Dear Prime Minister,
I am writing to you after being contacted by hundreds of my constituents, and people from all over the UK, about the journey which Dominic Cummings took to Durham on the 28th of March and the subsequent trips that he made within County Durham before he returned to London on the 13th of April. The controversy surrounding Mr Cummings’ actions over the last few days has impacted my constituency of City of Durham considerably, not just because his parents are constituents of mine, but the media interest which has been generated by a senior member of your staff flouting lockdown rules and justifying those breaches in what many see as an insensitive and illogical manner.
Let me first make it clear that I have some sympathy with Mr Cummings’ position with regard to his childcare and I was prepared to listen to his explanation for his journey – something that I did, very carefully. This pandemic has more than inconvenienced people – in my constituency and across the country, parents have had the most difficult decisions to make in order to stick by the rules that are designed, after all, to save lives for the common good. I understand that these are worrying times for parents when many have had to think about the health of our communities as a whole above their own self-interest. But that common purpose is key to beating this awful virus.
It is exactly because of this collective responsibility that my sympathy for Mr Cummings waned the longer he spoke. As someone who was at the heart of designing the coronavirus response (partly thanks to your own patronage), Mr Cummings knew exactly the importance of that key message which underpins the public health advice to stay at home whenever possible, avoid unnecessary travel, limit contact and self-isolate if showing symptoms.
Instead, Mr Cummings chose to ignore both the letter and the spirit of that official guidance in order to travel to Durham, embarking on a 264 mile journey – and then, once in Durham, he made a trip to Barnard Castle, which he said was to test his eyesight in preparedness for a longer trip to London. This absolutely stretches credulity. The view that I have had from my constituents matches my own: that this explanation insulted our intelligence. Ever since these revelations (and in particular since Mr Cummings’ press conference) my inbox has been full of correspondence from constituents who are not only angry but upset – at the seeming disregard for the sacrifices they have made during the lockdown. This goes far beyond party lines. I have received emails from a broad spectrum of constituents – those who voted for me and those who did not.
The vast majority of constituents who have contacted me have expressed the view that Mr Cummings’ actions have been insensitive and unacceptable at best, and many feel that they warrant further investigation by the police. Common themes that run through these emails are: a sense of broken trust; disregard for the sacrifices they have made during this pandemic; arrogance and contempt for those who have stuck by the rules; a sense of disappointment that Mr Cummings feels he is above the law, or that there is one rule for him and another for the rest of us; a lack of awareness of the impact his actions had upon communities in Durham; the irresponsible risks taken by him in his journey to Barnard Castle; selfishness and arrogance; the need for a proper apology and a general disbelief at the excuses offered. These were not a handful of emails, there have been a flood of them – so much so that it was hard for me and my office staff to keep up with.
But the saddest part of all this were the messages I had from constituents and those further afield telling me of desperate personal tragedies that have occurred during the lockdown – the deaths of their family members, made so much worse by the fact that they could not be with them and hold them in their final hours. The sacrifices that people in those situations have made for the greater, public good is incredible and Mr Cummings’ actions and justifications have made many of them feel that they have been duped. That is no small matter.
Of course, there are other huge consequences of a senior member of your staff breaking these lockdown rules, because it very much dilutes the public health message which has accompanied the restrictions placed on people. There is a real danger that the message that is conveyed to the public at large is that it is fine to bend or break these rules, because one of the people charged with writing the rules has broken them. I hope that does not happen and I have taken the time to write my constituents an open letter where I urge them to keep adhering by the guidelines – but it clearly demonstrates the recklessness of what Mr Cummings has done.
There are broader issues here that I want to make sure aren’t buried in the midst of this furore: for example, the inadequate supplies of the appropriate PPE; the gaps in provisions for a range of different workers and self-employed people; the confused messaging on lockdown and the reopening of schools and, of course, the fact that we are currently being reported as having the highest death rate in the world. I don’t know the exact details of Dominic Cummings’ role in the early response to the coronavirus outbreak, but his apparent attachment to the herd immunity theory, coupled with the slow response of the Government to the crisis, perhaps demonstrates that he isn’t the asset you may think he is. And there will be those who suspect that the attitudes displayed by Mr Cummings over the last week have been at the heart of these failures.
While I understand today’s decision by Durham Police to take no further action, many of the constituents who have written to me would like Mr Cummings to resign or be sacked. Clearly, whether you stick by him or not is a matter for you, but the perception from my constituents, and I would hazard a guess that this is a common view across the North East, is that you are currently putting the interests of your chief adviser above that of the people of the region and the country as a whole.
I believe that you, as Prime Minister and Mr Cummings’ employer, owe the people of Durham, and the country as a whole, a proper explanation. On behalf of my constituents and the many other people who have contacted me over the last few days, I look forward to a quick response to my letter.
Mary Kelly Foy MP
Member of Parliament for the City of Durham