So here goes with Part 2 of the analysis of Tory MPs’ letters to the hundreds of thousands of people who have written in protest at the hypocritical and life-threatening Johnson/Cummings lockdown breakdown scandal.
For those who missed it, here is part 1.
And here is the blog I posted this morning of the appalling lack of empathy shown by Matt Hancock to a letter in which a constituent talked of a family member who had to die alone because, unlike Cummings, they had obeyed the Health Secretary’s macho outburst: ‘This is not an instruction. It is an order.’
Hancock sent the cut and paste stock letter he was sending to all who complained about Cummings, and his cheery ‘Dear Seamus … Regards, Matt’ is designed to show not just that he wants to be on first name terms with someone he has never met, but also make it look like he read the letter himself.
There are plenty of other examples, but my favourite is David Cameron’s successor in Witney, Robert Courts.
I posted yesterday his Johnson/Cummings-defending letter. I have now had several of his constituents send me the identical letter. Well, I say identical, apart from the top line …
‘Dear Amanda (if I may),’ reads one.
‘Dear Michael (if I may),; reads another.
Dear Sara (if I may),
Dear Chris (if I may),’
Is it not enough to make you throw up?
Dear Mr Courts, (if I may)
Any chance you could actually respond to the different points your constituents make in their very different letters?’
The perils of cut and paste are obvious. I get a lot of correspondence. Sometimes, if there is too much (as now, for example, but then I asked for it, urging people to send me all these letters) I might do a stock response. But I will say that is what it is. And even then, I might scribble something more personal, if they raised something more personal.
Yesterday I highlighted the Totnes MP Anthony Mangnall, who is so lazy/incompetent/unempathetic (perhaps all three) that his letter included this wonderful paragraph
‘[Insert if there has been a bereavement: May I add my condolences to the recent loss of a family member. The current situation has made the ability to mourn the passing of loved ones all the more difficult. I send my best wishes to you and your family.]’
He, along with a Scottish Tory who did the same, has now apologised, unlike the man they were debasing themselves to defend.
Now, there are a lot more much better examples of MP correspondence today than yesterday, (though grammar and apostrophe use remain poor) but before I get to those, let’s give an award, in a crowded field, to the Biggest Tory Tosser this exercise has so far produced. The runaway winner is Adam Holloway, MP for Gravesham and a leading light in Leave Means Leave (though to be fair some of the angriest Tory letters, MPs and public, have come from ardent Leavers.) The only leave going on for Holloway today is the leaving of his senses.
Take a look at this exchange.
Constituent [whose aunt has died]: ‘Am I wrong not being there for my mum and my daughter? Should I attend the funeral? Please reassure me that it’s not different rules depending on who you are? I say nothing more about the general incompetence shown in dealing with Covid, but I think this will be the straw that break’s the camel’s back. People are angry.’
Holloway: ‘You again.
‘I am sorry to hear about your aunt. (No, you’re not, or else you would not speak to her like this.) But how useless of you to suggest the public are so stupid that they don’t follow the rules because of the way the media present behaviour of one man. Do you not believe their intelligence?’ (What an illiterate, insulting, nasty piece of work he is. Another one I had never heard of till today. How the hell did people like this get elected?’)
Winner of most predictable response Award goes to Christopher Chope, MP for Christchurch, best known for blocking Bills that might stop men taking pictures up women’s skirts, or protect girls at risk from female genital mutilation. He defended Cummings’ work ethic and said he should be using it to focus on getting rid of social distancing and tackling illegal migrants crossing the Channel.
Another award-winner, for the longest letter, is Trudy Harrison, MP for Copeland (how the hell did we ever lose Copeland, Jeremy?) who is also Boris Johnson’s private parliamentary secretary. So unlike many, who have used the cut and paste ‘I have never actually met Mr Cummings,’ she seeks to convey a real closeness to Durham Dom. (Has nobody told her he has total contempt for most Tory MPs, which is why it is so odd so many are bending over backwards to save him?)
Mrs Harrison gives out a fair amount of personal stuff amid all the cut and paste, including details of losing her father in January, and not being able to visit her mother during lockdown. However, one of her constituents was unmoved: ‘I don’t want your autobiography, I want an answer to my questions about Cummings,’ she replied.
Another was ‘unimpressed’ that ‘I gave her the respect of addressing her as Mrs Harrison, and she called me by my first name, thereby not according me the same respect. We have never met, and I was raising a serious complaint. Then all I got was what you called on your blog a “cut and paste defence of Cummings.”’
This particular constituent then got someone else to write to Mrs Harrison, making totally different points, and got the exact same reply.
[Understand the anger; all had hardship; personal loss; family and friends; reference to hundreds of fixed penalty notices in Cumbria]
Then tons of cut and paste, starting with: ‘As someone who was placed in those particular circumstances, I believe (bad grammar, risks confusing who the I and he are and what they are doing) he took a pragmatic and risk-averse approach, which was within the exception of the guidelines to ensure there would be childcare for his 4-year-old son should he and his wife both become incapacitated by ill health.’
I won’t bother you with all of the rest. It is more convoluted than Cummings’ statement in the garden. Just a few lowlights …
‘In his risk assessment the methodology (she has bought his fantasy that he is a scientist not a spin doctor) was to prevent harm to his son, to protect the public from infection and to continue to support the Government’s vast efforts in policy and financial terms to protect livelihoods and save lives, whilst his own boss, the Prime Minister became increasingly incapacitated himself…
‘I’m sure we have all now seen the hordes of paparazzi (HORDES!!! Wtf! A few media and a few members of the public!) which frequent his home on an almost permanent basis (er, not until he made himself the story and, by the way, most journalists are not paps). As a parent myself, albeit of older children, I would feel incredibly vulnerable and scared for my family’s safety if this was happening to me…(nah, you get used to it, Trudes)
‘With so many key figures in Government missing, Dominic (I am loving the relentless use of his first name. Not for her the “I have never met this toxic tosser” used by many of her colleagues; oh no, this is a full-on love letter) intended to go back to work to aid the Government’s response to Coronavirus. (Hero!) He had played a huge part (hero) in developing policies at a pace and with agility (superhero) never experienced by any Government, certainly in peace-time Britain.’ (I think she means the challenge is the greatest we have ever faced, but as expressed, she is saying Cummings has shown more pace and agility than anyone in government since the war…. Dreadful grammar. Or weird….
(But now, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the one person on earth who not only bought the eye-test test-drive bullshit, but is determined to explain it at even greater length than Durham Dom!)
‘He had experienced some periods of eye strain. Eye strain is not a designated symptom of Coronavirus, but much scientific evidence has shown a correlation between eye strain and having Coronavirus. As his trip back to London would entail near 300 miles – he set out on a test drive for 30 miles, around 10% of his total journey, (well no, because it was in the opposite direction) to evaluate his ability to drive the long-distance journey safely.
‘According to his statement, Dominic pulled up after 30 miles near Barnard Castle, they did not visit or walk around the grounds of the castle. They pulled up on an isolated area outside. Whilst they were out of the vehicle, they did not come into contact with anyone and therefore did not risk spreading Coronavirus….
‘Working as I do in No. 10 with the PM, I’ve met and spoken with Dominic on many occasions (I am really important) and find him to be polite, thoughtful and very good at his job. He is particularly passionate about the levelling up agenda and recognises our potential in Cumbria (does she really want “Cummings backs Cumbria” headlines?), and the policies which will drive change and realise much more opportunity, especially in manufacturing, science, nuclear and farming sectors. He and I share that ambition …
‘From what I’ve seen,(in other words, I don’t know him that well) Dominic is not an extrovert character, nor does he demonstrate the flair of charisma so predominant in the Prime Minister, but I do believe he is at heart, a kind, considerate and decent man with our country’s priorities as his priority. (Oh no, don’t make me cry.) I know that he will be crippled inside – as anyone would be – along with his wife and family at being catapulted (catapulting himself through his arrogance and classic elite stupidity) into a hate storm for making a judgment call, which he genuinely felt was right at the time.
‘Above all, I feel that the events surrounding Dominic Cummings have been an unhelpful distraction to our fight in beating Coronavirus. (Too bloody right, Trudes!)… I therefore believe it is best that now the police have clarified events that we move on and put the full focus on the war against this virus.
‘The risk of a second peak is still very real (because we have been useless) and whilst every effort is being made to develop both treatments and a global vaccine, neither are inevitable nor will be available soon. Testing and contact tracing with social distancing and personal hygiene is our only tool in the toolbox (apart from Johnson) to prevent thousands of lives being lost prematurely and livelihoods being damaged beyond repair.’
If she has verbal diarrhoea, John Redwood, normally so verbose on the TV and in Parliament, is a master of brevity when it comes to his response to constituents about this matter.
‘I have considered these matters and understand the Prime Minister wishes to keep his adviser despite opinion in the country about his actions. In view of this I agree it is time to move on, to tackle the serious economic problems created by this crisis. That is what I am doing as this matters a lot to the lives of my constituents. Yours sincerely,
The Rt Hon Sir John Redwood MP, D.Phil, FCSI, Member of Parliament for Wokingham’ (Christ, the titles are almost as long as the reply.)
Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, MP for the Cotswolds, and another who likes you to know he is a ‘Sir,’ (which is why I don’t use it ), is equally to the point, aka dismissive.
‘I will of course pass onto the Prime Minister the views of all my constituents on this situation and convey the strength of feeling from those who have been in touch with me, but this is ultimately a matter between the Prime Minister and his special advisor.’
But the absolute standout champ in the brevity battle is Robert Goodwill, MP for Scarborough and Whitby. His response. ‘I have passed the message up through the usual channels.’ And runner-up Sheryll Murray, MP for South East Cornwall, who said simply: “I have noted your concerns and appreciate you taking the time to contact me on this matter. Should I be of any further assistance in the future (“further” suggests there has been assistance already), please do not hesitate to contact me again.’
Others do engage. Take Andrew Percy, MP for Brigg and Goole. His constituents, parents of two Anna and Simon Patton, wrote to him asking: ‘What is your opinion on Dominic Cummings, who clearly broke this advice? If someone in my household has symptoms of Covid19, should we stay at home or can we travel to seek childcare?’
His reply begins with a cheery ‘Hello there,’ and goes straight to a bit of cut and paste Cummings-defence: ‘There is an exemption for people when it comes to caring responsibilities and an exemption for any other reasonable cause. This is an exemption I have advised local residents of on numerous occasions during this lockdown when residents have asked if they can travel to care for sick relatives, drive to London to collect relatives from airports or drive to various places around the country to collect children from University etc. (NB: If any of his constituents either have or have not been so advised after contacting him, please let me know via my website or on twitter)
‘It is all very clearly laid out in the guidance (no, it’s not) so I would suggest you consult that and make your own determination as to what you consider reasonable. (So, we can all do what the hell we like, can we?)
‘As to the more general point or Mr Cummings, I am sorry to say that as we live in a democracy which affords people due process, it is not for you, me or anyone else to determine whether a person’s actions fall within the law. What we do know is that the police were aware of this journey and decided that it was not worthy of a sixty pound fine or the more serious prosecution which was open to them.
‘Unless we have stopped being a democracy or abandoned due process, I really rather think we should leave such determinations to the agencies empowered to pronounce on such matters. (Unless it concerns scientist Neil Ferguson or Catherine Calderwood, the Scottish medical adviser, in which case Number 10 and Matt Hancock will feed a frenzy of the right wing rags and force them out.)
‘If my inbox is anything to go by over these past few weeks, there are many people who neighbours do not feel have been abiding by the rules. That’s not for me to determine though and my advice has been that they report these allegded (sic) breaches to the police and leave it for them to determine.
‘Unless of course we have embraced vigilantism – which given some of the mob that have gathered outside Mr Cummings’ home we might very well have – or trial by media, I will continue to respect our due processes.’ (Mob!! Hordes! A dozen or so journalists and a few passers-by, and he calls it a mob, and Trudes calls it hordes of paps. I suspect unless these idiots get their act together, they are going to see what a mob looks like before too long.)
The Pattons were not happy. ‘We are very disappointed with your reply. Whether or not Mr Cummings needed to drive 260 miles for childcare, it goes against the government’s own advice to stay at home when he drove to Barnard Castle to “test his eyesight”.
‘With the number of excess deaths in this country standing at above 50,000, I, along with millions of others, feel this makes a mockery of the government’s advice for everyone to stay at home and protect the NHS. It’s a good job that most other people have adhered to the guidance.’
Percy replied again, this time more irritated at being bothered than before, and again pleading ignorance, almost certainly a near permanent state.
‘As to the second trip to Barnard Castle, you will have to contact the police on that because it is the police who decide whether such trips are within the rules or not.
‘Trust me, for the past few weeks I have received endless emails and reports from residents reporting their neighbours for alleged breaches, but I am not sure those people will be asked to lose their jobs for a breach. If indeed there were one. As I say, I dont (why can’t these Tory MPs use apostrophes?) sit in haughty judgment on others, I let due process take its course. Labour’s Welsh Health Minister breached his own lockdown rules and remains the Minister – in charge of health!
Perhaps it really is one rule for one and another rule for another. (Jesus! He said that.)
You will be able to express your disappointment at the ballot box in 2024 should I decide to put myself forward for election again.’ (Have no fears on that one, Andy.)
Another one who at least engages properly is John Glen, MP for Salisbury, and a Treasury minister.
His constituent, Mrs Jo Primdore, a lawyer, told him: ‘I am at a loss for words to describe my utter contempt for what he did when we have heard so many stories of loss and sacrifice and of family members – and even a child – dying alone of this awful virus. Just think for a moment how terrified they must have been!
‘Under no circumstances should your party be seeking to claim that his behaviour did not breach the rules of lockdown and I would go so far as to say that if it appears that you, as my MP, are minded to do so I will never again even consider voting Conservative.’
He replied: ‘Dear Jo …. My view is that it would have been preferable if Mr Cummings had explained himself much earlier to have prevented some of the exaggerated reports and misrepresentation in the media. (bloody media again) I also see no reason to doubt that, right or wrong, he acted in what he thought were the best interests of his wife and son.(I do have reason to doubt it, he could easily have been putting them and others at more risk not less.)
Nonetheless, the trip to Barnard Castle in particular has been seen by many as (er …. IS is the word you are looking for) extremely difficult to justify. I appreciate that a lot of us would have wanted to make similar journeys, if we had felt it was acceptable. It is certainly not the first place that springs to my mind when I want to test my eyesight! (sardonic humour, nothing wrong with that and he is a minister so can’t really just say out loud “what a f-ing jerk!!)
‘Overall, it is clear to me that this was not a casual decision to visit family and nor was it done without thought for placing the least burden on others.
‘Nevertheless,(there we go again, means there is no defence for what he did) I am acutely aware of the anger that remains. Most of us have steadfastly followed the rules to the letter and spirit and would not have contemplated travelling that distance for any reason, even though few of us can honestly say we faced identical circumstances as Mr Cummings. The rules gave everyone a degree of discretion when dealing with caring responsibilities and I acknowledge that some people have fewer options open to them than others.’
He says he will convey the anger to the top. ‘I am really sorry you are so upset by this event – I sincerely empathise with how angry and let down you feel and I want to thank you and your family for the sacrifices you have made. I can assure you I have made them along with you and I look forward to better times ahead. Please be assured that the Prime Minister continues to lead the government response (oh no!) which will not and is not being (grammar malfunction) hindered by the media commentary. For my part, I will continue to be working hard in the Treasury and indeed locally to support businesses and individuals wherever possible. ‘
Jo Pridmore then wrote back at length, going through his reply line by line. She asked if he seriously believed Cummings’ defence, adding her own view that it was ‘palpable rubbish’ and saying Johnson had been ‘Trumpian’ in his response. She said the eye-test road trip, far from showing love and concern, put his family at risk, and asked a question many others have asked – why didn’t his wifet drive? She points out that Johnson has been exposed as an intellectual lightweight, capable only of ‘word salads,’ and feels he needs Cummings for a bit of weight.
Mr Glen replied: ‘I entirely respect your opinion … I completely accept that he still made a judgement call which is substantially different from what many of us would have made in the same circumstances and the disappointment and anger of people who have bent over backwards to do the right thing is understandable.
‘I also acknowledge that individuals who face the electorate usually come to develop a heightened sensitivity that we must not only do what is technically correct but also what will be seen to be right in the eyes of others, which is at odds with what we have seen here and I am sorry for that.
‘For what it is worth, I can assure you I will be complying with any instruction I am given to contain the disease, avoid burdening Salisbury District Hospital, and keep the people of Salisbury safe.’ (Decoded – Cummings is awful, Johnson should have sacked him, but I am a minister and can’t say it.)
Now I don’t want to give the impression these Tories are all uniformly terrible, so stand by for a fairly long run of decent letters saying more or less the right thing, namely what they think, and certainly what most of their constituents think.
This, from Mark Garnier, MP for Wyre Forest, is excellent
‘I have a small amount of sympathy for the plight of his family as they came down with CV19. ..However, I also sympathise with the anger that is being levelled at him. The guidance if sick is to stay at home – not any home, or someone else’s home, or even a second home. You must stay at your own home. He admitted to, firstly, going to Downing Street when he should have been self-isolating. He then, literally, packed his car with Coronavirus and drove it to an area where there was relatively little infection. When he had recovered, he embarked on a bizarre road test of his ability to drive. This is in clear breach of the Highway Code rule 91 (fitness to drive) and rule 92 (eyesight). Aside from that, it was just plain dumb.
‘The Bishop of Worcester did an excellent interview on Sky. When asked about the Prime Minister’s plea that Cummings’s was merely following a basic instinct to protect his family, the Bishop made the point that a civilised society supresses many basic instincts in the interests of civilization and wider society. That is what millions of people have done. They have obeyed the rules of lockdown against their own instincts and desires – to be with loved ones, to protect friends and family and to be with dying relatives – in order to protect wider society against this appalling disease. They have all done their bit, including many on the front line putting themselves and possibly their family at mortal risk. So why didn’t Dominic Cummings, an architect of all these measures, do likewise?
‘Whilst I have no affection for him, I do recognise that he has value in government and my initial thoughts were that he should probably be kept. But it is clear to me that despite his story, despite an element of politics in this, and despite his value to the government, his remaining in No10 now causes too many problems at multiple levels. For him to stay would be to reject the valiant efforts of millions of us all who have done what we can to squash this infection. His resignation is now the only way forward.’
David Amess, MP for Southend West ‘I have never met the gentleman. Since I was first elected to parliament in 1983 there have been controversies about any number of special advisers, (ahem) but none quite like the present controversy. (indeed, and I didn’t do press conferences in the garden.)
‘I am only too well aware of the enormous sacrifices which we have all been asked to make. The full efforts of our nation, and most certainly our Government, should be focussed on ensuring that we get through this crisis as quickly as we possibly can. The present controversy is a complete distraction from those efforts, and I am totally dissatisfied with the way in which the issue is being handled.
‘There needs to be immediate action, and without going into the arguments for and against the Chief Adviser’s position, he should be suspended from his office whilst a full and thorough independent investigation is held. This message is primarily for my constituents, but I have copied it to both the Prime Minister and the Chief Whip.’
Robert Halfon, MP for Harlow: ‘As someone who has been designated a ‘shielded person’, I personally have followed the advice to the letter and have left my house once only since March 19. That was last week to check the car battery and give the car a short run. I did not get out of my car. During the period of the lockdown I also haven’t once seen my family nor those close to me. Working, as instructed, from home, I’ve continued to do all I can to work hard every day to try and ensure everyone in our community is supported…
‘It has always been my view that there can never be one rule for one and another for others and that those who have flouted the government’s clear advice, whoever they may be, should face the consequences. Thus I do agree with you that this has not been handled well by the Government. The outcome appears particularly insensitive to the feelings of the many hundreds of thousands who have suffered real loss and made such sacrifices in the interests of the overall good of everyone.
I will write directly to the Prime Minister to raise your concerns at the highest level. Once again, please let me personally apologise for the distress this unfortunate matter has caused you.’
Wow – ‘apologise!!!’ – long time since we heard that in the mouth of a Tory.
Damian Collins, MP for Folkstone and Hythe: ‘We are not in a position where we can just act on instinct, instead we have to make decisions based on the rules that have been created to stop the spread of this deadly virus.
‘I believe that the guidance given to “stay at home”’ was clear, and that deciding to drive his family from London to Durham so that they could self-isolate at his parent’s (parents plural, apostrophe after the s, Damian) farm was against the intention of the rules of the lockdown. Indeed, as the former Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police has stated, had Dominic Cummings been stopped by the police whilst making this journey he would almost certainly have been told to go back to London. Also, whatever the reason behind his trip to Barnard Castle, that was also in breach of the lockdown rules.
‘Dominic Cummings should have taken advice, and informed either the Prime Minister or senior staff at 10 Downing Street, before acting in this way. He did neither. Given the difficulties we have all experienced during the lockdown, I believe it would have been reasonable to have expected that he would have sought to isolate with his family in London and make the same kind of support arrangements that other families have had to make at this time.
‘It would have been better if Mr Cummings had explained his actions sooner and apologised. His failure to do this has damaged his position and it would now be best for the government and the country if he resigned.’
Bloody hell, I agree with every word, and I praised him earlier this week for taking up the cause of League One and League Two football clubs who are weeks away from collapse unless the government and the Premier League help them.
Today’s Tories seem to be faring better than yesterday’s from my analysis. William Wragg, MP for Hazel Grove, writes a rather thoughtful letter, which he is honest enough to admit he is sending to all who write to him about Cummings, devoid of the ‘Dear XXXX (if I may)’ first name pretence of others, but asking people to write back if he has not dealt with specific points they wanted him to answer.
‘There is no point putting any gloss on it,’ he writes of the Covid issue generally, ‘the whole situation is grim.’ The worst health crisis since the Spanish flu, he says, and a dreadful economic crisis to come. ‘This upsets me profoundly,’ he says, arguing it requires absolute focus by the government, and adding: ‘Political distraction is an indulgence too far.’
He says Cummings should have been suspended pending an inquiry, or resigned, and he is absolutely right. As stock letters go, I would say his is the best I have seen, in terms of tone and empathy, managing to make it both personal but also cover, I imagine, most of the points raised by his constituents.
Simon Jupp, MP for East Devon: ‘Like you, I have felt a mixture of anger, disappointment and frustration in recent days. We are all making significant sacrifices and coping with situations we couldn’t imagine just a few months ago. Many of us, including myself, have lost people in our lives and haven’t been able to see family and friends. It’s been incredibly tough for everyone.
‘Although I believe his actions were motivated by a father’s desire to do what he felt was necessary to protect his family in exceptional circumstances, if placed in the same situation I wouldn’t have made the same decisions and would have since considered my position.
I will continue to share my views and those of my constituents with the party leadership. This has been a deeply unhelpful distraction we could do without as a nation dealing with a pandemic.’
Maria Caulfield, MP for Lewes, of course has a great personal backstory which gives her a fair bit of capital in this: ‘I have been working this weekend as a nurse in the NHS so I have not seen or heard much of the media … but I do know the many sacrifices people have made to try and fight this disease, from not seeing loved ones in weeks to financially suffering because of the inability to work due to lockdown.
‘Firstly be reassured that I have fed the anger about the whole situation to the PMs (apostrophe error) team as it is not just what Mr Cummings did that has been so difficult for everyone to deal with but also the manner in the which it has been handled.(needs commas)
‘Secondly while the temptation is for everyone now to break lockdown, lockdown is actually there for you and your family’s protection. The strict socially distancing measures are working and we are now seeing the lowest levels of infections and deaths for nearly eight weeks. This does not mean the virus has gone and the only way to protect yourself and your family is to still follow (split infinitive) these rules, set by the leading medics in the country. We have no cure yet for this virus and you have done the right things by following the scientific guidelines which have been proven in other countries to work too. Having looked after many patients with the virus during this crisis, lockdown rules also protect those of us in the NHS and social care who are putting our lives on the line trying to save as many people as possible.
‘I understand your anger and your frustration . Having looked after dying patients whose families could not be with them at the end, there are experiences in the last eight weeks that I never want to witness again but don’t let your anger or frustration over events of the last 48 hours put you or your loved ones at any further risk. Please be reassured that I will be crystal clear with the powers that be about the anger and frustration from constituents over what has happened’
Though Alun Cairns, MP for Vale of Glamorgan, stops short of calling for Cummings to be sacked, he doesn’t hide his views, and expresses them well. He says if Cummings had been his constituent, and he had asked whether his circumstances were so exceptional that he should travel, he would have said no. He also posted a link, so people could complain directly to Number 10.
‘We have all made significant sacrifices and I feel strongest for those who have lost loved ones or have wanted to care for family at these most difficult times and have not been able to do so because of the restrictions..
‘Living in the public eye, we are expected to show good judgement and there is concern that Mr Cummings actions could undermine our effort against Covid-19. He believes that he acted within the letter of the law but it is clear that any breach – apparent or actual does not help our national message. People have the right to feel let down. A full explanation at the beginning, or an apology could have helped…
‘I have been challenged to call for Mr Cummings resignation but believe that further disruption to the decision-making process will not help the situation. I took the same view when Vaughan Gething, the Welsh Health Minister, who is working tirelessly along with others, was reported to have broken the guidance a week or so ago. His departure would have detracted from vital decisions to help us get through this. I want all governments, all parties and the public to focus on making things better and easier for us all, rather than greater disruption.’
Bob Stewart, MP for Beckenham: ‘Mr Dominic Cummings seems to have been out of line to break lockdown instructions. Personally, I felt rather ashamed as the rest of us are all bidden to obey the rules and those directives appear to have been broken.
[Cut and paste re Durham]
‘So, going back to the rules, did Cummings break them? The answer is yes – on the face of it. Technically Cummings could argue that he was exercising his right under the 4th acceptable reason for going outside; a requirement to ensure his child was in a safe place when he and his wife were ill or about to be so. I am afraid though that I find that very weak. Even if he was technically allowed to leave his house for the sake of a child it looks very bad that he went 240 miles and hardly an example to the rest of us.
‘The truth is that, whether Mr Cummings broke or didn’t do the right thing, he certainly destroyed the spirit of the rules by what he did. It will make it very difficult for us, the rest of the population, to accept the largely voluntary restraints we have lived under for 9 weeks. I apologise for that because those rules remain in place. I am afraid I believe his position is thus untenable.’ (Hear, hear)
And another one, nice and brief, Fiona Bruce, MP for Congleton: ‘I cannot condone what he did, nor accept that his interpretation of the guidelines was reasonable. My constituents have gone to great lengths to stay at home during this crisis. Many have endured enormous strain, and in some cases, real suffering. They are entitled to feel badly let down by someone in leadership with an obligation to be an exemplar. I am ensuring that this, and critically, the strength of feeling in my mailbox, have been communicated to the highest level of Government.’
That is NINE Tories in a row I have been nice about. I will now have a lie down, before returning to more conventional Tory fare …
So step forward Duncan Baker (it is quite incredible how many of these MPs’ names I did not know until now) MP for North Norfolk. He starts well, but just wait for what he says at the end.
[Understand the anger, very disappointed, expressed displeasure through ‘the appropriate channels’, Cummings a father blah, Durham police blah]
(This bit is nearer the mark, though confirms that some of these MPs see Cummings not Johnson as leader.) ‘Dominic Cummings is a high-profile public figure. He may not be an MP but, given his role and profile, it is absolutely vital he leads by example. In my view, he broke the spirit – if not the letter – of the guidance designed to limit the spread of coronavirus. He should now have the courage to admit his judgement was questionable and should be reprimanded. It is clear that he has undermined the whole essence of the government’s key “Stay at Home” messaging. Given my strong stance imploring people not to visit their second homes here in North Norfolk, you can imagine how strongly I feel about this situation.
‘I listened to his press conference and respect that he may well have had the best of intentions in mind for his family. But, for me, a person with a significant part in shaping the rules we have been following has an absolute duty to adhere to them. I take my role as your MP very seriously and believe it is absolutely vital for those in the public eye to act appropriately. So many of us have diligently followed the rules to the absolute letter, making huge sacrifices. In my view, that is what Dominic Cummings should also have done.’
Now, it is hard to disagree with much of that but why, Duncan Baker, did you then have to ruin it with this?
‘This story has become a distraction from the otherwise exemplary response by the government and by all of us here in North Norfolk.’
(Exemplary? Exemplary? They have ballsed it from the start, when Johnson couldn’t be bothered to take it seriously, right up to today, when we are the last European country still to be registering substantial deaths day by day. Exemplary? Per-lease.)
Into the ‘bit weird but deeply personal and very interesting’ category goes the letter to constituents of Katherine Fletcher, MP for South Ribble, the highlight of which is her revelation that, having self-isolated with symptoms, she woke up to find her deodorant in the fridge without knowing how it got there.
She also twice says she feels ‘impotent,’ which is not good for an MP invested with power placed in them by the people. ‘I am not sure I have felt, especially as a new MP, so frustrated, cross, or impotent as I do now.
‘Let me start by saying I have never met or spoken to Dominic Cummings.(another one. No wonder he couldn’t get anyone to look after his son. He doesn’t seem to have met anyone who admits ever to have met him, apart from Trudes.) I have no truck for him but then I also have no axe to grind.
[Fake news; horrid media; Jenny Harries; exceptional circumstance.]
‘Mid March, I came down with something. I haven’t felt so rough in a very long time, poleaxed by extreme fatigue. I had a temperature and a slight cough so I packed up my bag, walked home and did the responsible thing, isolating alone as per the guidelines. I wasn’t tested as there is no special scheme for MP’s (no apostrophe needed) and rightly the NHS and carers came first.
‘This wasn’t planned, or pleasant, not least because I had no internet or food in. If I did have Coronavirus, then I do not wish it on anyone else. After a few days in bed, I came round to discover my deodorant in my fridge. No, I have no idea either, but it gives a sense of how out of it I must have been. I remember thinking “ What if I had to look after someone? – good job I didn’t”.
‘BUT – Here is my frustration…. My small team and I have worked round the clock, since the start of lockdown to try and give the correct interpretation of guidance to constituents. I have had to tell people they can’t go to funerals, say goodbye to the ones they love, see the family newborns that they will grow to love, visit the graves of parents, siblings or worse, children, and visit friends who are dying.
‘I have had to give explicit advice on how to pick up children from university, repatriated family members from airports, how to care for a family member with a mental health condition, check in on elderly relatives with dementia. I have given advice on support for businesses that may never operate again, to people whose holidays might not get refunded, to those whose perfect wedding days plans have been ruined. And much more.
‘So when a row like this rages it makes me as your MP put my head on my table and want to cry. Some of your messages describe in detail the sacrifices you’ve made, it’s genuinely heart-rending. As the Prime Minister said yesterday in the House of Commons “ I am deeply sorry for that hurt and anxiety (this) has caused”.’
This is all pointing to’ Dom must go’, but: ‘If the police charge him with a crime or that he is shown to have lied, yes, but otherwise, I’ve made my views known in private, where they are more effectively expressed than in a public pile on. I don’t really subscribe to the lynch mob, now or at any time, in part because I don’t think I would like the world to decide whether a member of my extremely loyal and able team should be sacked. Treat others how you expect others to treat you etc.
‘Be assured I am cross though. At a time when we should be still focusing on the remaining weeks of this pandemic, spending my days replying to understandably hurt and angry constituents is not what I should be doing, because there are much more important things for South Ribble. I’m now delayed in writing; to the Chancellor about helping businesses export, as well as the Dept. for Transport about better bridges across the Douglas and Ribble, the green lane link and Midge Hall getting a new station. I’ll spare you with the rest of the list of things that have been put back.
‘This is also why I feel impotent in many respects.’
The constituent who sent it to me told me she was ‘disgusted’ by it, because she wasn’t pressing for Cummings to be sacked, but at least it had a bit of heart in it.
John Whittingdale, MP for Maldon, and a minister, also has a very personal take, and one that, had it been me, I think I would be a lot angrier than he seems. ‘My mother died a few weeks ago. She died alone and I was not able to attend her funeral as, at that time, no mourners were allowed to attend even the crematorium. I have still not been able to visit her house. This was extremely upsetting but I accepted that the rules applied to me as much as anyone else and that my abiding them was helping the national effort to overcome this virus. So many families have had to make sacrifices like this it is understandable that there is anger when people feel that others have not behaved honourably.’
He then cites the Jenny Harries’ defence, before adding: ‘He [Cummings] had driven to isolate himself and his wife and child near family who could help them if they became very ill. This was not a trip, as some had suggested, to visit elderly parents and they would not be required to help with childcare. Few families would have the option to do this as the availability of a separate property within walking distance of close family is a luxury which most people do not have. But that did not make it unlawful. …As your Member of Parliament, I should make clear that I do not believe that any Government adviser or Minister is above the law. If the police found that Dominic Cummings had acted in a way which had legally contravened the lockdown then I would expect him to resign.
‘However, I do not believe that I should support hounding him out of the very important role that he does just because his behaviour did not “look good”. I do not believe that anyone should lose their job for lawful decisions made at a time of great personal stress. It would be both easy and politically convenient, given the public anger at his behaviour, to join the calls for his resignation, but having heard his full account of his actions, I do not think it right to do this.’
Oliver Heald, MP for North East Hertfordshire, is more on the weasely side of things, praising and backing government guidance, though praising local authorities (far too few of them ever do that) but on Cummings, focusing on things the media got wrong, rather than the central undisputed facts … ‘unresolved questions about allegations that Mr Cummings visited his parents, had been reprimanded by police and that he had visited the North 3 times. These allegations were of particular concern, because the lockdown is a vital part of the fight against the virus and must not be undermined. Mr Cummings has now given his account and it seems these allegations were untrue. The media chose to give the false impression that he was travelling up and down the motorway repeatedly, ignoring police warnings and breaching the self isolation of his elderly parents.’
(Then, he tries a bit of sympathy for Johnson – good luck with that one, Olly!)’ As you will know, the Prime Minister suffered very serious symptoms and was lucky to live. His advisers mostly caught the disease. (because they had been totally cavalier about social distancing including at press conferences when they advocated it for others and Johnson was boasting about shaking hands with infected patients ffs!) The No 10 inner circle knew that contracting the disease could leave persons in hospital fighting to survive and unable to care for a child. This seems to have been the background to Mr Cummings’ decision.’
Jake Berry, MP for Rossendale and Darwen: ‘These [lockdown] measures are for everybody to follow – me, you, and every single other member of the British public – and Mr Cummings is no exception. Many families, including my own have had to make difficult decisions and sacrifices over recent months and it is testament to the resolve of the vast majority of the British people that they have complied with these restrictions so diligently. The anguish that constituents have faced during this crisis, particularly in not being able to comfort members of their family who were ill is particularly distressing. So too is where this has involved a death and they have not been able to attend a funeral.
‘Dominic Cummings has explained his actions, and I am sure we can all sympathise with the desire of a father and husband to keep his sick family safe. However, the reaction to his statement shows that Mr Cummings’ interpretation of the Government advice was clearly not shared by the vast majority who have done as the Government asked, often to great personal sacrifice.
‘I have robustly conveyed the strength of feeling that is held on this matter by people locally across Rossendale & Darwen to the Prime Minister and his team. I hope this is satisfactory.’ (Not really)
Gagan Mohindra, MP for South West Hertfordshire, sends out a statement issued the day after the Cummings/Johnson briefings
[Never met him. False allegations, child, apostrophe error in a constituent’s that should be constituents’, but then this rather good question: ‘How can I, as your elected Member of Parliament, continue to advise you to follow the guidelines if they are not being followed in No.10?’ He says it is a matter for Johnson if he stays but at the least there should be a thorough, independent investigation into not only whether Mr Cummings’ trip to Durham was in line with Government guidelines, but also into the actions of the media over the last few days. They too were not following social distancing guidelines whilst congregating outside Mr Cummings’ home.
Then says we must not be distracted. Fair enough, at least he called him out.
Not so Saqib Bhatti, MP for Meriden, total cutter and paster.
‘I have complete faith in the judgement of the Prime Minister and wholly support his decision. I totally understand that many people do not share my opinion and may have acted differently in these circumstances…. I am satisfied that Mr. Cummings made a reasonable journey in line with medical guidance, within the letter of the law and that he was trying to do the right thing by his family in extremely difficult circumstances.
[More cut and paste, Jenny Harries (God she has been used a lot in these cut and paste nodding dog jobs]
Peter Bottomley: MP for Worthing West, and Father of the House don’t you know!
Even though it is missing a comma, I do like this sentence: ‘I have not met Dominic before nor would I wish to defend him.’
However, he goes on: ‘ In my life of public service, I do not recall asking for a resignation, regardless of party. It is not my intention to start now. This will disappoint some calling for resignations.’ (Hey ho. Has he seriously never called on anyone to resign?)
He writes at length with more general observation, then turns to the media. ‘I remain a vocal supporter of the BBC and our national and local media in their efforts to hold public figures and government bodies to account. I share in trust for our Civil Service and local government. (good man) It is a wry thought (nothing wrong with those) that the success of the messaging when lockdown came owes something to a person who is now the news story. Sometimes on cases like this, we might trust in our own individual judgements rather than any trial by media.
Jo Gideon, MP for Stoke Central, says the hundreds of emails she has received ‘all’ reflect ‘anger, disappointment and frustration.’ While I have read each and every single one,(you sure?) I regret that I am not able to respond to all emails individually.’
She is another one who feels compelled to say she has never met Dominic Cummings.’He is an appointed advisor at No.10 and not involved with the Conservative Party.’ (Mmmm, no, course not.)
‘I want to make my view on this very clear – nobody is above the law and there should be no ‘one rule for some, and another rule for the rest’… It would therefore be very unfair if the public felt they were in a disadvantaged position from those in positions of power. I have had many letters on this subject, and I can assure you that I have made my views, and yours, very clear in communications to the Government and the Prime Minister.
Paul Holmes, MP for Eastleigh: ‘I accept the criticism that this [Cummings’ actions] is at the very limit of what the guidelines permitted and is likely to be highly controversial. I can also say to you that I would not have taken these decisions myself in these circumstances, and that these rules now need to be clarified so that others do not misinterpret them…
‘Though I believe his actions were motivated solely by the desire to protect his family, I believe that Mr Cummings has made errors of judgement, and I would have responded differently given the guidance that Government has issued.
‘I don’t think that the handling of this situation over the last 72 hours has been the Government’s finest hour, and I believe that the questions posed to Mr Cummings should have been answered earlier. I have raised both your and my own concerns about his conduct and will continue to do so over the coming days… Sadly (important point alert) I do think that this situation has undermined the wider messaging around this public health emergency. However, the fact remains that we need to continue to follow the health advice to keep people safe.
Andrew Mitchell: MP for Sutton Coldfield, ‘I would like to apologise (oh here we go, someone is going to say sorry for this shitshow) for not having replied earlier. (ah, that.)
‘I fully understand the anger and irritation that you feel. I want you know that I have specifically passed on your comments to the Chief Whip.(no you haven’t, you’ve said there are a lot of angry people out there). Many people are making significant sacrifices and like many others my own family is forcibly separated by this lockdown.
It seems to me however that the Prime Minister has decided that Mr Cummings is to remain as one of his senior officials and I do feel it is important we must put this matter behind us so that we can concentrate fully on the many urgent and difficult problems that beset us.
I know that drawing a line under this was not the aim of your email and I very much respect what you have said. But as we gradually come out of lockdown I am deeply concerned about the economic circumstances and financial consequences which are affecting so many of my constituents in Sutton Coldfield.’
Rob Butler, MP for Aylesbury,
‘Throughout the coronavirus crisis, I have been clear that we should all comply with the government guidance. That means everyone equally, including all advisors to the government.
[Cut and paste analysis of them, Jenny Harries cited as support AGAIN- she needs to do a Van Tan]
I therefore acknowledge that the guidance can be interpreted in the way Mr Cummings has done.
(Then he gets a bit better. )’However, Mr Cummings himself said “there is room for reasonable disagreement” about whether he should have stayed in London, and I do not criticise anyone who does indeed disagree with him. Personally, I find the trip Mr Cummings took to Barnard Castle very difficult to justify and am disappointed that he did not apologise for it.
‘It may not be much comfort, but I can assure you that I have made this point emphatically to people in the government who are obviously more senior than me. I have also stressed the strength of anger in the emails I have received, and explained that I sympathise with many of the points that have been raised.’
[Long list of issues he has been working on.]
Vicky Ford, MP for Chelmsford, minister for children.
[Thanks people, thanks NHS, care homes, volunteers, and says ‘my thoughts and prayers’ with the grieving.]
‘Although he has said in his statement that he followed the rules, I respect your opinion (but won’t say if I agree) that his actions breached the guidelines at that time. I completely understand the strength of feeling on this matter, and I have conveyed this to senior levels of Government.
Tom Tugendhat, MP for Tonbridge and Malling, gets close to winning the fence-sitting verbiage award. He says he has received ‘hundreds of emails an hour for the past few days,’ talks of the many difficult decisions people have had to take,’ then says: ‘That’s why, although I can appreciate the pressures that led to Mr Cummings leaving for Durham, I share the frustration of so many. Government guidelines are there to keep our whole society safe and everyone should follow them, particularly those who were so intimately involved in writing the rules. This raises questions of integrity and that is why this has been the subject of so much intense debate over the weekend and why I have let the Government know my views (which I haven’t stated here) and shared many of those I have received.’
Simon Fell, MP for Barrow, is another fence-sitter. ‘As well-intentioned as this journey may have been, it also clearly undermines the message that the government has been putting out through this pandemic. You won’t find me defending him. But I’m not going to condemn him either. Like him or loathe him, Mr Cummings is a father who wanted to look after his son. I’m sure we can all at least sympathise with that, even if we’d have acted differently.’
Justin Tomlinson, MP for North Swindon, like so many, begins by saying: ‘I have never personally spoken to Mr Cummings so I, like you can only base my comments on what I have seen in the media and his account of events at the press conference. He says that Cummings’ child is ‘disabled,’ something I have not stated anywhere else. He posts the YouTube link to Cummings’ briefing, which he describes as ‘painful viewing,’ sets out a bit of on the one hand, on the other, points out that Labour haven’t called for his sacking (you well might ask, like I am asking why I am doing this exercise, not a group of MPs or party officials) says his position is a matter for Johnson, and criticises the way Number 10 has handled it. (“amateurish” would be generous.)
Greg Clark, MP for Tunbridge Wells, echoes fellow former Cabinet minister turned select committee chair Jeremy Hunt in saying what Cummings did was wrong and stupid, a terrible distraction, but the government now needs to focus on the more serious issues before it.
‘Mr Cummings made a misjudgement, and I believe that at the outset he should have made a sincere apology and that the Prime Minister should have accepted it – acknowledging publicly that a mistake has been made. We are all human, people can make errors of judgement under stress, and I’m sure the family were genuinely worried about their situation.
However, it was a misjudgement: Dominic Cummings badly underestimated the strong sense of solidarity we have all have with each other, that has been so striking during this crisis, and the pain of people who have had to endure heart-breaking separation from their own loved ones, sometimes at the end of their lives.
It is essential that all the attention of the Government must be concentrated on the complex and difficult decisions to be taken during the days and weeks ahead, and Mr Cummings has caused a serious diversion from that.’
A current minister, Nigel Adams, MP for Selby and Ainsty, tries to pretend Cummings is one of many. ‘There have been several high profile individuals, including opposition MPs, who have stepped outside the guidelines. These rules are essential … however, we are all human, and everyone makes mistakes especially when acting under pressure. I have not called for any of these individuals to be sacked and therefore I will not be doing so in this instance either. Mr Cummings has explained himself to the Prime Minister. … I, like many people, feel an earlier, full explanation of his actions would have been helpful, as would an apology. However, now is time for us to move on and concentrate on beating this virus.’
Rob Roberts, MP for Delyn, is largely cut and paste, though I found this line intriguing. ‘Many people do not believe his version of events, and that’s perfectly fine. … At times during his statement, it was uncomfortable as Mr Cummings is clearly not in a role where he is normally subjected to such fierce media interrogation as he was during the questioning, but it was completely necessary in the circumstances.’
He broadly defends Cummings , with the ubiquitous cut and paste Jenny Harries a witness for the defence, says he should not be sacked, but adds: ‘I believe that there is a legitimate question to be raised in respect of Mr Cummings driving to Barnard Castle to test his eyesight and I do not believe this was advisable. I personally wouldn’t have done it.’ But then he is back in creep mode.
‘Whatever one’s political view, Mr Cummings excels in his role as Chief Advisor to the Prime Minister, especially during times like this.’ (Well, no, actually. Cummings presents himself as some kind of pandemic predictor expert, so how come we are top of the world for death? And how come if he is so good at his job, he has reduced the government to the chaos of recent days?)
David Rutley, MP for Macclesfield, short and sweet, have cake and eat: ‘I believe many local constituents and people across the country would not have taken the same course of action as Mr Cummings – myself include. I also feel that Mr Cummings should have made a clear apology.’
Paul Beresford, MP for Mole Valley, thinks Cummings made a big mistake, has had a determinantal impact on the handling of the crisis, but move on.
Matt Vickers,MP for Stockton South, (cake and eat) ‘I want to make it clear, I cannot condone anyone who breaches the rules and regulations set down to keep us safe. … As a back bench, MP I do not have a role in the hiring and firing of special advisors…. My role as your MP is to ensure your voice is heard, and that’s exactly what I will do.’
Edward Timpson, MP for Eddisbury, informs us he has four kids, wouldn’t have done the same as Cummings, but ‘these are personal, moral judgements.’ (which is why Boris Johnson can’t see the problem). He then posts a link to the model employment contract and code of conduct for Special Advisers, and tells people how they can complain if they think it has been breached.
Maria Miller, MP for Basingstoke: ‘Dominic Cummings was, no doubt, acting in the best interests of his family, and we should show compassion and understanding for the situation that he personally faced; but he did not follow the clear instructions from Government to the whole country and that is why there is such widespread anger…
‘The ability to prevent the spread of Covid-19 is greatly dependent on the good behaviour of the public and our adherence to the instructions of the Government. I hope that the actions of one individual will not stop the British public from continuing to put first the welfare of the most vulnerable in our community.
Mr Cummings’ resignation or dismissal is a matter for his employer, the Prime Minister. I will however, certainly be conveying to the Prime Minister the strength of feeling that this incident has provoked in my constituents.’
Kwasi Kwarteng, MP for Spelthorne, and Business Minister (apparently) ‘I fully appreciate why people are frustrated and concerned about the actions of Mr Cummings. Earlier this week, the Prime Minister had an extensive and frank conversation with Mr Cummings about the many stories reported over the weekend, and about what had actually happened. Following this conversation, the Prime Minister was satisfied that Mr Cummings acted both legally and responsibly, and that many reports were simply not true.
Faced with the prospect of having no one to look after his young child, Mr Cummings made the instinctive decision to find childcare before both he and his wife were incapacitated by coronavirus. Mr Cummings has spent over an hour explaining his actions to the public during an extensive press conference. I firmly believe it is now time to move on.
Families across the country have been faced with very difficult decisions during this crisis. People will make their own judgement about whether or not they would have acted in the same way faced with such a family emergency. (Decoded – I wouldn’t, or at least that is what I want you to think.)
James Wild, MP for North West Norfolk, and Lucy Frazer, MP for South East Cambridgeshire, share the final award … greatest number of words used to say absolutely nothing.
That’s it for now. I am particularly interested to see how Cabinet and other ministers are dealing with constituents’ complaints. If it is anything like Hancock, God help us.