Cummings and Goings: How One Man’s Trip Became Our Odyssey

Johnson at Cummings' Press Briefing
Picture by Andrew Parsons / No 10 Downing Street

“The guidance is clear: stay alert, follow your instincts and travel to Durham.” The 270 miles Dominic Cummings drove whilst symptomatic with coronavirus was apparently a voyage led by “instinct and integrity”, according to Boris Johnson in Sunday’s briefing. Rather than a symbol of valour and resourceful parenting as his chief aide might have hoped for, Cummings’ journey has become an Odyssey into the weak, factitious and morally bankrupt core of Johnson’s cabinet.

The pilgrimage was to secure “essential childcare” when Cummings was “about to” become unwell. How one can accurately predict their own reaction to the virus is a baffling medical question – maybe one for Neil Ferguson? Luckily, his elderly parents were on standby to care for his infected son, in case he deteriorated, while neighbours reported ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” blaring from the property. I can just see it now – Cummings doing the “truth twist”, as coined by the Civil Service Twitter accounts now-deleted tweet – whilst dancing away his bubbling anxieties about childcare.

One can assume Cummings’ careless safari up north would surely involve stop-offs at petrol stations in remote areas, highlighting his dehumanised perspective of the British public. Protecting his family? Honourable. Protecting the collective British family? Voluntary. It goes without saying that Cummings’ trip throws up a middle finger to the millions of families who have had to make difficult decisions of separation during lockdown. Those who were unable to say their final words to their loved ones, and were then left to mourn in complete solitude for weeks. The countless URLs to funerals. The deceased frontline workers who put their lives second, yet were unable to have their final goodbyes. On top of this trauma, the gaslighting of the public by the government in Cummings’ defence, is stupefying. Dominic Raab tweeted: “those now seeking to politicise it should take a long hard look in the mirror”. Johnson lying through his teeth about his own policy reads nothing short of questioning our own literacy skills.

The government cannot label breaches of their own guidance as honourable and “the right decision”, without simultaneously implying the choices we made not to see our families in their most vulnerable moments, were instances of our bad instincts and poor-decision making. If we are to successfully avoid a second peak, not only does the government need our cooperation and trust in them – which was already scant – but they need to maintain our belief that the rules are concrete and empirically-proven.

The government are the architects of their own downfall in this scandal. The lockdown has created a national camaraderie and galvanised a heightened sense of unity. Whilst lockdown has by no means been an equaliser as it’s been inexplicably more difficult for some, it has given each and every one of us a shared experience that binds us together. No matter where you are, you can turn to the person next to you on the street, the bus, in the supermarket, and ask: “so how did you find it?” This unprecedented shared experience, created by the government’s very own lockdown, is the ammunition that I hope could now topple its reign. No matter where you lie on the political spectrum, we can all point to a difficult decision we made in lockdown, and then ask the government: but what about you? It is the government who has now been ‘othered’, rather than their usual tactic of encouraging us to turn on one another.

Read more: COVID-19 and the Defence of the Working-Class

As Cummings left his Islington home yesterday, he was coincidentally armed with his child’s toys, carefully curated for his new identity as a selfless father. Cummings isn’t stupid: he knows photographs of him batting away journalists with his son’s scooter will subliminally make us see him in a human light for once. At least, so he hopes. But what’s the most terrifying aspect of this scandal isn’t just Cummings’ mileage. It isn’t even the offensive arrogance of the government’s justifications. It’s that Johnson, the seminal defender of reputation, and infamously disloyal politician who will instantly drop any comrade who could tarnish his image, couldn’t say goodbye to Cummings. Not because he’s a great friend, or because he too is a doting father (no comment), but because he’s scared shitless. The fact he will go down with Cummings’ ship is because he has no ship at all. Johnson is a puppet, and without the strategy of his evil mastermind, it would only be so long before his auto-piloted stock phrases would run dry. Maybe one day, soon, we’ll look back and thank Cummings’ parents for their guesthouse in Durham, as it generated the UK’s collective Odyssey to a moment of clarity. Who the hell is running this ship?

Words by Niamh Rowe


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