefing of ‘fighting back’ and that Cummings won’t go. Soon it will be all the fault of the left wing press and Remainer Revenge.
It is a terrible mess with irony dripping from every word. The man who galvanised the nation with the meme of the elite versus the people. The superpredicter who didn’t predict his own downfall. And down he will fall. The knives are out. If he doesn’t go by the five PM briefing today there will be a blood bath with Johnson’s judgement being brought into serious question twice in a week.
How on earth do backbenchers explain this to their constituents? How can lockdown be obeyed now? This is dangerous territory.