If you’re not somebody that follows UK politics all that closely, you may never have heard the name Dominic Cummings before.
And with good reason: he’s a slippery, stealth-like PR advisor and spin doctor for the Conservative Party, largely going about his business in the shadows.
But his name was thrust into the media spotlight amid the furore of his antics during the coronavirus lockdown, in which he drove more than 250 miles from London to Durham in order to get childcare for his four-year-old after fearing – which later turned out to be true – that he and his wife had contracted Covid-19.
The fallout was extraordinary. Had Cummings acted against the integrity of the government’s lockdown rules, or was he simply doing the right thing for his child? And is it really a case of one rule for politicians and their chums and another for the rest of us?
Boris Johnson’s handling of the affair has been lamented by even his closest of allies, and the episode has had a remarkable effect on a number of political betting markets – more on that later.
So Did Dominic Cummings Break Any Rules?
For much of the lockdown period, the UK government has asked people in England to stay at home where possible, relaxing the rules only slightly so that we can all go to the shops and get some much-needed fresh air.
Back in March, however, the rules dictated that we all had to stay at home – and certainly so if we, or those we lived with, were showing symptoms of Covid-19.
So by packing up his family and heading north, as Cummings did on March 27, he broke lockdown protocol – especially as he believed that his wife had coronavirus and that he had already had it having spent time with the Prime Minister, who was hospitalised by the virus.
The move to Durham was so that Cummings’ child could be looked after by his family, as they had no familiar childcare in the capital. And note the actual language used in the government’s publications of the time: ‘if you have children, keep following this advice to the best of your ability, however, we are aware that not all these measures will be possible.’
The most shocking revelation came when Cummings confirmed that on April 12, he drove to the local heritage site Barnard Castle to see – and these are genuinely his reasons – ‘if his eyesight was okay for driving.’ That seems perfectly safe and legitimate….and in doing so, the PM’s senior advisor also broke the rules outlined in the Road Traffic Act 1988 for driving when impaired.
Fallout Oh Boy
In the aftermath, Cummings was forced to call an emergency press conference, in which he expressed ‘no regret’ with his actions. “I believe that in all the circumstances I behaved reasonably and legally, balancing the safety of my family and the extreme situation in Number 10.”
But many didn’t agree with his perceived arrogance, with the daily newspapers turning on the government. The Metro ran with a ‘Stay Elite’ logo, mocking the Stay Alert message that Cummings had helped to devise, while the Daily Star included a Dominic Cummings mask that lets the wearer ‘do whatever the hell they want.’
— Metro Newspaper UK (@MetroUKNews) May 25, 2020
There is a serious side of course, and that is if the general public believe that the aide has broken Covid-19 convention, then they too are unlikely to follow the rules – critical as Boris Johnson looks to ease lockdown measures yet further.
The PM has been desperately trying to salvage the situation, and he has rush released news of shops and pubs opening potentially in June – to deflect, you suspect, attention away from his own right-hand man breaking the rules that he himself helped to impose.
There’s a mini civil war in the Tory Party too, with Douglas Ross quitting as an MP and others calling for Cummings to be sacked.
General Election Betting Tips
In many ways, it is the perception of the electorate that is more important.
The general consensus is that the public has turned, somewhat on the Tories, and the next General Election betting market has seen a remarkable shift.
The Conservatives have gone from odds-on to secure a majority at the next election to a price of 3.05 on the Betfair Exchange – roughly 2/1 in normal betting parlance. Labour are a whisker behind in the same market at 3.25.
Of course, said election may not take place until 2024, by which time you suspect – and hope – that this coronavirus debacle is nothing more than a blip in time.
There’s no doubting that the Tories’ position will get stronger from here on in – especially if they can ride the storm of the impending recession – and with Boris Johnson at the helm, a bizarrely popular figure among the electorate, those odds of 2/1 will look ravishing indeed come the next set of polls.