Devon MP, Simon Jupp, says Dominic Cummings should ‘consider his position’

All the other conservatives mentioned in this devonlive article think it’s OK, to take one example, to drive 30 miles during lockdown to a beauty spot just to “test your eyesight” – Owl

Daniel Clark

A Devon MP has called for Dominic Cummings to ‘consider his position’ following allegations he broke lockdown rules.

East Devon MP Simon Jupp, who worked as Special Advisor to Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab before last year’s General Election, said that if placed in the same situation, he would not have made the same decisions that Mr Cummings made.

The MP said that while his actions were motivated by a father’s desire to do what he felt was necessary to protect his family in exceptional circumstances, those actions were wrong and said if it was him, he would have considered resigning from his role.

In a statement, Mr Jupp said: “Like you, I have felt a mixture of anger, disappointment and frustration in recent days. We are all making significant sacrifices and coping with situations we couldn’t imagine just a few months ago. Many of us, including myself, have lost people in our lives and haven’t been able to see family and friends. It’s been incredibly tough for everyone.

“Hundreds of people have contacted me regarding Dominic Cummings. I have read each and every email sent to me on this topic. I wanted to know the facts before responding to you. I have raised questions which I felt needed answering and made the strength of feeling in East Devon clear to the party leadership.

“Although I believe his actions were motivated by a father’s desire to do what he felt was necessary to protect his family in exceptional circumstances, if placed in the same situation I wouldn’t have made the same decisions and would have since considered my position.

“I will continue to share my views and those of my constituents with the party leadership. This has been a deeply unhelpful distraction we could do without as a nation dealing with a pandemic.

“As your MP, I will continue to focus my efforts on the hundreds of emails I continue to receive daily from constituents requiring my help and support. I would be doing a disservice to you and those who need support during this difficult time if I acted in any other way.”

On Tuesday, a government junior minister resigned over the issue. Douglas Ross, Under Secretary of State for Scotland, said Mr Cummings’ view of the government guidance was “not shared by the vast majority of people”, the BBC reported.

Mr Cummings said at his press conference he believed he had acted reasonably and within the law when he drove his family 260 miles from London to County Durham after his wife developed Covid-19 symptoms in March.

He said he and his wife had self-isolated at a property on his father’s farm to be close to relatives in case they needed help with care for their young son, and had no regrets about his decision.

North Devon MP Selaine Saxby, who is also still a North Devon councillor for Instow, did not condemn the actions of Mr Cummings but stopped short of throwing her backing behind him.

She said “I do not personally know Mr Cummings. All I know of his behaviour in recent weeks is the frank and open statement he gave to national media yesterday afternoon, where he explained why he took the decisions he did as a father and a husband.

“I prefer not to jump to a judgement unless I am aware of all the facts, particularly as there seems to be a lot of misinformation in the media these days often generated by social media assaults on individuals.

“The Prime Minister knows far more of what has happened throughout the pandemic than you or I. He has taken his decision to retain the services of his advisor who is an employee and not an elected representative.

“We have all had to take difficult decisions in the last couple of months and do our best to look after ourselves, our families and those we are responsible for within the guidelines. I am a big believer in taking responsibility for one’s self and the decisions we each take.

“I understand residents’ anger at this situation but I very much hope the Government can move on from this as there are so many other pressing matters associated with Covid-19 that need attention.”

Gary Streeter, the MP South West Devon, initially told the prime minister that Mr Cummings should go for breaking coronavirus lockdown rules.

But the MP then decided that after watching the press conference given by the prime minister’s chief adviser on Monday that he had “just about” kept within the rules.

He added: “I strongly agree that there must not be one rule for Government insiders and another for everybody else. I have therefore followed the Cummings story very closely.

“Over the weekend I formed the view that there had, on balance, been a breach of the lockdown rules and fed into Downing Street my recommendation that Mr Cummings be sacked.

“However, I then watched the extraordinary press conference in the rose garden yesterday and reached the conclusion that the actions of Mr Cummings just about kept him within the rules, given the clear exemption for looking after vulnerable people which obviously includes a four-year-old child.

“There is no doubt that this media storm has blurred the government message and hurt the government politically. It is now important that we move on and focus on leading the country back to some kind of normality. Schools and shops will start to re-open next month and we must ensure that happens safely.

“For us in the south west a much bigger challenge lies around the corner: namely how do we gradually start to re-open our hospitality and tourism sector without causing a second wave of the virus. That will be my focus for the next challenging few weeks.”

Cllr Phil Bullivant, Chairman of Newton Abbot Conservative Association and leader of the Conservative group on Teignbridge District Council, said that many important questions have been raised about the very difficult decision in which there is no correct response.

He said: “What does a person do to protect their autistic child if both parents become ill and their London home is the location for aggressive attacks from political opponents?

“The government guidelines recognised that there are circumstances which will require alternative solutions. If we believe that it is right that as a person in government should sacrifice the health and wellbeing of their family because of their position then Dominic Cummings was wrong.

“A charitable view would be that as he maintained an appropriate degree of separation and sought to put his autistic child into the hands of his family he stretched the guidelines for reasons he thought acceptable.

“I think the choice we would all make if we were confronted with a similar situation would require the Wisdom of Solomon.”

John Gray, Chairman of the Torridge & West Devon Conservative Association, said that he was satisfied that Mr Cummings’ actions were within the rules and that he should remain in his post.

He said: “Having watched the full statement and the subsequent questions I’m satisfied he was within the list of exceptional circumstances and that justified his actions.

“He continues to have a great deal to offer the country and even if some disagree with the decisions he made, his reasoning is clear and sensible.”

Asked what the feeling locally was, he added: “Things improved after his statement. It seems much of the public anger was caused by earlier press reports. Once the full situation was known it became difficult to criticise the guy. He clearly went through a horrendous time, under massive pressure, yet managed to make sensible decisions.”

As of time of writing on Tuesday afternoon, 32 Conservative MPs had broken party ranks to condemn Dominic Cummings

Tourists blamed for new virus spike which closed Somerset hospital

“A message sent to NHS workers in the South West, who may usually use the hospital [Weston General Hospital in Weston-super-Mare], revealed it had at least 64 coronavirus patients and that 40% of staff who had been tested had also tested positive for the virus, as Somerset Live reported at the weekend.”

Tourists and VE Day parties could be to blame for a new spike in coronavirus cases which forced a Somerset hospital to close, according to a NHS worker.

Weston General Hospital in Weston-super-Mare stopped accepting new patients at 8am on Monday (May 25) because of a ‘high number of patients with coronavirus’. The hospital appears to still be closed to newcomers this morning (Tuesday, May 26).

A message sent to NHS workers in the South West, who may usually use the hospital, revealed it had at least 64 coronavirus patients and that 40% of staff who had been tested had also tested positive for the virus, as Somerset Live reported at the weekend.

The NHS worker who shared that message says VE Day parties and a surge in tourists visiting Weston’s seaside could be to blame for the new wave of virus.

The NHS worker told Somerset Live : “VE Day parties made it rise in London, I reckon.

“People starting off socially distancing then getting drunk and then ignoring.

“Areas which are not tourist destinations have had very few cases, so maybe there is something in that being a factor, too.

“The visitors have probably spread it around the country now.”

New figures show an alarming rise in the confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Weston area.

A total of 55 new cases were confirmed in North Somerset in the past week, the latest figures showed.

John Penrose, the MP for Weston, referred to the rise as a ‘spike’.

The local NHS worker’s warning about the surge in cases followed calls from doctors to stay home – even as the government looked to relax lockdown further.

Boris Johnson announced plans to reopen non-essential shops in June on Monday (May 25).

That process will begin next week, with outdoor markets and car showrooms getting the green light to trade again.

But doctor Dominic Pimenta said the infection ‘R’ rate of the virus, which has to stay below ‘1’ for the number of infections to keep falling, was on the up again.

He suggested hospitals like Weston struggling was a bad sign, pleading with people to continue to stay at home.

He said : “The R is likely rising again. Hospitals are struggling with coronavirus in Weston-super-Mare.

“YOU did the right thing. The lockdown DOES save lives.


‘Day trippers’ and VE Day parties to blame?

People across the country, as well as in Weston itself, seemed to blame a combination of VE Day parties, tourists and the apparent bad example set by Downing Street adviser, Dominic Cummings, for the worrying virus figures in the town.

Sam Trego, a Weston resident, blamed ‘day trippers’ for the new wave of virus and the hospital closure in an angry post on Twitter.

The Weston cricket club coach wrote: “We must thank all the ‘day trippers’ for popping in and out of our town.”

Later on Monday (May 25) he quoted a tweet from the health secretary, Matt Hancock, which had said the country must ‘move on’ from the Dominic Cummings controversy.

Sam wrote: “Why don’t you pop down to Weston-super-Mare where we have no hospital open for a town with over 76,000 people living in it because we have had a surge of coronavirus cases!”

Rhiannon, another Weston local, also feared people gathering on the beaches had led to the hospital closure.

“Two weeks ago for VE day weekend people piled onto the beach. It felt like lockdown had stopped,” she wrote on Twitter.

“Now our hospital has had to stop admissions as there are so many cases of covid.”

She also shared an image taken by her brother showing the busy beach and seafront promenade on Monday (May 25).

There were a number of large gatherings in the sunny weather across our region over the Bank Holiday weekend – including a busy car meet in Cheddar.

Christine Murray also drew the link to VE Day, pointing out Weston’s hospital had closed a few weeks after the Bank Holiday celebration – enough time for new virus cases to be noticed in hospitals.

Despite the concern of many locals, experts have urged caution when linking virus spikes to specific causes.

Following concerns that events like the Bath Half Marathon and Cheltenham Festival had allowed coronavirus to spread, analysis suggested it was too soon and very difficult to tell.

But a maths lecturer from the University of Bath said it was ‘possible’ big gatherings played a role and said it might be possible to work out a link from the data ‘when the dust settles’ on the crisis.

Dominic Cummings row fuels local anger at new virus spike

Another Twitter user was also unhappy that ‘more people travelling’ had contributed to the Weston closure – and feared the actions of Dominic Cummings would make things worse.

He wrote : “Given Mr Cummings actions it’s only going to get worse when people now start doing what they want when they want.”

Kit McCarthy was another to fear the actions of the Prime Minister’s adviser could make things worse, referring on Twitter to the views of Durham police’s former chief constable, who said Mr Cummings’ behaviour would make lockdown harder to enforce for police.

Dominic Cummings – a man credited with masterminding the Leave vote in the 2016 EU referendum and Boris Johnson’s majority in the 2019 general election – is a key adviser to the Prime Minister.

He has admitted driving 260 miles from his London home to his parents’ estate in Durham, during the coronavirus lockdown – when the government had changed the law saying people must stay at home, unless there is an extreme risk to life.

Reports by the Mirror and Guardian newspapers suggested Mr Cummings did not stay isolated after travelling to Durham, after he was seen in public.

On Monday, May 25, he answered questions from the media in the Downing Street Rose Garden.

He admitted the breach of lockdown but said he acted ‘reasonably and legally’ to care for his young son – for fear both he and his wife would be unable to care for him due to illness.

But once in Durham Mr Cummings did not receive any childcare help from his family there.

He also excused a day trip away from the family home in Durham by saying he was testing his eyesight before driving back to London.

He also admitted returning to work when discovering his wife was sick – a breach of the rules in itself.

Boris Johnson and his government have stood by Mr Cummings – despite demanding the dismissal of two advisers earlier in the crisis for their own breaches of lockdown rules.

But Jodi Owens was fed up with the media focus on Mr Cummings, when the issue of Weston’s hospital closing and a possible second wave of virus was getting much less coverage.

She said on Twitter, tagging in Sky and ITV during Boris Johnson’s press conference on Monday evening: “Reports today hospital in Weston has had to close is doors yet your journalists are just repeating the questions they asked Dominic Cummings 2 hours ago.”

What Weston hospital said

Dr William Oldfield, medical director at University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Foundation Trust, explained the reasons for the hospital’s closure on Monday (May 25).

He did not suggest why the number of cases had gone up locally.

He said: “As with any hospital, the number of patients with COVID-19 will frequently change as people are admitted and discharged.

“We currently have a high number of patients with COVID-19 in Weston General Hospital.

“While the vast majority will have come into the hospital with COVID-19, as an extra precaution we have taken the proactive step to temporarily stop accepting new patients to maintain patient and staff safety.

“This is a clinically-led decision and we are being supported by our system partners to ensure that new patients receive the care and treatment they need in the appropriate setting, and we are continuing to provide high quality care to existing patients who are being treated in the hospital.”

“We have a robust coronavirus testing programme in place for patients and staff to identify cases quickly, with appropriate measures taken by clinical teams as required.

“We will keep the situation under constant review.”

Have you e-mailed your MP? The questions Dominic Cummings has yet to clarify

It is becoming clear that No 10 intends to brazen out his flouting of the rules, and by so doing, show contempt for the way the long suffering public have so admirably behaved.

MPs will most likely be judging the success of his explanation/pathetic excuse from what they read in their in-boxes .

Owl recommends followers e-mail their respective MPs: Simon Jupp or Neil Parish, expressing their view one way or the other.

Here is a list of questions still lacking clarity to which Owl would add was he at Barnard Castle on April 12, his wife’s birthday, or was that when he “did an eye test”, or is it all “false news”?

The lockdown breach questions Dominic Cummings has yet to clarify

Guardian staff 

Dominic Cummings’ strident defence of his own behaviour was designed to draw a line under an affair that has rocked the government and caused fury across the UK. But his press conference left questions unanswered – and also caused a degree of bafflement.

1 Why not try other options?

Dominic Cummings and his wife, Mary Wakefield, have family in London. But he said that they explored no other options before settling on their trip to Durham. Why not?

2 The Durham hospital trip

Did Cummings consider whether there was any risk that his wife’s trip to hospital in Durham with the couple’s son could take Covid-19 on to the site? Did he consider whether the difficulty of getting an immediate taxi was sufficient reason for him to drive to the hospital when he could “barely stand up” the night before?

3 The eyesight problem

If Cummings had concerns over whether his eyesight was good enough to drive to London, why was he confident enough to drive 30 miles to Barnard Castle, with his wife and son in the vehicle?

4 How extreme was the risk?

The deputy chief medical officer for England, Jenny Harries, said that the only reason to travel with coronavirus in search of childcare was if there was an extreme risk to life. Did the family’s situation constitute such a risk?

5 Why not talk to the media earlier?

Cummings said that the media had been told things were wrong but “repeatedly reported them anyway”. How does he reconcile this account with Downing Street’s refusal to engage with attempts by the Guardian and Daily Mirror to seek comment for more than six weeks? Why did Downing Street only issue comments after the publication of key articles by the two newspapers?

6 When was the walk in Durham?

Cummings said that he took a walk in the second week of his stay in Durham “after I started to recover”. That would suggest he still had some symptoms. The Public Health England guidance on outdoor exercise changed that week and by 9 April all outdoor exercise was prohibited for those with symptoms. So when exactly did the walk take place?

Phrase of the day: “That’s Barney Castle!”

Politico London Playbook



Phrase of the day: “That’s Barney Castle!” An old Durham dialect term from the middle ages, coined during the Northern Rebellion when cowardly Sir George Bowes refused to leave his fortified position in Barnard Castle to engage in battle. “Hence the expression ‘come, come, that’s Barney Castle‘ — meaning, ‘that’s a pathetic excuse.’” Read more.


WE FOUND GOVE IN A HOPELESS PLACE: Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove goes out to bat for his under-fire protégé Dominic Cummings this morning as Downing Street tries to draw a line under a bruising bank holiday weekend. The chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will be touring (virtual) broadcast studios to insist Cummings has now given a full explanation of his various lockdown-busting trips, and that it’s time for the country to move on. Allies said last night they believe Cummings “did enough” at that extraordinary rose garden press conference to survive the scandal, but in truth it’s the ongoing anger of Tory MPs and Tory voters that will now decide his fate. So it’s all eyes on the opinion polls, the focus groups and — crucially — MPs’ mailboxes, as Downing Street nervously awaits the public verdict.

Mirror image: The media verdict is already in, and there’s not much around for Cummings to enjoy. He’ll be unsurprised to find himself on almost every front page this morning for the fourth successive day, and — ever the messaging genius — somehow unites the Labour-loving Daily Mirror and arch-Tory Daily Mail with near-identical “No apologies, no regrets” headlines. The apolitical Metro goes in even harder with a wince-inducing “Stay elite” front page, mocking up Cummings’ own coronavirus slogan to label him the very thing he’s accused his opponents of for years. Only the Telegraph, the Sun and the Express are in any way helpful, dutifully splashing on Boris Johnson’s announcement that “non-essential” shops can reopen in three weeks’ time.

But but but: That’s not to say the Telegraph is in any way impressed. Associate Editor Camilla Tominey is scathing in her verdict on the prime minister’s decision to stand by his man. “It is extraordinary that a politician with Mr Johnson’s unique understanding of what it means to be British could have been so reckless with the public’s trust,” she rages. “Far from being a Westminster ‘bubble’ story, news of Mr Cummings’ behavior during lockdown has gone well beyond SW1A and the Twittersphere. Disgust at the double standards on display is being expressed at the breakfast table, on the WhatsApp groups and over garden fences the length and breadth of the land … People aren’t seeing it as a debate between left and right, but right and wrong.”

Even more damningly … The Telegraph — Boris Johnson’s former employer — runs a big feature all about “the families who have stuck to lockdown rules despite it going against their instinct.” This is clearly a missile aimed directly at the prime minister, who on Sunday tried to blur the government’s crystal-clear messaging by suggesting it was fine for Cummings to act “on instinct” in the middle of a public health crisis. Reader after reader tells heart-rending stories about caring for children alone while sick; giving birth alone; facing hospital surgery alone; grieving alone. None of them acted “on instinct.” None of them broke lockdown rules.

You got Mail: It’s worth pausing too on the Daily Mail, a newspaper which gets triggered like no other at the sight of hypocrisy in high office, and which doesn’t take kindly to its readers being played for mugs. For the second successive day it gives over 12 furious pages to Cummings’ behavior, with one double-page spread blaming him for England’s crowded beaches and another asking incredulously: “Why drive 30 miles to a beauty spot with your child in the back to test your eyesight?” Columnist Jan Moir says her sympathy for Cummings “fizzled out like damp charcoal” the longer he spoke. Sketchwriter Henry Deedes dubs the Dom-BoJo double-act “a political tragedy in two parts.” And even Richard Littlejohn finds himself raging at the “shifty Northern bloke” whose “credibility began to fall apart” under fierce interrogation. These are all voices you’d expect to hear on Downing Street’s side in a serious crisis.

Losing the grassroots: Any lingering claims that this is purely a left/right or Remain/Leave issue are put firmly to bed by ConservativeHome’s Chief Executive Mark Wallace, a writer arguably more closely in touch with the Tory grassroots than any other. He uses his regular i column to set out why, as a Brexit-supporting Tory activist, he believes Cummings must resign immediately. “Voters’ fury is real, justified and widespread,” Wallace concludes, after explaining how much he likes and respects Dominic Cummings. “The political damage is serious and lasting … For the sake of his own cause, he should resign.” Ooft.

Still fighting: The Sun is left almost alone to fight Cummings’ corner, declaring his account of events “convincing, detailed and verifiable.” Associate Editor Trevor Kavanagh says his friend of 20 years is a “profoundly decent man” who left his “critics floundering” yesterday. The Sun’s leader column even blames the “hysteria” of recent days on “Remainer cultists” and “defeated Labour tribalists” — though it’s unclear quite where the scores of furious Tory MPs, the Daily Mail, the boss of ConservativeHome and the, erm, Scottish edition of the Sun, fit into those categories. Interestingly, if you make it all the way back to the Sun readers’ letters page on page 39, you suddenly find the headline: “Boris must sack Dom.”

Away from the nationals: The big regional papers are equally unimpressed, with a Yorkshire Post editorial condemning Cummings’ arrogance as “unforgivable” and the Eastern Daily Press worrying that people are already bringing up his name to explain lockdown evasion. In Scotland, the closest thing to positive reading for Cummings is in a letter in the National from a reader who hopes Cummings will remain in position — but only because the scandal is helping make the case for Scottish independence.


CABINET SPLITS: Cummings’ performance yesterday has divided the Cabinet, with some senior ministers outraged he’s still in place but others keen to move swiftly on. “My jaw continues to drop,” one tells the Times. “He’s saying he’s so much more important than us plebs. I think we’re in big trouble, we can’t campaign our way out of this. We’re losing trust and confidence — it’s draining away before our eyes.” Another is terrified evidence may emerge that Cummings’ actions have caused a decline in lockdown compliance. “If people really start to think that senior people in government aren’t following their own rules, that will be catastrophic,” the minister says. The paper says ministers pressed into voicing support on social media “privately admit to feeling demeaned.”

Not sure this helped: The Times’ Francis Elliott also notes ministers were not even told at yesterday’s Cabinet meeting that Cummings would be making his rose garden address, which appears not to have gone down well. And instead of a  broad discussion they merely sat and listened to Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg and Attorney General Suella Braverman speak out in support of Cummings, the Times reports. “One seething minister texted a colleague a “vomit” emoji,” the paper says.

But but but: Another Cabinet minister tells the Times they think the press conference has won Cummings some “breathing space” and adds: “There’s a chance enough people will see it as the PM sees it — as a father taking care of his family and staying within the rules.” And another tells the FT that “deciding to take his family to a place of safety — and clearly maintaining social distancing with family nearby for their little one — is understandable and within the law.” Another member of the Cabinet tells the same paper: “I think Friday’s response bad and misjudged. He will still get grief, but I think the judgment made by the PM will be more understood by constituents that are normally sympathetic to the PM but had been very irritated.”

What about Tory MPs? Many of those being vocally critical on Sunday were keeping their heads down last night as they waited to see whether the tone of the the angry emails they’ve been receiving starts to change. “Time will tell,” one former minister tells Playbook. “Fortunately for the boss there’s no PMQs this week.” The Telegraph has a good write-up of the scale of the anger on the Tory benches, which is beyond anything we’ve seen before in this parliament. One former minister tells the paper: “This could be an ‘ERM‘ moment, where the public turn against us.” Another says it “feels more poll tax than ERM, actually.”

So what happens next? The vehement hope inside Downing Street is that with all the facts apparently now out in the open, attention will slowly start to move away from Cummings over the next few days. The prime minister has a whole week’s worth of big lockdown announcements up his sleeve to distract attention with, and assuming there are no further revelations to come about Cummings’ activities during lockdown then inevitably the story will start to lose its head of steam. No. 10 knows Boris Johnson will take a pounding from senior MPs at tomorrow’s Commons liaison committee hearing, but hopes that once that’s done and dusted, this whole thing starts to go away.

But but but: There are still multiple dangers ahead for Cummings in these crucial next few days. Questions still swirl around his account of events — top of the list being the dubious claim to have embarked on a 90-minute round trip to a beauty spot on his wife’s birthday (with his child in the car!) to “test his eyesight.” This police force tweeted last night that — guess what? — taking a drive to test your eyesight is a really stupid idea, and not even Dominic Cummings’ worst enemies accuse him of being stupid. It’s far from clear why Cummings and the PM believe this road trip was somehow within the rules, and police are investigating whether a breach was committed. Would a fixed penalty notice be a resigning matter?

And there’s more: It also remains unclear why Cummings and the PM believe having a young child at home represented an exceptional circumstance that permitted a 260-mile drive across the country while Cummings’ wife was symptomatic, given thousands and thousands of parents have been placed in that exact same position over recent weeks yet believed they’d been instructed to stay home. It’s also unclear why Cummings didn’t try to find childcare cover from a friend or family member in London; or indeed — given his sudden eyesight problems — why Cummings’ wife Mary Wakefield didn’t drive them back from Durham.

And then there’s this: It’s small beans in the context of all the rest, but Playbook feels obliged to draw your attention to a truly surreal story on social media last night about precisely what Cummings may or may not have got up to after his 260-mile drive back to London. A data scientist on Twitter called Jens Wiechers was hunting out the old blogpost about coronaviruses which Cummings mentioned at last night’s press conference as proof he’d been worried about this type of pandemic for a while. Wiechers says he put the only Cummings blogpost he could find which mentions coronavirus through the Way Back Machine — an internet archive engine — and discovered that, erm, the relevant paragraphs on coronavirus had been *added* in mid-April.

Huh? Other archive checks apparently verify the Cummings blog has indeed been added to by person or persons unknown during the current crisis. The episode has triggered some amusement on social media, with people wondering idly if Cummings might have added these lines to his blog after the fact, purely to look smart later on. The BBC’s Faisal Islam has more.

Opposition positions: All the main opposition leaders are to hold a conference call this morning to discuss their approach to the Cummings crisis. Sky News’ Joe Pike got the scoop last night, and multiple sources confirm the call will go ahead at 11 a.m. “All MPs know that the Cummings story has cut through,” one of those involved tells Playbook. “The public is angry. Opposition leaders want to work together to show the government that anger is real, and simply cannot be ignored.” Quite what they’re planning to do against a prime minister with a majority of 80 is anyone’s guess … Presumably some sort of angry joint letter is on the cards.


Breaking News – First minister to resign

(Oooops Owl left out the “s” in resign – slightly changes the meaning!)

Dominic Cummings: Minister Douglas Ross quits over senior aide’s lockdown actions

Junior minister Douglas Ross has resigned over Dominic Cummings’ trip to County Durham during the coronavirus lockdown.
Mr Ross, Under Secretary of State for Scotland, said the senior aide’s view of the government guidance was “not shared by the vast majority of people”.
Mr Cummings has defended driving driving 260 miles in March from his home to County Durham.
He said he acted reasonably and legally in going to stay on his parents’ farm.
In a statement announcing his resignation, Mr Ross, MP for Moray, said: “While the intentions may have been well meaning, the reaction to this news shows that Mr Cummings interpretation of the government advice was not shared by the vast majority of people who have done as the government asked.”
“I have constituents who didn’t get to say goodbye to loved ones; families who could not mourn together; people who didn’t visit sick relatives because they followed the guidance of the government.
“I cannot in good faith tell them they were all wrong and one senior adviser to the government was right.”

Douglas Ross backed Boris Johnson to be Tory leader and is not one of those in the party seen as hostile to his style of government.
So this resignation is a blow – and could point to wider discontent.
There is a Scottish subplot – the Scottish Tories have been accused of hypocrisy for demanding Scotland’s chief medical officer resign then staying quiet about Dominic Cummings.
But Mr Ross’s reasons for resigning are scathing.
He says he cannot tell his constituents in good faith that they were wrong to miss funerals and other family events, but Mr Cummings was right.
He says he has listened to his constituents and resigned. The question now is whether other Tory MPs are continuing to get the same feedback.

The Daily Mail on last night’s Dominic and Boris double bill:

No Regrets: A Tragedy in Two Parts.

Owl thinks followers might enjoy reading this article from the Daily Mail:

 Dominic Cummings had come to snarl not schmooze

A double bill of Westminster drama yesterday. Statements from both Dominic Cummings and Boris Johnson.

Contrition in short supply from both players. Were it a play we could have called it No Regrets: A Tragedy in Two Parts.

For Act One we were treated to Dominic Cummings’ statement on his recent lockdown controversy. News that Mr Cummings was to appear in front of the media had driven Westminster into a state of apoplexy.

The eyes did lots of distracted darting around. There were unnecessarily lengthy pauses as he spoke. Every now and again he would emit a breathy sigh of contempt.

For geeky politicos, this was a pass the popcorn moment like no other. England v Germany times one hundred. Captain Kirk wrestles Jean Luc Picard.

That the PM had decided to unleash Cummings on a baying Press pack was a high risk strategy. One might sooner place a spitting cobra in a cage full of mongooses. Sure enough, it was an indelicate affair.

A theatre reviewer with a bit of venom in his quill would have labelled Cummings’ performance a 90-minute sulky shrug of the shoulders.

The Prime Minister’s most trusted aide had come to snarl not to schmooze. The eyes did lots of distracted darting around. There were unnecessarily lengthy pauses as he spoke. Every now and again he would emit a breathy sigh of contempt.

Despite the late arrival, it was not a well-rehearsed statement. He rattled through as though he were reeling off a dictation to one of the Downing Street garden girls. Oratory was largely non-existent

Dominic Cummings: ‘I do not regret what I did’

The bucolic charms of the Downing Street rose garden was where we laid our scene. Naturally Cummings arrived late. Around half an hour he kept us all waiting.

Nothing like keeping your detractors roasting on one of the hottest days of the year. Having ditched the peculiar Rumpelstiltskin clobber, he managed to don something resembling a smart shirt.

He sat at a table opposite the waiting media as though he was there to interview them rather than the other way around. ‘Sorry I’m late…thank you for coming,’ he fibbed as he shuffled forward in his seat.

Cummings made it clear he was there under duress. The PM had forced him to come apparently. It was then we heard his story unfold.

His wife’s illness, their inability to secure childcare, how he had not wished to leave his family at home alone.

A theatre reviewer with a bit of venom in his quill would have labelled Cummings’ performance a 90-minute sulky shrug of the shoulders. The Prime Minister’s most trusted aide had come to snarl not to schmooze

Despite the late arrival, it was not a well-rehearsed statement. He rattled through as though he were reeling off a dictation to one of the Downing Street garden girls. Oratory was largely non-existent.

Throughout, we heard repeated little justifications for his behaviour. ‘I believe I made the right judgment’, ‘I behaved safely and legally’, ‘I tried to exercise caution’ etc.

Strangest moment came when he explained his visit to Barnard Castle, where a witness had spotted him strolling by the riverbank. He claimed he and his family had driven there to check his eyesight was up to driving back to London.

Not many defending silks worth their salt would feel uber-confident about entering a courtroom with that alibi under their wig.

Members of the media were momentarily summoned to a microphone as though auditioning for X Factor. ‘Hello Laura from the BBC what are you going to ask me today?’

Best grilling came from Channel 4’s Gary Gibbon who suggested members of the public would be staggered by Cummings’ refusal to acknowledge he’d broken any of the rules.

Cummings was non-plussed. Bovvered. Wrapping things up, he bade journalists goodbye, urging them all to take care. Another barefaced whopper of course.

For Act Two we were transported to where Boris Johnson was delivering the daily Press briefing.

Judging by the Spirograph twirls under his eyes, our hero did not bear the look of a man who had enjoyed a relaxing weekend by the barbecue.

Predictably, he pushed his precious boosterism button straight up and discussed plans to reopen schools in June.

For Act Two we were transported to where Boris Johnson was delivering the daily Press briefing. Judging by the Spirograph twirls under his eyes, our hero did not bear the look of a man who had enjoyed a relaxing weekend by the barbecue

There were proposals too for retail outlets to be allowed to open their doors. ‘We’re making progress,’ he insisted.

No one, of course, was interested in any of that. The BBC asked if the PM had any regrets on the Cummings affair. Boris said he regretted the confusion. ‘People can make up their own minds,’ he shrugged.

Robert Peston queried Cummings’ peculiar story about why he visited Barnard Castle.

Boris said his aide had given ‘chunkable biography’ of what had happened already. Translation: ‘Please, please ask me about something else’.

By now the PM had turned an uncomfortable shade of magenta. Yet still the Cummings questions kept coming.

Queries did at least yield one interesting fact: Boris is now wearing glasses. We look forward to seeing those.

At just after 7.30pm, the PM finally shuffled off and the curtain came down on this day of high political drama. Whether that was the end of the Cummings saga is another matter.

The pandemic has exposed the failings of Britain’s centralised state 

“Just about every aspect of our current national impasse proves that the old centralised game is up, and that England needs a new constitutional settlement. ……Power needs to be taken from the centre and dispersed: the future needs to be founded on a huge boost to councils’ share of the tax take, the devolution of everything from health to transport, and fully localised responses to any future emergencies. …..”

And so it is that we reach a watershed point in the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis, manifested in a tangle of stories all unified by vivid themes: power concentrated at the centre, a lack of meaningful checks and balances, and the exposure by incompetence and arrogance of the mess beneath. Primary schools are meant to partly reopen next Monday, but many are in no position to do so; a test-and-tracing regime that should have materialised weeks ago is still frantically being assembled. And then along come the revelations of Dominic Cummings’s wanderings – ostensibly a tale of one man’s self-importance, but really the story of an unelected courtier whose influence and reputation speak volumes about how broken our system of government now is.

One recurrent spectacle has defined the last couple of months: ministers, presumably egged on by their advisers, grandly issuing their edicts, only for people to insist that they simply do not match the reality on the ground. The schools story is one example; another was the shambolic and arrogant way that Boris Johnson announced the shift from “stay at home” to “stay alert”, and his call for droves of people to return to work. Watching the leaders of Wales and Scotland insist they had no input into the government’s change of message and then stick to their existing lockdowns was a stark reminder that the UK is continuing to fragment. In England, meanwhile, the council leaders and mayors who were suddenly faced with huge consequences for transport and public health had been caught on the hop. “No one in government thought it important to tell the cities who’d have to cope,” said the Greater Manchester mayor, Andy Burnham. Nick Forbes, the leader of Newcastle city council, told me last week: “The first I knew about it was when I saw it on TV.”

For the opening phase of the crisis, Forbes explained, he had joined a weekly conference call of council leaders and chief executives, addressed by Robert Jenrick, the communities and local government secretary. He is not the only figure from local government who has told me that the calls are now handled by more junior ministers, and are no longer weekly. A few days ago, I spoke to another city leader who said that long-awaited government guidance on arrangements for social care and help for businesses had finally arrived last Friday, ahead of the bank holiday weekend. He also expressed huge frustration about the issue that arguably highlights the shortcomings of our top-down system most glaringly: the supposed arrival of a “world-beating” testing and tracing system by next Monday, and the ongoing saga of how it will work and who will run it.

On testing, rather than following the kind of devolved, pluralistic model that has worked so well in Germany, the health secretary, Matt Hancock, has so far stuck to the usual centralised script, something exemplified by the drive-through testing centres contracted at speed to such private companies as Deloitte, Sodexo and Boots, and often situated in inappropriate locations. On its hobbling progress towards a system of contact tracing, the government at first followed much the same logic, attempting a centralised system of call centres involving such private companies as the outsourcing giant Serco, staffed by new recruits who had apparently been given the most cursory training.

The councils who have the kind of forensic local knowledge and experience any tracing efforts will depend on were at first left in the dark. Then, less than three weeks before the system was meant to be in place, it was announced that the chief executive of Leeds city council had been made “national lead on tracing”, and that councils and their public health directors were to have a role after all. Throughout last week, senior people in city and local government were still telling me that though this sounded positive, they had no clear idea of what they were going to be asked to do. But on Friday afternoon, the government announced that councils would be working with Whitehall “to support test and trace services in their local communities” and “develop tailored outbreak control plans”.

As one city leader told me, the announcement came at “one minute to midnight”. The £300m that was now allocated to English councils for the work was, he said, “completely pitiful”. The thinking at work was plain: seemingly in a fit of panic, the people who run cities, counties and boroughs had been belatedly tacked on to a plan that should have had them at its core all along. Perhaps the most painful thing was that this mistreatment was hardly a surprise: if councils are suddenly being praised by ministers, it hardly makes up for a decade of savage cuts to basic local services, an aspect of the Covid-19 crisis that is still overlooked.

Which brings us to the subject too often obscured by the government’s convulsions: money. Two weeks ago, the Yorkshire Post reported on the prospect of “many of the 22 local authorities in the Yorkshire and the Humber region making a choreographed joint declaration that they have run out of money”. In Newcastle, Forbes told me the city council now faced an in-year financial gap of £45.5m. When ministers and their cheerleaders announce this or that funding boost and insist there will be no return to austerity, it is worth bearing in mind that austerity is still an ongoing reality for large chunks of the country.

Just about every aspect of our current national impasse proves that the old centralised game is up, and that England needs a new constitutional settlement. This does not strike me as a left/right issue, unless you are the kind of Tory who thinks that the neglect and outright destruction of local government ought to be a necessary part of your politics. Power needs to be taken from the centre and dispersed: the future needs to be founded on a huge boost to councils’ share of the tax take, the devolution of everything from health to transport, and fully localised responses to any future emergencies. If we do not begin this revolution soon, we will carry on bumbling from one crisis to the next, as Whitehall and Westminster fall into more scandal and disgrace and the commands barked from on high continue to fade into white noise.

Two Damning Verdicts on Cummings’ Rose Garden “No Regrets”

A Couple of verdicts on Cummings: Daily Mail’s headline is “No apology, no regrets”. It says the conference was a “rose garden roasting” and asks how Mr Cummings – or, as the paper labels him, the PM’s “defiant Svengali” – can survive in his post in the face of “public fury”. (bbc review of headlines).


“Whatever he might say, however much he might refute it — Cummings did break the rules. While millions of other Britons forewent freedom of movement, while hundreds of thousands struggled with child care and the effects of the virus, Johnson’s top adviser decided that he was above the fray.

What was on show in Cummings’ performance was the underlying superciliousness of the new elite running Britain — and most of all that of the Svengali who sits behind its throne whispering instructions..

…He sits at the heart of an overconfident inherently arrogant establishment that thinks it can ride this one out.”

Read on.

Driving blind: Cummings comes full circle

Otto English 

LONDON — It was an unprecedented press conference in every way, not least because the government’s own code of conduct for special advisers states that they “must not take part in public political controversy, through any form of statement.”

But it was long ago obvious, that the ordinary rules do not apply where Dominic Cummings is concerned.

As 4 p.m. came and went, it became increasingly clear that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s chief adviser has as much respect for time as he has for the lockdown rules.

More than 30 minutes passed before Britain’s best known SpAd — short for special adviser — deigned to gift the waiting world with an explanation of why he seems to have violated the government’s strict lockdown rules by driving more than 400 kilometers to his parents’ farm in Durham, after his wife said she felt ill with COVID-19 symptoms.

When Cummings finally did stroll out into the Downing Street rose garden in his trademark untucked shirt, it quickly became clear that the strategy — hammered out behind closed doors over the last 24 hours — was for him to appear, if not contrite then at least eminently reasonable. And if that failed, he would drone everyone into submission.

Over the next 20 minutes, the prime minister’s most trusted adviser  — and the man widely credited with bringing Britain Brexit — delivered a detailed justification for his movements.

In April, his wife had rung him to say she was feeling ill and he had decided that they would therefore drive to a safe space, where help would be available if needed.

Everyone else in the country might have got the message about staying at home and saving lives but uniquely: “None of our usual child care options were available,” so the Cummings had headed north.

In his version of events, Cummings was both victim and hero of the piece — a family man who had acted reasonably and who had subsequently been unfairly set upon by the press for doing the right thing.

This was an “exceptional situation” and “numerous false stories in the media” had sought to discredit him and make him look as if he had done something wrong. Cummings claimed he had a “full tank of petrol” and knew that he could safely drive to Durham and would be able to self-isolate in an empty estate cottage.

Having reached his parents’ farm, he and his wife had both displayed COVID-19 symptoms and self-isolated with their 4-year-old son. But then after a 14-day period, having recovered sufficiently, decided that it might be time to go back to work.

Cummings had suffered eyesight problems during the illness and his partner was worried so they “agreed to go for a short drive to see if I could drive safely.”

That last admission already seems likely to be a phrase that will launch a 1,000 memes.

It was during that brief car journey to Barnard Castle and during some subsequent toilet breaks and exercise that he was spotted by members of the public, who were wished a hearty “Happy Easter” by Mrs. Cummings as they stared on from a distance.

It was all very reasonable, he said, and “I don’t regret what I did.”

In ensuing question and answers with the journalists present, he doubled down. He hadn’t bothered the prime minister with the details of his journey because Johnson “had a million things on his plate” and was ill in bed.

Cummings blamed the media, the public, the wilful misinterpretation of his words — but he refused to accept that he himself had acted wrongly.

Whatever he might say, however much he might refute it — Cummings did break the rules. While millions of other Britons forewent freedom of movement, while hundreds of thousands struggled with child care and the effects of the virus, Johnson’s top adviser decided that he was above the fray.

What was on show in Cummings’ performance was the underlying superciliousness of the new elite running Britain — and most of all that of the Svengali who sits behind its throne whispering instructions.

How dare mere hacks and police constables question the judgment of the man who gave the world Brexit. It all made perfect sense to him so why couldn’t they grasp it?

Cummings has always been a whole set of paradoxes. For 20 years he carved a niche for himself in the shadows, cementing the agenda of Euroskeptic conservatism and serving the biggest elite in the land, while claiming all the while that he was some kind of anti-establishment outlier.

He isn’t. He sits at the heart of an overconfident inherently arrogant establishment that thinks it can ride this one out.

Cummings has a lot of enemies both within and without the inner corridors of power, and this performance won’t have won him many fans. Genuine contrition was thin on the ground and he seemed more preoccupied that “media reports” about him were false than anything else.

Perhaps he and Johnson have calculated it correctly. Perhaps he will weather this storm and cling on to power.

But if that happens, the damage it has wrought will linger. The growing antipathy of millions of Britons for an administration that thinks it’s “one rule for them and another for us” might yet frame the government’s future.

Whatever eventually happens, Cummings can add another paradox to his curriculum vitae.

The architect of Britain’s effort to “take back control” from the unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats is now an unelected, unaccountable bureaucrat refusing to cede control.