Yesterday evening, I watched Boris Johnson deliver the daily coronavirus briefing from No 10, with questions from the media entirely devoted to the Dominic Cummings kerfuffle (view on that from the Guardian and the Telegraph). If Boris had thought that his measly statement about it would have been enough so he could move on, he was sorely mistaken.
In essence, he robustly defended his advisor saying he had spoken to him at length and was satisfied that his actions in driving over 250 miles to his parents’ house in County Durham during the initial lockdown were right and in line with government advice on self-isolation at the time. He seems to be the only person who believes this.
Publicly defending Cummings in such a strong and trenchant manner is a huge political gamble. Boris might believe him but there are so many who don’t including influential voices in his own party and many others. You can be sure many people of every political persuasion are now using the power of the Internet to follow the money, as it were, in checking up on Cummings’ movements in March and April.
Whatever the eventual outcome of this – it isn’t going to quickly go away – it has damaged the PM’s credibility and the government’s reputation. Very likely this will confound people as to what is expected of them regarding where to self-isolate and what you’re allowed to do in terms of travelling if you believe you or a close family member in your household has symptoms of Covid-19 (here’s the current government guidance).
Not only that, will it create doubt and mistrust in the minds of the public – the voters – about anything the government says as we go forward towards lifting the lockdown?
With the damage Mr Cummings is doing to the Government’s reputation he must consider his position. Lockdown has had its challenges for everyone. It’s his cavalier “I don’t care; I’m cleverer than you” tone that infuriates people. He is now wounding the PM/Govt & I don’t like that— Simon Hoare MP (@Simon4NDorset) May 24, 2020
While as a father and as a grandfather I fully appreciate Mr Cummings’ desire to protect his child. There cannot be one law for the Prime Minister’s staff and another for everyone else. He has sent out completely the wrong message and his position is no longer tenable.— Sir Roger Gale MP (@SirRogerGale) May 24, 2020
It certainly looks like one rule for Establishment types like Cummings and another for the 99%. Of course it could also be a small storm in a teacup if nobody actually cares. Maybe that’s Boris’ gamble.
But as the BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg wrote last night, “Did the Prime Minister manage to shut this mess down today? Not even close.”
Watching the briefing also made me think of Donald Trump. Seeing Boris getting a grilling from every journalist who asked questions via the live video link, I couldn’t help but see the stark contrast between this press briefing and the typical ones you see on TV from the White House.
Unlike Boris who swayed and bobbed to the journalists’ punchy questions (without actually answering them – cleverly briefed, No 10 comms team!), Trump would have insulted every reporter with his fuck-you type of commenting before arrogantly exiting stage right.
Quite a show!