A guest slot from Richard Tyndall
First a declaration of my view of Dominic Cummings.
I am a huge fan both of the man himself, of what he has tried to achieve over many years, and of his successes as a political advisor and brains behind the Leave campaign. So it should be clear that my views on the Durham-gate affair are not based on personal antipathy towards him. In an ideal world I would want nothing more than for him to stay as Chief of Staff at No 10 for the next 4 years.
Sadly I do not think that is now a tenable position.
There has been lots of debate over the last 24 hours about the rights and wrongs of Cummings’ actions and what the consequences should be. These have been broadly but not exclusively along the expected fault lines of pro and anti-Brexit, pro and anti-Johnson and Left and Right. What most of the arguments have done is mixed up three distinct lines of debate into a single position of attack or defence. So I think it is worthwhile unravelling those three strands of argument.
Firstly there is the argument of whether or not Cummings was right to do what he did from a personal point of view of doing what was best for his family. This has been the primary line of defence from those seeking to absolve him of wrong doing but it was actually ydoethur – who is no fan of Cummings – who took the measured view on this. If Cummings felt that he was best protecting his family by taking them to Durham so his child could be cared for by relatives then he was completely right to do so. I suspect that almost all of us, if we genuinely believed that our families well-being was being put at risk, would have taken the same decision. He may have been wrong in his assessment but there is no point trying to second guess someone trying to do their best for their family in a time of crisis. So I have nothing but sympathy on this point.
However I do not consider it to be a valid defence.
The second line of argument – and the one I think is most important when deciding the rights and wrongs of Cummings’ behaviour – is whether or not what he did was best for the good governance of the country and the safety of the population. Like it or not, Cummings is at the heart of power, helping to frame decisions that have massive consequences for the whole country including, in these extraordinary times, literally matters of life and death. His actions cannot help but undermine the message the Government has been trying to hammer home for months now. And in undermining the message, he has undermined the whole Government strategy, the apparent rule of law and the safety of tens of thousands of people who might now believe that it is reasonable and safe to ignore the Government guidance. This is not a matter of politics but of basic good governance and on that basis Cummings has failed entirely.
That does not mean Cummings should not have done what he did. One reason why I and many others recognise we could never be in positions of power is because we could never put the good of the country before the good of our own close family. And whilst it might be rare, there are times when one has to make that choice when you are at the heart of government. What Cummings should have done, having chosen family over duty, is to resign. It would have shown he knew that he was wrong to have undermined the Government message and that there are consequences to making these difficult decisions. Instead what he ash tried to do is square the circle and claim that doing something because it was best for his family means he can ignore his duty to the country as a whole. That is an untenable position.
Finally, and to my mind least important, is the politics of it all. This of course is what will ultimately decide whether Cummings stays or goes. The Government are hoping this is the proverbial storm in a teacup and by this time next week the whole news cycle will have moved on. The Opposition are hoping it does not but are also not necessarily going to rush and push for Cummings to go. They will be banking on him being far more of a liability to the Government staying in power as damaged goods than being sacked to draw a line under the issue. This makes the whole thing difficult to call in terms of Cummings’ survival. But to my mind at least this is immaterial. The question as to whether he will survive may be difficult to call. The question as to whether he should survive, for me at least, is very, very clear.
For the good of the country and the future health of countless citizens, he should go now.
Richard has been a longstanding PBer