Understandably, I have received an extremely high level of correspondence in relation to Dominic Cummings over the last few days. I would like to thank everyone who has taken the time to get in touch. As this is such a pressing issue, I wanted to share my views with you as soon as possible.
Firstly, I believe that Dominic Cummings’ decision to travel to Durham while seemingly infected with COVID-19 was deeply irresponsible. The guidance is clear: when you are displaying the symptoms of this virus, you should self-isolate at home for between 7 and 14 days. Back in March, when it became apparent that I had been in close contact with a Parliamentary colleague who had tested positive for COVID-19, I did not return to work as Dominic Cummings did, nor did I travel across the country. I followed Government guidance to self-isolate and I instructed the two members of staff that I had been in contact with to work from home as well. Many of you will have been in this situation and you will have followed the guidance. That the chief advisor to the Prime Minister did not follow this advice is clearly wrong.
I would like to point out that I do not believe in the hounding of anyone. All of us are accountable for our actions, especially those of us in public life, but I believe that everyone also has a right to privacy and especially so people’s families. My criticisms of Dominic Cummings actions are meant in the spirit of open accountability and the interests of the wider public and their health.
Of course, I also accept that there is a safeguarding clause to this guidance, and that individual discretion can be used where there are exceptional circumstances, such as a threat to life. I can also sympathise with Dominic Cummings’ concern for his child. However, his statement failed to provide any real evidence that anyone was in immediate danger, nor that it was necessary for him to seek emergency childcare.
Further to that, his justification for travelling to Barnard Castle on the 12th of April was far-fetched to say the least. To travel 30 miles to a local beauty spot, at a time when the Government was telling people to stay home, is hugely irresponsible, especially for someone who would have been clear about the guidelines. To say that the reason for going on that trip was to test his eyesight has rightly been the subject of disbelief and scorn. If true, it is both foolish and reckless.
Overall, I found the justifications for his actions, which he laid out in a statement at a press conference on Monday, unconvincing. Much of it was illogical, incoherent and Cummings seemed incapable of uttering the words ‘sorry’. If he had taken responsibility for what are clear breaches of the rules, I think he would have been judged much more favourably.
The reason I am treating this matter so seriously is that at the time Dominic Cummings travelled to Durham, we had a relatively low infection rate. Now the North-East has some of the highest infection rates in the country. Obviously, I am not claiming that Dominic Cummings was personally responsible for this rise, but I believe that he set a bad example – and as someone who was involved in the formation of the rules we have all been expected to abide by, he should certainly have known better.
A key part of controlling COVID-19 means that those who are experiencing symptoms must self-isolate at home, so to travel to an area which at the time had less exposure to the virus, was reckless. This is demonstrated by the fact that his family did end up seeking medical attention in Durham and therefore will have come into contact with numerous medical staff and possibly other members of the public in the course of this treatment. The Prime Minister has publicly defended Dominic Cummings’ actions and has stated his belief that they were within both the spirit and letter of the rules. However, nowhere in the guidance issued by Government was there anything that allowed for someone to travel 264 miles to self-isolate. That cannot, surely, be in the spirit of guidelines. I have received a huge number of emails to this effect: many of them detailing tragic stories of people’s own circumstances – for instance, not being able to spend the final few days with ill relatives. The fact that the Prime Minister has supported his advisor’s actions clearly suggests that the rules are open to interpretation, that there are different rules if you happen to be the chief advisor to the Prime Minister.
As to whether Dominic Cummings should resign or be sacked, I believe that it is up to the Prime Minister to choose his own advisors and only he can decide whether to dismiss Dominic Cummings. However, if the Prime Minister chooses to keep his advisor in post, I believe it threatens existing public health messaging. It gives a signal to people, who are understandably frustrated at the continued lockdown, that the rules are flexible. This is the opposite of what we need if we are to prevent a ‘second wave’ of the virus.
It is my intention to write to the Prime Minister and express to him my concern, as well as relay that of my constituents. He seems not to understand the anger generated by Dominic Cummings’ actions and appears to be missing the true significance of this situation and the damage it is doing. If and when I receive an answer, I will share it on my social media and website so that my constituents can assess the Prime Minister’s response.
I have also asked the Chief Constable of Durham Police for an update. I will be asking how they are monitoring the situation and whether they will be responding to demands to open an investigation into Dominic Cummings’ actions, especially so in the light of his defence on Monday.
In the meantime, I am also acutely aware that there are larger issues that will be being buried by this furore. I will keep pushing the Government to improve their response to the coronavirus. I will continue to raise the important issues surrounding the reopening of schools, the failures of track and trace; continuing shortages of the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), and the wider threat to jobs, business and employment rights.
Finally, I would like to acknowledge just how frustrating this situation is for many of my constituents. Many people who have written to me have done so to describe their own sacrifices, their own pain and anguish and it has been heart-breaking to read. People should not be made to feel that they have done the wrong thing by adhering to these rules – in doing so, they have prioritised the welfare of the community over themselves.
Difficult as it is, I urge you to continue to keep following the guidance on social distancing and to stay at home as much as you can. If you do develop symptoms, then please self-isolate at home along with other members of your immediate household. If you require medical attention, follow the NHS guidance here: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/
I have been truly overwhelmed by the response to the coronavirus crisis in Durham, both in the community’s support for each other and the commitment to following the guidelines for the sake of us all. I am so proud to be the Member of Parliament for this constituency at what is such a difficult time for us all. Keep together, keep doing the right things and we will get through this.