Now for something different, or is it different – entitlement again?
Back to the Dominic Cummings saga.
The furore over Dominic Cummings’ breach of lockdown rules has prompted tens of thousands of people to flood their MPs’ inboxes in what some described as the biggest outpouring since Brexit, a Guardian analysis has found.
As Boris Johnson tried to draw a line under the crisis involving his chief adviser, constituents across the country sent missives to their MPs, with many sharing stories of their own lockdown hardships.
A Guardian analysis covering 117 MPs found they have received a total of 31,738 emails since a joint Guardian and Daily Mirror investigation a week ago divulged that Cummings had travelled to County Durham and taken a trip to a beauty spot with his family after suffering coronavirus symptoms.
If that level of correspondence was reflected across all 650 MPs, it would suggest the revelations may have sparked as many as 180,000 items of correspondence. The numbers were either provided in response to the Guardian’s request for figures, or in statements MPs had released to constituents.
Johnson has repeatedly suggested it was time to “move on” from the Cummings row, despite about half of Tory backbenchers – more than 100 MPs – calling for his most senior aide to resign or be sacked, or criticising Cummings. Many said they were motivated by their constituents’ anger.
On Friday evening Theresa May added her voice to the Tories criticising Cummings. In a statement to constituents of her Maidenhead seat, the former prime minister said she could “well understand the [public’s] anger” towards Johnson’s senior adviser.
“I do not feel that Mr Cummings followed the spirit of the guidance,” she said.
Several Conservative MPs in marginal seats said they had received more than 1,000 emails about Cummings, in some cases dwarfing their majority. While the average number of emails each MP got was 271, the Tory MPs analysed by the Guardian received 590 each on average.
Many MPs said the emails were from people writing to them for the first time and not the common copy-and-paste messages on a campaigning issue, and for some it has been the most significant volume since the Brexit crisis in parliament.
Sir Roger Gale, Conservative MP for North Thanet, who was among the first to say Cummings’ job was no longer tenable, said: “I’ve had between 700 and 800 emails, and half of those are constituents, half of those are from other people. About 85% are critical [of him], and 15% think I’m the devil incarnate.
“Not one has been computer-generated, they are all individual observations. This is not about Brexit, or a Labour party campaign, none of this is orchestrated.”
Richard Fuller, Tory MP for North East Bedfordshire, wrote to constituents: “I have been struck by just how many emails I have received from constituents about the actions taken by Mr Cummings and the strength of sentiment.
“Most emails contained strong criticisms. The words used by constituents to express their feeling – ‘disgust’, ‘incensed’, ‘disgraceful’, ‘shameful’, ‘anger’ – convey clearly how deeply hurtful this revelation has been for them.
“Many constituents included personal stories of sacrifice and loss; a number sharing the searing pain of bereavement in this extraordinary period of isolation and confinement. I have read fully each of the emails sent to me.”
He added: “The explanation of this human dilemma has not been communicated in such a manner as to heal the hurt that has been felt. An apology is not always needed as a concession that you did something wrong but sometimes to show that you understand the pain to others that may have been caused.”
Diana Johnson, Labour MP for Hull North since 2005, said: “Other than Brexit, this is the biggest postbag I’ve had for many years. And it’s still coming in.”
Polling suggests most people were unconvinced by Cummings’ explanation of his movements, delivered in a hastily arranged press conference in the Downing Street rose garden on Monday.
A YouGov poll taken afterwards showed 71% of respondents thought he had broken the rules; the row also appears to have dented the Conservatives’ poll lead over Keir Starmer’s Labour party.
Among the Conservatives receiving more than 1,000 emails about Cummings were Alex Chalk, MP for Cheltenham, who has a majority of 981; Stephen Hammond, MP for Wimbledon, whose majority is 628; and Andrew Bowie, the MP for West Aberdeenshire and and Kincardine, with a majority of 843.
Not all of the correspondence was negative, although many MPs said their mailbox was overwhelmingly weighted towards criticism of the adviser.
Stewart Wood, a Labour peer and Oxford University fellow teaching politics, said the crisis had touched a nerve akin to the MPs’ expenses revelations. “The real worry for government is when something that they do politicises people who normally wouldn’t ever write to their MP about something like this, who never really engage in politics,” he said.
“I worked for Gordon Brown for 10 years and the equivalent issue was the expenses crisis. In terms of the nerve it has touched and the kind of people who are responding, it feels a lot like [that].”
He added: “I think what’s happened is our daily lives are dominated by what’s coming out of No 10. So we’re hanging on the words of the prime minister and his top team in a way that you normally would never ever get, and that does bring politics into your life much more vividly. So people then inspect the credentials of the people doing that in a much greater way.
“The thing that makes this so poisonous for Boris Johnson and the top team is that we’re in this incredibly unusual crisis moment where everything the government does relies on our trust, because everything they do is essentially asking us to change our behaviour. And that requires faith in the integrity and the authority of the government.”
One Tory MP said they had received 400 emails, mostly against Cummings. In the Tory stronghold of the south-west, Selaine Saxby, MP for North Devon, was hit with 800 messages and Cherilyn Mackrory, of Truro and Falmouth, said she had received nearly 1,000.
Elliot Colburn, 27, the Conservative MP representing the marginal Carshalton and Wallington seat, wrote to Johnson to say he had received more emails on this issue than any other. He said “many hundreds of messages from concerned constituents” had called on Cummings to resign.
At the other end of the UK, the leader of the Scottish National party in Westminster, Ian Blackford, said he had received more than 1,000 emails. “At the peak I was getting one email a minute. It’s easily more than 1,000,” he said.
Labour’s Rushanara Ali, MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, said she had had 117 emails, with “so many powerful stories of sacrifice”. One of her constituents wrote to say how her mother had died alone of Covid-19 in a London hospital on 8 April and “every instinct” in her body had told to go to be with her for her final moments, but she had abided by the government’s rules.
The Labour MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark, Neil Coyle, said he had received 227 emails, only one in support of Cummings. He said: “They are all unique and many are very sad as they explain their anger based on what they’ve been through – including missing relatives at the end of life.”
Chris Bryant, Labour MP for the Rhondda, said he had received 20 messages a day and has had a constituent tell him he now has no intention of abiding by the lockdown rules since Cummings’ drive to Durham and later to Barnard Castle.