Just when I was thinking, thank God for that, the flood has slowed to a trickle, and I can have a day free of reading badly-written, horribly punctuated, politically tone-deaf letters from Tory MPs to their constituents about Dominic Cummings, new beauties arrive.
I guess I should always have known the Jacob Rees-Mogg missive would be a bit special. I am going to have to give it the same treatment I gave to that poor chap from Watford, Deano, whose surname I have forgotten, namely line-by-line analysis. Oh, and David Davis is to come, followed by the MP who covers Barnard Castle.
So, Mr Rees-Mogg. I have enjoyed this one far too much …
‘Thank you for your recent correspondence referring to Dominic Cummings. (Correspondence referring to, none of that ‘email re’ that these modern Tory types use.)
‘I have received a large volume of letters (letters are good, noble and therefore come ahead of … ) and e-mails (yuk) in relation to him (oh! “him” … Unfriendly tone) and have thought carefully (because careful thought is my thing, except when it comes to a Covid-safe Parliament) about the views expressed to me. Many points have been made (this is going to be a stock letter but I hope you made one of the points I am going to emphasise and will thereby think it is personal) but I think there are three underpinning them all. (Definitely a stock letter.) These are i) (oh, I do like a Roman numeral) were Mr Cummings actions (you need an apostrophe on Cummings there, Jake; did they not teach you how to write in English at Eton?) in line with the letter and spirit of the regulations (you need a question mark there, Jake!) ii) is there one rule for senior government figures and another for everyone else (ditto re missing question mark) iii) why have I supported Mr Cummings. (At least he put a full stop there, but still the quaestiomarcamphobia – here’s hoping he does Latin better than English – persists.) I will try to answer them all.
‘First, the trip to Durham was allowed under the rules. (What? Says who? Did he check? Stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives – wasn’t that the rule? … ‘exceptional circumstances’ rule if you have concerns re child abuse/domestic violence … what are you saying here Jake? But note the imperiousness, no further discussion on this point; it was allowed.) ’The issue here (which he is about to re-frame even though this was not among his three Roman numeral points) seems to be (seems, note, not is) the distance travelled rather than the aim to look after a child. (I actually think you need a comma or even a semi-colon after ‘aim,’ Jake, or perhaps change it to ’the aim of looking after etc …’) Most correspondents accept it is reasonable to make provision for an infant (Matt Hancock used the word ’toddler’ for a four year old; infant seems similarly and excessively diminutive … four = child. Furthermore, Jake, would you tell us how many – I am guessing none, based on all the letters I have seen – of your constituents said: ‘Of course, had he only gone to a Daddy estate in Watford or Wantage, that would be fine, and I would not be writing to you’ ?) but question the need to travel 260 miles. (Did they put a maximum permissible distance on this, in their letters? 50? 100? 150? 259?) In my view the distance is not the main issue (and nor was it, I suspect, for any of the letters you received) but is dependent (grammatically, this relates to your view, Jake, not the distance issue you go on to address) upon individual circumstances and the degree of separation, with the provision of emergency childcare, was best provided for the Cummings family near Durham. (This sentence really is a grammatical obscenity. There is a whole PhD to be written on it, and its relation to the cost of education being in inverse proportion to its efficacy. Just one of the many points I could make – ’the Cummings family near Durham’; is this the Cummings family which lives near Durham, i.e Mater and Pater? Or the Cummings normally resident in London, but which moved to stay on the estate of the Cummings family near Durham, in light of their uniquely having a child aged four? This is at best ambiguous, at worst meaningless.) A short test drive before undertaking a longer journey seems a prudent course to have taken. (Prudent! So perhaps roads should replace opticians, and we will just have to hope that too many do not try it out at the same time?) I believe that many people would have acted in the same way without any desire to break either the letter or spirit of the rules. (Apart from Michael Gove, I have not seen or heard of anyone who has said they would have acted in this way.)
‘Second, (I approve of his use of First, Second, Third to introduce paragraphs, and shall include this in the PhD analysis) if anything Mr Cummings (polite now, no mere “he”) has been held to a higher standard than others. (No explanation for that observation at all. The opposite case can be made far more easily.) As I am arguing that the House of Commons should return because politicians must lead by example I do not think this to be unreasonable (Interesting non sequitur). It is interesting that this country, unlike many others, (but I can’t be bothered to name them because then people might compare their deaths per million rates against ours, the worst in the world apart from Belgium because they don’t fiddle the figures like we do) has followed the lockdown rules by popular consent not compulsion. ’This not an instruction, it is an order,’ as Toddler Hancock put it, to anyone but Durham Dom who, uniquely for a father, cares about his children, as we now know.) The number of enforcement actions by the police is low, only eight in Bath and North East Somerset altogether. (And I suspect they did not put as many people at risk as Cummings did.) This has meant that we have all made judgements but will not always agree with those other people have made. (As Commons leader, he is getting perilously close to saying the law doesn’t really matter.) Generally the rules have been more assiduously followed than the law required. (Oh, I wish I had known than that when I decided to miss those two funerals.)
’Third,’ he goes on, ‘I support Mr Cummings because (I read that Priti Patel might be in line for the sack because she didn’t put out one of those nodding dog cut and paste statements saying Dom is King and it is time to move on, but here is what we have been told to say) I think he behaved reasonably and the country needs the ablest people to be in the highest echelons of government (Lord! Even Sunak, Gove, Raab, Dowden and Hancock didn’t go this far, and they were the biggest Dom-creeps at the time.) He has both the energy and intellect (if somewhat lacking in commonsense or an ability to stick to the same set of lies for more than a few minutes) to help (tie the Prime Minister’s shoelaces and make sure he gets his afternoon nap) improve the way the country is run to the good of us all (he thinks he is Lincoln!) and particularly those who have not prospered in recent decades (Jesus, he believes the levelling up bullshit.) I also like the fact that the Prime Minister is loyal to those who serve him, (please never sack me, Boris) this is a positive quality not always common in politics and clearly not invariably popular.’
‘In the last few months (comma?) many sacrifices have been made (though my fund is doing very well, due to judicious investment in the Eurozone). The elderly and shielded have been isolated and lonely, (many without even a nanny for company,) families have been unable to attend funerals, weddings have been cancelled (this is a huge blow to The Tatler) and schooling interrupted (lovely! If only Tony Blair has said “my top three priorities are schooling, schooling, schooling,” instead of boring old “education, education, education” I think we would still be in power.) Inevitably, with the knowledge we now have some decisions would have been taken differently (but I would rather not say which, and we will do our best to get out of a public inquiry when the time comes) but the nation as a whole has marched together. (Military resonance suggests this is coming to an end.)
‘I hope Mr Cummings will not be the scapegoat (Jake, don’t overdo the victim theme, it really doesn’t work) for these many frustrations, (semi-colon or full stop not comma needed there) he continues to work remarkably hard (unlike BoJo) not out of ambition (perish the thought, let alone the desire to push a hard right agenda across the world) but for the common good (of the common people, for he is with them, very much against the hated elite, Eton/Oxford/Bullingdon Johnson types.)
‘With every good wish, (we did learn politeness, if not punctuation, at “School”)
‘Yours sincerely,’ (followed by a signature that looks like a Japanese election slogan.)
Now to another ardent Brexit-man, the Today programme co-host (with Iain Duncan-Smith) David Davis, MP for Haltemprice and Howden.
He goes for the ‘working hard for you, hence can’t possibly give you a proper answer’ approach. “As you can appreciate, we give priority to the correspondence which has a direct personal impact on constituents. For example, throughout this period, and amongst many other issues, such correspondence has ranged from repatriating people stranded abroad through to ensuring individuals subject to shielding measures have access to food supplies. (Cue image, Davis out on the doorsteps visiting OAPs, no photos supplied.)
‘On the issue of Mr Cummings (no comma) I understand your frustration (feel your pain). Families across the constituency, and indeed across the UK, have made deep personal sacrifices and faced incredibly distressing decisions in the past few months. (This is the sacrifice cut and paste section slightly re-worded. Readers if parts 1-6 of this analysis will be familiar with it by now.)
‘Given the sacrifices and tough decisions we have all made (I mean, my Today programme appearances have been down the line, whereas they usually get me driven in and I have a nice coffee) during the course of this pandemic, the anger and frustration expressed over the past few weeks is entirely understandable (anger and frustration = a plural, David, “is” should be “are.”)
‘However, I do not agree with the vitriolic atmosphere surrounding Mr Cummings or with the vile personal abuse being levelled at him. Often this comes from those who simply do not agree with Mr Cummings’ politics or who are opposed to him due to his role in Brexit. (Playing the Brexit card, thereby doubly insulting the many Leave supporters who feel just as strongly as anyone else; plus the security card, pretending the protests outside Cummings’ London home were there before rather than purely since he chose to break the guidelines.)
‘Whether or not he broke the law and what the appropriate response to that is, is a matter for the police. I say this as it is impossible for anyone outside of the police to know the full facts of the situation. (Or even the police, given the cursory nature of the investigation, which I am pleased to see some serious lawyers are seeking to have re-opened, in Durham and in London.)
‘For example (no comma) it is only since the police started investigating that we (we? Have you joined the cops?) discovered that one of the claims against Mr Cummings has turned out to be a deliberate falsehood. (Annoying, but irrelevant to whether or not he broke the law.)
‘I also try to be as impartial as possible when judging other people. It is no secret that Dominic Cummings and I do not see eye to eye, (I am a Brexit player too) and have not done so for the past two decades, so I cannot claim to be impartial when it comes to him or his actions.
But that is beside the point, what is crucial here is that the government’s public health message is not undermined (which it has been, though I appear not to be saying that).
‘Accordingly, I have already reflected your views to the Government in the strongest possible terms at the beginning of last week.’ (And I am not doing anything more, so you could have saved yourself a stamp, sunshine.)
Now bear in mind that Mr Cummings described Mr Davis as ‘thick as mince, lazier than a toad, and more vain than Narcissus.’ So the letter says one thing loud and clear …though he screwed up last time in government, Davis wants back, to screw up again.
Alexander Stafford, MP for Rother Valley, shows a few more cojones than his elders. “What is clear, however, is the need for a full inquiry into all aspects of the coronavirus crisis, once the danger has passed, and the actions of those involved including all political parties must be reviewed.”
“If you would like to talk to me personally about this situation, or any other, please do let me know and I will call you- I will always be here for residents of Rother Valley.” Keep tabs on the ones pressing for a public inquiry, folks.
And even better, Harriett Baldwin, MP for West Worcestershire: “I have never met or communicated with Dominic Cummings and know nothing of his family circumstances, nor do I have confidence that all of the facts are in the public domain. I cannot say if I would have given the same exceptional advice to him if he had been a constituent who had contacted me asking for an interpretation of the guidance at the time.
‘While I have every human sympathy with Dominic Cummings, I think there is a higher bar for members of the Government. If the Government wants people to follow the public health advice in order to protect our NHS and save lives, then members of the Government, giving that advice, including the Prime Minister’s adviser, need to follow it too.
(Actually goes through the process of empathy, reason and logic to conclude) ‘The Government relies on moral authority to receive the consent of the people to such draconian reductions in their freedoms. Therefore, for the sake of future adherence to public health guidelines, I believe he should resign.’ (Well done, you … strikes me that there may be a principle or two in there.)
‘This was the basis of my internal communications to the powers that be over the weekend. I have also made sure that the strength of feeling I can observe in my mailbox has been passed on.’
But just when a Tory woman pleases me, another one comes along to disappoint, care minister Helen Whately, MP for Faversham and Mid Kent, who has given some of the most cringe-worthy, ill-briefed interviews of the whole crisis.
‘As the greatest public health emergency in a generation, the coronavirus outbreak has had an enormous impact on so many aspects of our daily lives. I know that the lockdown in particular has been extremely difficult for people, with families across the country having to make huge sacrifices. I am very grateful for the role that you and others have played in helping to reduce the rate of infection, protecting the NHS and, truly, saving lives.
As you will have seen, Dominic Cummings set out in detail the ways in which his actions were within guidelines and in the interest of the safety of his child during a press conference. He went on to answer journalists’ questions at length. The Prime Minister has said that he and Mr Cummings have also spoken extensively about this subject and that he intends to draw a line under this matter. (I remain fascinated by this new Tory notion that facing questions is a new bar for saving your skin, even when on any objective analysis, the answers make things worse for your case.)
I believe that, as a Government, we need to continue to get on with protecting people from Covid-19, whilst also restarting the economy. With every single person across the constituency affected by these two issues, I hope you will understand that these must be my top priorities at present. (Move on)
John Lamont, MP for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk: [Sacrifice cut and paste/lots of anger/share frustration]
“For my own part, I have strictly observed the lockdown rules over the last 9 weeks from my home in Coldstream, as I know the overwhelming majority of us are. That is the way we can make sure we all come through this together.” (Move on.)
Just wants it put behind, he shares the frustrations, not of the people who have been betrayed but with the people who want it all to just go away and stop bothering anyone.
Alister Jack, MP for Dumfries and Galloway, and Scottish Secretary: ‘Mr Cummings has provided a full account and explanation of his actions and it is for people to make up their own minds on whether they believe they were justified. Whilst not everyone will agree, I believe that, in very difficult circumstances, he acted in what he thought were the best interests of his family.’ (Other than in the opening line, this is his only reference to Cummings, preferring instead to praise the efforts of the nation, and therefore conveniently avoiding the purpose of the bulk of the letters he received.)
“I will continue to work to support the UK Government’s response (sorry, you are the government, not some kind of outside support) to this public health crisis and I hope we can return to more normal lives as soon as possible.”
Richard Holden, MP for North West Durham, is a cake/eat kind of guy, critical without condemnation or action. “One of the fundamental tenants of our democratic system is that we are all equal before the law and no-one individual is above it. I have had regular contact with the chief constable throughout the pandemic and am glad that police have followed the same course of action they would with the rest of us.
In the current global corona virus pandemic, nothing is more important than public confidence in the actions and messages from our Government.”
“I have made both my views and the views of my constituents clear at the highest levels of Government on the actions of the Prime Minister’s Adviser. Sorry that his actions have distracted from the efforts made nationally and in Northwest Durham to tackle Corona Virus and its impact.”
Antony Higginbotham, MP for Burnley (how the hell did that happen? Hopefully this whole mess will help ensure it is a one-term experience for him and the town.) ‘Last week Mr Cummings set out the facts – what he did, when he did it and why he did it, including his own family circumstances. It is for each of us to decide how we feel about it and having listened to his explanation, I have concluded that in his circumstances I would have acted differently. I have made this clear to my colleagues in Government, along with the strength of feeling on this from my constituents.”
“That said I have also given some thought to how I would respond if a constituent came to me with a similar set of circumstances. Circumstances where a person does not feel they could keep their family safe if they were incapacitated by illness, and where they did not feel there was any support network to help care for a very young child. In those circumstances I know I would say that they acted reasonably as a parent.’ (Really? Are you absolutely sure? I don’t think so.)
Here, finally, for masochists and students of organised bullshit and political hypocrisy, are Parts 1-6 of this painful exercise.
Here is Part 1.
And here is one on Matt Hancock’s winning the least empathetic stock letter award (in a large field of strong contenders.)