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Chris March

Right versus wrong

Politics, Coronavirus, Conservative Party, Dominic Cummings4 min read

I am utterly outraged, but at the same time, I am powerless. Over the past few days, have witnessed various demonstrations brazen hypocrisy, a callous lack of empathy and complete moral bankruptcy from members of our government. However, I am conscious that my memory of these events and the anger I feel towards those responsible will fade over time - alas, in truth, probably quite quickly. The story will certainly be manipulated and managed to the point where it will no longer be clear exactly what happened and when; indeed, it's already started to happen. So, this is my account - and a reminder to myself for when the time comes to vote.

At the time of writing, the UK is in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tens of thousands of people have died; hundreds more a dying each day and normal life has been completely changed. The future is very uncertain and people are extremely apprehensive. Nobody knows how long this will go on for or what the eventual consequences will be.

On 23 March, the UK was placed under "lockdown", as directed by our Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. The government has asked its public to make tremendous and sometimes harrowing commitments which go against the very nature of our society, in order to better protect that society. As such, thousands of people have not been able to say their last goodbyes to dying friends and relatives; millions of grandparents have not been able to see - let alone hug - their grandchildren; and there are many, many more examples of this nature. At the other extreme, probably the least troubling request made of us was to not engage in any unnecessary travel.

In cases where an individual suspected they had contracted COVID-19, the government's instruction was extremely clear: both the individual and members of their household must stay at home.

In the main, despite our anguish in doing so, we - the public - have adhered to these requests. There are many heartbreaking stories of extreme hardship that people have had to endure as a result.

It has now transpired that Dominic Cummings, chief political adviser to the Prime Minister, patently did not adhere to these instructions. According to his own account, when he suspected that he had contracted the virus on 27 March, he chose not to stay at home; instead, he chose to drive himself and his family to his parents' farm, 264 miles away. From there, on 12 April, he chose to make a quite unnecessary journey of at least 50 miles in distance, supposedly to confirm that he was fit to drive the return journey to London the following day.

Though I find elements of Cummings' account to be both extremely ludicrous and awfully convenient, and though I find it staggering that given his prominent role in government he does not seem to believe that the reports of his actions will influence the behaviour or morale of the wider public - he is not the reason I am so furious.

I don't really care about Dominic Cummings. Dominic Cummings is not one of the people we have elected to represent us in Parliament. Though Cummings clearly has a great deal of influence over decisions that are made, he ultimately is not the one making those decisions, nor does he bear the responsibility for those decisions. This burden - this privilege - belongs to our elected members.

I absolutely do not envy the task that these people have been faced with; they will have had to make some incredibly tough decisions where there are simply no good choices. However, probably the easiest task that our MPs are currently faced with is to provide us with a consistent and clear message keep a nervous public onside. It seems obvious that keeping Coronavirus under control is heavily dependent on we - the public - continuing to do as we are told.

After the story broke that Dominic Cummings had quite egregiously breached the lockdown rules, some members of the Cabinet took the time to post some Tweets. These Tweets weren't responses to questions; they were statements - statements that were absent of supporting evidence but in one way or another, described Cummings' actions as "reasonable". It read as one rule for you and another rule for us.

Once it became clear that this message had not been at all well received, our Prime Minister decided to address it as part of his daily briefing on Sunday, during which he told us that after discussing the matter face-to-face with Dominic Cummings, he had concluded that Cummings had "acted responsibly and legally and with integrity and with the overwhelming aim of stopping the spread of the virus and saving lives." In other words, it's OK because I say so; the kind of justification that aggrieves eight-year olds, let alone the people of a nation that has been placed under sustained and severe emotional strain.

As of the time of writing, the latest development has been for Dominic Cummings himself to give a televised statement and answer questions from selected journalists from the garden of 10 Downing Street - the text of which I linked to earlier. (That in itself is quite an extraordinary privilege to be afforded to an unelected political adviser.) Thereafter, Cabinet members and Conservative ministers went into bat on Twitter and in interviews, pushing a general message of: case closed, nothing to see here.

It is inevitable that this story is going to be twisted to fit a narrative of "right versus left" or - bizarrely - "remain versus leave"; that it will be described as the work of those harbouring personal vendettas. In fact, it's already well underway. Yet people from across the political spectrum have been appalled by this episode; the reasons for that should be obvious. It has nothing to do with "right versus left"; it has everything to do with right versus wrong.

At a time where hundreds of people are still succumbing to the effects of this virus every day; when people have been forced to make huge sacrifices, endure tremendous hardship and suffer hideously; when the nation's economy is likely to enter a very deep and prolonged recession and when the future looks so bleak and so hopeless, I would expect the Prime Minister, the Cabinet and elected members to be putting all of their efforts into minimising that pain and setting us on the path to recovery as soon as possible. Instead, I have seen is a Prime Minister acting as a puppet and a Cabinet performing the function of a Twitterbot. Many Conservative MPs have parroted their messages; precious few have stood up for what is right. They have sacrificed the credibility of the government's message - and, by implication, have quite possibly sacrificed lives too - and all for the benefit of one man.

So, when the time comes and these people ask you to lend them your vote - remember this.