Over the weekend I was one of the Conservative MPs who called for Mr Cummings’s resignation or sacking. Of the 1000 or so emails I received, nearly all spoke of their outrage at what Mr Cummings had done; at the contrast with ‘ordinary people’ who were religiously observing Lockdown; of the tragedies and misery that many of them had had to endure as a result. I could feel the very real frustration and anger that Mr Cummings might be about to ‘get away with it.’ I had - and have to this day - every sympathy with those views; and as a representative MP made sure that the Chief Whip, Chairman of the Party and Prime Minister were well aware of them.
I then watched Mr Cummings’ extraordinary press conference in the Rose Garden of No 10 (why was he granted that rare privilege?), and I did, to a degree, develop some sympathy for him in his plight. His wife was showings signs of Covid, as were many of his co-workers in No 10, including the Prime Minister. His house had been under siege from protestors and journalists, and he was concerned that there would be no-one to look after his four-year-old child in the event that both parents went down with the virus. I do have some sympathy with his concerns, and the way he expressed them in the Press Conference. He foresaw a potential catastrophe for his family, and he acted as he thought best.
I am also concerned by what has become a media circus - even a witch hunt - which has been deeply unattractive and may well be politically motivated. It does feel a bit like trial by the mob. I am conscious of Mr Cummings’ extraordinary (if sometimes controversial) capabilities as an adviser, his central role in Brexit (which I supported), and in the December 2019 General Election. His departure would be a sad loss for the PM, for the Government and, in reality, for the Nation as a whole at this very difficult time in our history.
Nonetheless, I do still have significant reservations about Mr Cummings’ conclusion that driving to his parents’ house near Durham was the best solution to his personal crisis, knowing as he must have done that this was, at very least, close to breaching the Lockdown regulations which he himself had helped draft. A great many people who have written to me describe far more harrowing circumstances, despite which they kept strictly to the Lockdown rules. There are a number of other elements of his statement which make me feel uneasy. I am less than convinced, for example, about his reasoning for his drive to Castle Barnard, and the stop in the woods on the way back.
I am therefore reluctant to modify the view which I expressed in emails and on my website over the weekend calling for his resignation. I remain unhappy with his actions, which I do believe breached the spirit if not the letter of the lockdown rules. And I do still believe that if everyone acted as he did, those rules would become entirely unenforceable.
It may well have been poor judgement rather than anything worse. I think he was rather foolish in his decisions, perhaps partly explained by the huge strain he was under in his job and his private life at the time.
But over the next few difficult weeks and months we need the full confidence of the people if they are to agree to the steps which will be necessary to safeguard both their lives and for their livelihoods. And for that to happen they have to have full confidence in the Government which is asking them to do it. Mr Cummings’ questionable behaviour has undermined that trust. It can only be rebuilt if he now departs the scene.