Before I turn to the latest, rather large batch of Tory MPs’ letters sent to me in response to my twitter campaign to find out how they are dealing with their constituents’ complaints about Dominic Cummings, I want to dwell in detail on one particular exchange.
You may recall that yesterday, in this 13000-word analysis of some of these letters, I cited part of the stock letter being sent by Health Secretary Matt Hancock to his voters in West Suffolk. I made the point that Mr Hancock, one of the most regular Number 10 briefing performers (and boy does he like to perform) indulges excessively in the formulaic empathy of looking earnest and saying ‘our thoughts and prayers are with’ … etc. He is also fairly fond of looking direct into the camera and saying ‘you will never be forgotten’ to the dead.
As I said yesterday, I would love it if one day he was asked to name nurses and doctors who have died on the frontline, and see how far he gets.
Empathy is not just saying things. It is doing things. What was it I said in the piece I wrote for the Evening Standard, edited by Hancock’s close friend George Osborne, on April 3, almost two months ago, when the former Chancellor asked me to write a ‘ten point crisis guide’?
9. “Show real empathy. This is more than saying we value nurses or that “thoughts and prayers” are with families of the dead. It must not feel formulaic and is about making sure they have what they need. After 9/11, and the 2005 London bombings, for example, Tessa Jowell worked full-time liaising to make sure victims’ families were properly looked after.”
Sadly, Tessa is now dead herself, but my God what could the country do with someone in government with her empathy, that ability not just to be nice to people who were suffering, but then go away and help sort the things they needed.
I gave another example when I was on the Jeremy Vine show last week. I was on after Mr Hancock, and during my bit, a nurse called in to say she had been stuck at home self-isolating for weeks, trying to get tested for the virus, and get the results so she could hopefully get back to work. She was scathing.
I said that if that had happened during the Blair years, not just I but people all over Whitehall would have got onto the Health Department, and asked ‘there was a nurse on Channel 5 with a real problem just now, somebody sort it out.’ I asked Channel 5 to send the clip to Mr Hancock.
Now, please meet Mr Seamus McNally. He lives in Newmarket. Mr Hancock is his MP.
After seeing Boris Johnson’s defence of Dominic Cummings, after Mr Johnson debased the office of the Prime Minister by allowing Dominic Cummings to do a fairy-tale reading in the garden, Mr McNally wrote to Mr Hancock as follows.
As a constituent of yours, I find myself compelled to write to you to express my utter disgust at what I have just witnessed in today’s briefing.
The Prime Minister’s defense of the Cummings’ quite unbelievable traversing of the country in a vehicle that must have been full of the virus is utterly astonishing.
Not only did they ignore YOUR “this is not advice, this is an instruction”, they arrogantly risked the lives of those that they came in to contact with on the journey. Please do not insult me by suggesting that a 264 mile journey with a four year old in the car was made in one go, they clearly had to have stopped.
My father-in-law died during this lockdown, having been alone in hospital, his children and grand-children, my children, unable to so much as visit him to say goodbye – he died, alone. Can you begin to imagine how heart breaking that is to contemplate and to have to live with for the rest of your life for his children and grand-children? I know I can’t.
The “instincts” of his children were to visit him. They did not, as they complied with YOUR “instructions.” The Prime Minister’s assertion that Cummings acted correctly on his “instincts” is deeply, deeply insulting. Should my children have acted on their “instincts” to say one final goodbye to their grandfather before he died? Should many more of us than the 10 that have been allowed turn up to his funeral on Thursday to send him off?
This country can see straight through this brazen pack of lies to protect the career of an unelected advisor. It is sickening to see and I implore you to change your view on this issue, to represent the views of your constituents and call for the departure of this odious individual.
I look forward to your response.
I suggest you go back and read the last three paragraphs again, before I post Mr Hancock’s reply, and then imagine how Mr McNally and his grieving family felt when they received it. It will be familiar to those of you who read my blog yesterday. It is the same letter, cut and paste, word for word, except for the top line, the first name ‘personal touch.’
Thank you for writing to me about Dominic Cummings. I understand that this is a sensitive issue, and I want to assure you that I continue to put all of my efforts as Health Secretary, and as your MP, into stopping the devastating effects of coronavirus so that we can get life back to normal as soon as possible.
Mr. Cummings gave a full and detailed statement on Monday 25th May in which he outlined the reasons that led to his journey to Durham. Journalists were immediately given the opportunity to question him, and I am satisfied with Mr. Cummings’ account. While I believe Mr. Cummings was correct to find childcare for his toddler when both he and his wife were getting ill, I completely understand that others do not share this view.
I am so proud at how the country has come together during this difficult time and how communities across West Suffolk have rallied in support of the social distancing and lockdown rules, and in particular of our wonderful carers. We have done so much to stop the spread of coronavirus, and it is vital we now come together in the next phase, to get our country back on her feet.
Thank you again for taking the time to write to me.
‘Dear Seamus …. Regards, Matt’, all designed to give an impression of ‘all in this together’ familiarity, when the one thing the Johnson/Cummings scandal has shown is that we are most definitely not all in this together. Unsurprisingly, Mr McNally was unimpressed.
‘Mr Hancock,’ he replied.
‘Thanks for the reply but did you actually read my mail? In it I discussed the death, alone and in hospital, of my father in law and the fact that my children couldn’t even visit to say goodbye to him before he died. You didn’t even offer your condolences.
That’s not normal.
You’re my MP. You work for us. What happened to representative democracy?
I know that Mr Hancock is incredibly busy, ramping up all sorts of things that should have been sorted weeks ago, and playing his part in using up vast political time, energy and capital to let his amoral boss keep his favourite adviser. And yes, he will be getting many, many letters and emails, and cannot be expected to read them all, or see all the replies.
But he should have systems, so that he and his staff know the kind of letter that requires a stock response, and what requires a personal response. It is no good, as people in high places are wont to do, blaming interns and volunteers and junior officials when something like this happens. This went out in Hancock’s name. It is his responsibility. And it reflects further on something that has become all too apparent in this crisis – from Johnson down, these people are not very good at their jobs.
Also, the terrifying thing, having watched every minute of all but two of the Number 10 briefings in recent weeks is that Mr Hancock is better than most of the others.
A letter like Mr McNally’s, no matter how busy Mr Hancock may be, should have had at the least a handwritten letter of condolence, but more likely a phone call, not just to address the Johnson/Cummings point, but to see what help he could give the family at this time. That is what MPs are for – to help and represent their constituents.
I would have posted this yesterday, as part of the long analysis I did, but I wanted to be sure Mr McNally and his family were content for such personal correspondence to be put in the public domain.
‘Yes, please feel free to publish any of the correspondence as you see fit and again, thank you for pursuing this fight,’ he said, adding that he was genuinely worried at the turn the country was taking under this government. ‘There are many, many, many voiceless people out here who appreciate greatly what you are doing.’
Mr Hancock and I follow each other on twitter so, in case his office doesn’t see this post, I will send it to him by direct message.
And may I offer a little advice – dig out Mr McNally’s letter, have a read, get in touch, and use that word that these Tories, despite helping more than 60,000 to die, despite ballsing up PPE, testing and so much besides, despite taking the UK to the top of the global death league …. Sorry …
And perhaps call him Mr McNally, not Seamus. He is not your friend. We are not all in this together.
Here is my suggested draft.
‘Dear Mr McNally,
I am genuinely sorry for sending you a stock letter in response to your complaint about Mr Cummings. I have no excuse, other than the fact that I have had many hundreds of such letters, and in my rush to get them answered, I instructed my office to send a standard reply to all. I can see how the impersonal and dismissive nature of the reply will have added to your pain and suffering at this time, and I sincerely apologise for that.
Let me please now offer my condolences to you and your family, even while accepting you may see this as too little, too late. But in addition to accepting my apology, which I hope you do, I would also like to be able to speak to you and assess if there is anything I can do specifically to help you and your family.
As for Mr Cummings, as a member of the Cabinet, I am bound by collective responsibility and, the Prime Minister having been clear he is not dismissing his adviser, and Mr Cummings having been clear he is not resigning, if I publicly contradicted that position, I would have to resign. I think that would be to walk away from my responsibilities as Health Secretary during a national crisis.
In politics, sometimes we have to say things we don’t want to, and sometimes we have to bite our tongue. That is one of these situations. I share your anger at the distraction this has caused, and your concerns about the implications for public health policy. But I must stay focused on my job, not the job of Mr Cummings.
I hope you will contact me to arrange a call or a meeting. Thank you, and my condolences once more to you and your family.
Such an important reminder about how to make a genuine apology. Also, thank you for helping highlight how this pandemic has exposed this government for what they really are: a bunch of incompetent, lying, insincere and out of touch career politicians. The more I witness, the more I become convinced that there is little compassion, indeed, a callous disregard for the population as a whole. Keep up the good work; it is making a difference.
Unfortunately our system is riddled with carreerists, from Education and Care to the Government. Even the regulators appear to be unfit for purpose! These people are grossly over paid, and specialise in maximising their income, by safeguarding budgets, rather than meet the needs of the common man and fulfill their job description.
I sent this email to my Tory MP in Loughborough during the week. I am still waiting for a reply, as are many others based on the comments on her Twitter. I believe she is holding off for two hoping interest wanes.
Dear Jane Hunt,
Having read through the list of MPs who have had the courage to speak out and demand that Dominic Cummings is either sacked or resigns, I was disappointed that you were not counted amongst their numbers.
We have abided by the rules of the lock down since day one as have our neighbours. As I am sure you know, it has been tough, but for the greater good. To see Dominic Cummings show blatant disregard for the rules that he helped put in place is absolutely infuriating. He undermined the straight forward instructions – Stay at home, Protect the NHS, Save lives. I agree with your colleague Sajid Javid who stated, “I do not believe Mr Cummings’ journey to County Durham to isolate on his family’s estate was necessary or justified. I remain unconvinced his visit to Barnard Castle could be considered reasonable… I was also deeply concerned by his decision to return to Downing Street directly after coming into contact with a family member who was ill, potentially with coronavirus.”
To wake up this morning to 37,460 deaths, the highest in Europe and excess deaths reaching nearly 60,000, it is impossible to ignore what Dominic Cummings has done and simply ‘move on’ as Boris Johnson has instructed.
Moreover, it is abhorrent to rush young children back to unprepared schools and prematurely roll out track and trace in a bid to distract from the scandal of Cummings actions and Boris’ attempts to cover for him.
I urge you to join the voice of the 61 MPs announced this morning and speak out against this disgraceful conduct. The Conservatives are losing credibility by the day, Boris Johnson is seen as inept. The Conservatives need to salvage something from this if they hope to have the trust of the people.
Would you like my MPs reply?
I am old enough and cynical enough I guess to say no such e mail will be sent by the Minister because he knows well enough how badly Cummings behaved and how confused the whole affair has left the Country. We are not imbeciles Minister.
While this is inacceptabje this is not surprising. Try writing to raise serious concerns with most MPs or people in power providing services to the public and you will get the same kind of reply written by someone in the office concocted from standard paragraphs. This has always been the case, even when faced with the most serious situation where a vulnerable person has suffered terribly and/or died through poor social or health care be it lack of resources or negligence. As am example, I am thinking of people with learning disability and autism whose deaths even before this pandemic were disproportionately high. That is why lessons are never learnt and why vulnerable people will continue to suffer and die needlessly. Being sorry and saying so just isn’t part of the mindset for those providing public services
Hi Alistair on a lighter note, I am 71 and would like to learn to play the bagpipes. If I worked at it how long before, I could play a tune. Also, I know it takes a lot of wind, could this be dangerous at my age.
My MP Priti Patel clearly does NOT believe she works for her constituents! She has in all ignored 4 emails sent to her by myself & my family about DC. She treated me appallingly last year when I was being victimised over PIP by Independent Assessment Services. She pretended to be all sympathetic & interested but in the end said she could not help. I LOATHE THE WOMAN!! .
that is what happens when the woman who is in charge of a system rife with bullying is first accused of being a bully herself by members of her staff and is dealt with by being backed fully and any investigation treated as nonsense and lies. Understandably innocent until proven guilty and support by colleagues while the truth is found and her name cleared. But surely any person not a bully and not so self indulgent would be more respected and trusted by all if they moved away from their official position until exonerated under guaranteed protection of their position until such time a proven innocent. Instead we have a person accused of behaviours that uk prisons are RIFE with and cause many problems for the victims of those bullied in prison (convicted criminals mostly I admit) but also their families who have done nothing wrong and might have to deal with death of loved one from suicide, pay debts that are hugely inflated from what is actually owed or be coerced into criminality to protect someone they care for. Never mind the fact rehabilitation and a changing behaviours are supposed to be the core of how goverment deals with not only offenders but also reoffending and crime as a whole. Yet we have a home secretary who controls the release or not of many lifetime sentenced prisoners who are told to change their ways but see a different life than what’s theoretically being taught as the right behaviour, their eyes see bullys as the powerful and not only is it power they have but support of their colleagues for wielding that power.
It seems as a United Kingdom we are only United to ensure the elite stay that way and by their position enjoy superiority of the people who do the work to keep their coffers filled.
Great Britain again for those in support of the machine yet shit for the people. We as a country can be sure that never again will we prosper until elitism is quashed weather we are in Europe or not
That makes 2 of us at least, she is a cold brittle politician with no empathy for anyone
You articulate so well what most of us are feeling. I emailed my mp(dewsbury) and got the same toady answer. I feel we are seriously having the piss taken out of us. Keep up the good work.
I admire you a great deal Mr Campbell- met you a few times working for various Ministers and found you very amiable despite the rumours!- but I have to write that I was working in Ms Jowell’s Private Office during the time you write about. Indeed I called her at home to tell her about the first plane and to switch her TV on. However, my recollections are very different to yours. Very.
Here’s my reply from Caroline Ansell (Eastbourne)
Thank you for writing to me regarding Dominic Cummings, Special Advisor to the Prime Minister.
Media coverage of Mr Cummings’ travel in March has sparked fury and frustration and I understand that; lockdown has been at a very great cost to very many of us.
The Government Guidance has always made the provision that safeguarding, and risk of harm can be considered in exceptional circumstances. Parents unable to care for a four-year-old child would qualify, as the Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England, Dr Jenny Harries, stated in the recent press conference.
On Monday, Mr Cummings explained his situation and his thinking here. While this has answered questions for some of you who have written to me, clearly not all; as such, I have passed on these concerns to Number 10. I should say for balance, that I have also received numerous emails castigating the media and political opportunism, not Mr Cummings.
I have not worked with Dominic Cummings and I knew nothing of this episode until you did. I personally found the press conference difficult to watch. I didn’t know that his child had been hospitalised. I have found reading some of the emails I have subsequently received very hard to read too; hard because people have outlined their own heart-breaking decisions.
Please forgive a standard response on this occasion, I have received over six hundred emails since Saturday night on this issue, but I want to assure you that I have read each one and that includes yours.
As a country and as a town we have rallied in these last weeks and months in the face of this deadly virus and we will need to continue to do so to pull through the recovery phases and beyond.
Thank you for all you have done personally these last weeks and months and with every good wish to you and your families and friends,
My letter to Dr Liam Fox
Dear Dr Fox
I am writing to let you know how absolutely disgusted I am at events of this past weekend.
Over the past two months everyone I know has made enormous sacrifices, and many of us, my own family included, have suffered the greatest of loss. A few points to illustrate.
My youngest sister became severely ill with Covid19, yet continued to care for her young child.
My stepdaughter and her partner too became ill, and they too cared for their child.
My stepson and his wife were both ill with Covid19, yet continued to care for their 3-year-old twins.
None of them would have ever considered coming to our home in Dundry to self-isolate here, although there would have been space for them. They didn’t, because this country was in lockdown, and because we were all told to ‘stay HOME, save lives and protect the NHS’. They also didn’t do so, because my husband is nearly 74 and suffers from severe asthma. And they understood the risks they might take if they were to come here.
So far, that was just illnesses and how to care for young children. But there’s worse to come.
By mid-April, I learned my father was dying and had only days to live. Travel restrictions were such that I had to live for four days in the knowledge my father was slipping away and I could not reach him, to be with him at the end of his life.
When he passed away, none of us – and there are 10 members of my family in the UK – none of us was able to attend his funeral, having to watch the sombre, solitary service on a computer screen. Unable still to travel, we remain unable to go and support the woman who for 50 years has been our stepmother and who now bears her grief all alone, in solitude. And as a family, we have not been able to get together and grieve together, not even in the UK, again, because we were abiding by the lockdown rules. To this date, my husband and I have not left the village since the start of lockdown. Not once have we left, not once have we seen our children or grandchildren – not even from a distance – even though our hearts are breaking and want nothing more than do be together and grieve for what we’ve lost.
All this because of Covid19, all of this because we abided by the rules, as set out by this government.
It was bad enough to hear of Dominic Cummings breaking these rules, it was worse to hear his lame excuse when so many in my own family experienced the same but broke no lockdown rules. But what is most galling, and has finally made me snap, is to hear Boris Johnson defend his political guru. Johnson made it clear once and for all, and for the entire country to see and hear, that there is one rule for the likes of us, and clearly none for the likes of him and his cronies. I am beyond disgust, beyond anger and beyond forgiveness.
Boris Johnson is not a man of the people. He is not a man of integrity. Instead, he heads up a government that has sold out our elderly in care homes and now he’s sold out the rest of us too by not only condoning what Cummings did but by positively defending it, by twisting the truth to suit his political needs. What Cummings did was clearly wrong. and they have sacked him. What Johnson did is unforgivable and I for one shall never ever support him or his government.
I thought you should know.
It ought to matter to you too.
Because it will, come the next election.
AND THE REPLY (NOT FROM THE MAN HIMSELF, BUT HIS ASSISTANT:
Dear Ms Waite
Thank you for your message. Dr Fox received a huge number of emails on this issue and it has not been possible to respond before now. He wanted to wait until after the Prime Minister’s appearance before the Liaison Committee and the Durham Police decision on the complaint against Mr Cummings before replying. If you have not already looked at Dr Fox’s website – http://www.liamfox.co.uk where his reply is posted, here is the link. He will not be commenting further on this subject.
TO WHICH I REPLIED:
A tiny addition like: ‘I’m sorry for your loss’ might have been a good touch here…
TO WHICH THE REPLY WAS:
Thank you, sadly it has not been possible for Dr Fox to respond individually to emails, there have just been too many.
Pathetic! Why is there not a call for labour MP to lose her job. Hypocrites.
Mr Cummings and Mr Johnson might do well to have a history lesson. The Plantaganet Kng Edwsrd Ii raised to a high level the hated Piers Gaveston. Look at what happened to Piers Gsveston and eventually to Edward Ii Not that I think that in any way the completely amoral Johnson and DC have the supposedly homosexual relationship that Edward II and Piers Gaveston had. The king did not learn his lesson though and went on to elevate the Despensers to positions that preceded their doom as well.
I received exactly the same email response from Matt Hancock, in answer to a very similar communication – oh, except for the fact that I have not been so personally affected by the death of a close family member as is surely the point.
So Matt Hancock’s response to Mr McNally was a standard response to anyone who contacted him regardless of the gravity of the case or specific points raised.