Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and the For the Many podcast with Jacqui Smith.
Everyone has an opinion on Dominic Cummings. And each one of all those opinions is perfectly valid.
I happen to believe that he was wrong to travel to Durham, and even more wrong to test out his eyesight with his family in the car. No matter: I am very happy to accept there are other views.
What has been totally unacceptable since Saturday is for one side to the other to decry the motives of the other, and just hurl insults. I suppose we’ve all come to expect it on social media, but it’s unedifying at best.
So apparently, for expressing doubts about his story I have proved my “animus” towards Cummings and Boris Johnson. Furthermore, I have no right to an opinion since I don’t have a four year old child.
And, furthermore, I am a lefty who wants rid of Cummings to scupper Brexit. Yup, just like Julia Hartley-Brewer, Tim Montgomerie, Iain Martin and many others, I suppose. That really stacks up, doesn’t it?
Unlike the others, I have never actually called for Dominic Cummings to resign or be sacked, but that little detail seems to have escaped everyone, and it’s assumed that I have.
What I said on Saturday night was that there were a lot of unanswered questions, and I could perfectly see why people were calling into question what appeared to have happened. I never thought that Cummings would give a press conference to explain himself, but that’s what happened on Monday.
I thought a sit-down interview with someone might have been better because, as is usual with these things, his explanation provoked yet more questions.
To top it all, he said he had never considered offering his resignation. I think that’s a fairly mind-blowing thing to have said.
An advisor who is a distraction and gets himself into the headlines cannot possibly have his mind on the job. It also displayed a certain arrogance – as if he isn’t touchable.
All politicians need to have people they trust around them but, in Cummings’ case, it’s almost as if he’s more powerful than the man he is supposed to serve. Johnson wants to throw a protective cloak around him, and in many ways that’s a laudable character trait. But when you expend so much political capital on what might still turn out to be a hopeless case, it makes you weaker.
You can dismiss the 44 Conservative MPs who have come out against Cummings as being ‘the usual suspects’. But they’re not all the usual troublemakers, are they? When you have the Guardian and the Daily Mail on the same side, you’d be a fool not to realise that you’re in deep doo-doo.
As I write this on Thursday morning, there are certainly signs that the story is slipping from top of the headlines. But the damage is done. And for someone who is a political strategist, surely Cummings realises that.
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One thing in this story puzzles me.
Well, quite a lot of things do, but one question no one has ever asked is why it took the Guardian and the Daily Mirror six weeks to publish the story. They only published when they thought they had evidence he’d made a second trip to Durham, a front page headline which turned out to have no foundation whatsoever.
Indeed, quite a few of their other allegations have turned out to be completely false too. The police, contrary to The Guardian splash, did not warn Cummings or his family about breaching lockdown. The only conversation with the family was one with Cummings’ father about security.
But no hint of an apology from either newspaper about this. I fully admit that the fact they got both of these things wrong doesn’t detract from the central allegation – that he broke lockdown – but even so, it’s pretty shoddy journalism.
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And talking about shoddy journalism, this week we’ve seen the advent of the hasthtag #scummedia.
It’s an awful expression, and every time I see it I slightly recoil. I am the first to admit some parts of the media haven’t covered themselves in glory in recent years, especially over Brexit and the current crisis.
But does anyone think that if they tweet the hashtag #scummedia to a journalist they don’t approve of, it will actually persuade them to indulge in some self-reflection about how they have conducted themselves? I doubt it very much.
If anyone accuses me of being part of a #scummedia they’re likely to get blocked PDQ. That doesn’t mean I can’t brook criticism; I absolutely can, and if it’s constructive, I welcome and embrace it and hopefully learn from it.
But if you come from the point of view that you think I’m scum, don’t expect me to engage in any way apart from pressing a block button.