And we’re back to life imitating art imitating life again. Yes, the episode of ‘The Thick of It’ in which feared Downing Street attack-dog Malcolm Tucker is manoeuvred into submitting his involuntary resignation as MPs cowering in the shadows suddenly emerge as fearless critics of the PM’s Rottweiler is currently being restaged for the benefit of bored viewers of rolling news channels. I guess it’s the political equivalent of those struggling theatre companies performing socially-distanced plays online because nobody can go and watch them live anymore. Maybe we can look forward to similar remakes of other classic crisis moments from British political history in order to break-up the relentless tedium of the same story dominating every day’s headlines? Perhaps Boris could commandeer the airwaves and inform us we are now at war with Germany – or he could entreat the public to rejoice at the recapture of Port Stanley.
As has been pointed out several times by various observers, ‘stir crazy’ symptoms seem to be infiltrating public discourse after two months of lockdown and are responsible for an upsurge in hysterical behaviour online. This is quite possible, though it’s difficult to tell from a cursory swipe through the output of our most vociferous tweeters, most of who have simply carried on where they left off with Brexit. Nobody really appears to be acting out of character on Twitter, for those who were already foaming-at-the-mouth fanatics have merely transferred their obsessive manic tendencies from one issue to another; and Piers Morgan never needs much of an excuse to turn his oily countenance a sweaty shade of tomato. Ditto the mainstream media, whose propensity for sensationalism and OTT overreaction has been energised anew by every coronavirus-related development.
MSM scalp-hunters got what they wanted via the story of Neil Ferguson’s not-so clandestine dalliance with his married lover; despite admirably punching above his weight re the lady in question, that particular Government ‘expert’ was forced to fall on his sword when the revelations broke, though perhaps his dodgy track record of widely overestimating the scale of pandemic fatalities should have precluded his hiring in the first place. Several other political figures and experts have also been exposed as purveyors of the ‘do as I say, not as I do’ school of hypocrisy since we entered lockdown, though now that one of the architects of the entire policy has allegedly been caught out, those with scores to settle aren’t even bothering to contain their evident excitement.
Journalists, cultural commentators, Labour MPs and – especially – ex-Ministers sidelined for their Remainer stance are screaming in unison for Dominic Cummings to quit, yet all appear to me to have a pre-existing axe to grind where the PM’s very own Goebbels is concerned; they may be selling themselves as moral spokespeople for the people, though one can’t help but feel they aren’t so much expressing outrage on behalf of Lockdown Britain as relishing having Cummings on the ropes because they dislike him and everything he represents. Fair enough; Dominic Cummings certainly doesn’t come across as a particularly likeable individual and, if the stories are true, he exhibited appalling double standards when the country was being ordered to stay at home and anyone venturing outdoors stood to be confronted by an emboldened Gestapo masquerading as policing-by-consent Bobbies.
It seems odd that a man in Dominic Cummings’s powerful position, who must boast an extremely wide social network, couldn’t have placed his child in the care of someone in London rather than driving all the way up to his parents’ place in County Durham. Lest we forget, this was at a moment when many believed driving no further than the local retail park could risk an encounter with roadblocks and a police approach towards motorists inspired by the kind pioneered by the British Army at the height of The Troubles in Northern Ireland. And, of course, Labour MP Stephen Kinnock was castigated in the right-wing press for making a similarly lengthy journey to visit his own aged parents in Wales around the time Cummings is alleged to have committed his particular crime. Indeed, if events proceeded as the allegations made by the Mirror and the Guardian claim they did, Cummings clearly gives the impression he regards himself as very much part of the political class and therefore doesn’t have to abide by the rules and regulations laid down for the plebs. He’s hardly unique in that case, though; the political class of all colours have repeatedly shown the same attitude for a long time and we didn’t need a lockdown to highlight that. We were never all in it together.
If anyone beyond media bubbles – both mainstream and social – actually gives a flying f**k about this story, the level of their interest would probably be determined by how greatly their life has been disrupted by the lockdown. If they have lost loved ones whose last few precious moments they weren’t able to share due to the restrictions, they’re going to be upset and angry as it is; therefore, excessive media coverage of what Dominic Cummings did or didn’t do – and it being presented as a heinous misdemeanour that spat in the face of a nationwide sacrifice he himself wasn’t prepared to make – then I would imagine they’d be quite pissed off about this, and rightly so. If, on the other hand, they’ve been spared any bereavement and are just fed up with being stuck at home, chances are they’ll simply shrug their shoulders and see Cummings’s actions as one more example of the ‘they all piss in the same pot’ syndrome; their lowly opinion of the political class will merely have been confirmed yet again.
The lockdown itself and the Government message – whether it be ‘stay safe’, ‘stay alert’ or ‘do as you’re told, finish your Frosties and go to bed’ – is undoubtedly undermined by this story and perhaps might just accelerate the end of the whole saga. And there’s an irony of sorts in that those who have adhered to the lockdown with such extreme compliance that they have had their nosy neighbour habits legitimised may well have helped expose the man partly responsible for encouraging their behaviour. Mind you, some of the anonymous snitches in Durham – probably (as tends to be the case where the Grauniad or BBC are concerned) Labour activists on the quiet – did cast doubt on the authenticity of their stories by claiming they recognised the registration plate of the Cummings car; hardly likely when these are always pixelated on TV and nobody outside of the police force can find out the owner of a vehicle from one.
The media is certainly demanding we be outraged by this story, if only because the media itself is. It has fostered the ‘we’re all in it together’ narrative by relentlessly promoting the doorstep clapping and the deification of the NHS; the Government has largely followed where the media has led, and I doubt Boris would be clapping on a weekly basis and allowing the ground-floor windows of No.10 to resemble those of a primary school classroom had not the media established the social mores of the lockdown community spirit. Wicked Mr Cummings spurning those mores when the salt-of-the-earth Great British public have largely done as they were told is consequently punishable by resignation. Failing that, just lift the lockdown.
© The Editor