When The Telegraph and the Mail join the almost universal condemnation of a Conservative government, you know that something serious is going down.
What, of course, is going down is that Boris Johnson’s top adviser, the sartorially-challenged Dominic Cummings, has been caught flouting lockdown regulations because, as we all know, his family is much more important than yours or mine.
Anyway, in what I think must be a first in British politics, an adviser took centre stage at a press conference in the Downing Street garden where, incidentally, I once had a cheeky fag with Nick Clegg while David Cameron was standing at a podium droning on about something or other.
Dominic Cummings must be the scruffiest man in Britain and this offends me. He is a senior player at the heart of the British government and his daily uniform of t-shirt and sweatpants is disrespectful to the lofty position he holds in our national life.
Even before he flouted lockdown, I wasn’t a fan of Mr Cummings. He reminds me of Goebbels but without the charm or moral compass.
I will give Mr Cummings some grudging respect for fronting up. He is unelected and is under no obligation to explain himself publicly. Still, rocking up half an hour late to a press conference which is literally happening at your own place of work is not a good look. Even the journalists were on time.
What followed was one of the most self-serving examples of privileged dissembling I think I’ve ever heard, and I once interviewed David Cameron. Sob story, blah. Wife ill, blah blah. Need to find childcare, blah blah fucking blah.
It’s not that I don’t have sympathy for Mr Cummings. He was in a difficult situation, the same difficult situation as – oh, let me just do some maths here – about 60 million other people on these islands, some of whom don’t even have the option of holing up on a sprawling country estate.
It may well be the case that Mr Cummings took precautions and interacted with no-one both on his 260 mile journey to Durham and while he was there. That’s not the point: I haven’t driven the ten miles to see my 82 year old mum in ten weeks; I could have done this perfectly safely, entering through the garden and sitting at least two metres away from her.
But I haven’t. Why? Because them’s the rules and sticking to them, we’ve been constantly told, is essential to saving lives. What’s more, we were told driving long distances increases the risk of accidents and breakdowns which would not only put pressure on breakdown and emergency services but would potentially expose emergency workers and breakdown services to the virus.
There came a point when I began to feel sorry for Mr Cummings; you could almost see him physically squirming as he tried to fool us into believing that, somehow, his actions were in fact permitted by the regulations. Regulations which, you will recall, were described by our beleaguered Secretary of State for Health as “an instruction, not a request”.
If you thought that Mr Cummings’ report of the circumstances leading up to his Durham odyssey was bad enough, the explanation of his trip to the tourist spot of Barnard Castle must have stretched your credulity to previously uncharted limits. Apparently, he was concerned about his eyesight, although I cannot find a single authority online which can confirm that COVID-19 affects vision.
As you and I know, if you’re concerned about failing eyesight the most important thing to do is to get in a car and drive. On your own and round the block? Don’t be ridiculous: you need to go on an hour’s round trip with your wife and toddler in the car. I mean, who among us wouldn’t pile our loved ones into a moving vehicle if we had reason to believe that the driver’s eyesight could fail at any time?
We live in an age when, whenever someone in the public eye slips up, there are calls for them to resign or be sacked. I tend not to side with the mob of the permanently outraged but in this instance I have to conclude that the PM should dispense with Mr Cummings’ services forthwith. Even if I could forgive the lie, what is truly unforgivable is taking the British people for mugs. Early reports on social activity over the Bank Holiday suggest widespread flouting of the rules which may well result in death, and it is at least conceivable that many people who might otherwise have stayed home took their lead from Mr Cummings.
He should go now.