Cummings debacle is the perfect cover while Tories plunder the poorest


FOLLOWING Dominic Cummings’s Gethsemane moment in the Downing Street Rose Garden, the next 48 hours were deemed to be crucial for Boris Johnson’s lord and saviour. This is roughly the amount of time that must elapse without any fresh twist occurring if the subject of a media feeding frenzy is to have a hope of escaping without any further damage. In these circumstances, the resignation of a minister over your conduct would normally be considered fatal.

On the other hand, if the right sort of minister can be found to rediscover his moral compass, then it might prove to be beneficial. Douglas Ross is that man. Most of us had forgotten that this Scottish MP was still at Westminster let alone a Government minister (albeit in a school prefect capacity). Thus far, the only time his name has ever bothered a newspaper subeditor was back in August 2017. That was when he said that if he could be Prime Minister for the day his first act would be to impose “tougher enforcement against gypsy travellers”.

Dominic Cummings must have been tempted to send Ross a bouquet of flowers in gratitude. If your conduct is such that an individual as odiously trivial as the MP for Moray is forced to resign then, who knows, there might still be a way out of this after all.

If Cummings does survive this personal Alamo, his position as the real leader of the UK Government will grow stronger. If you can survive a trial such as this then the word Teflon will scarcely do justice to your durability. Try omnipotent instead. A whole new suite of special circumstances requiring to be exempt from the coronavirus lockdown rules has just been invented for him. The Government must now rewrite its lockdown restrictions to include the phrase “special circumstances (special)”.

These will apply only to those with sprawling family estates and astounding powers of physical recovery that include being able to drive 260 miles a few hours after being “barely able to stand”. Being in possession of an enhanced DVLA licence that says your road skills are so good that you can drive for 30 miles with impaired vision is also a requirement. The ability to make a rapid, self-diagnosis about a fatal disease that’s menacing the world? Tick.

Such is the array of special gifts possessed by Cummings that they’ll require someone like Daniel Craig to portray him in the biopic. If I was President Putin, I’d be putting out a special alert to all Russian agents in the field. With this chap at large, none will be safe. Last month I suggested that the SNP required someone of his ability to crack heads together and get things done. In the interim my admiration for Cummings’s skillset has increased.

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One of the most surprising aspects of this affair is that people seem so surprised. Cummings is merely acting in a manner that has become characteristic of the party he directs. The most common insult directed at him following his holiday from lockdown is that it’s “one rule for him and one rule for the rest of us”. Where have people been for the last few years? Cummings’s multiple breaches of the lockdown rules during his fabled trip to Durham are entirely in keeping with the timbre of this administration. And they are by no means the most egregious of its transgressions.

This is the party that systematically targeted migrants during its Brexit campaign and deliberately lied about freeing up funds for the NHS. Prior to that it was forced to admit its culpability in creating a hostile environment for the sole purpose of persecuting the Windrush generation of immigrants from the West Indies. It broke the law multiple times during the Brexit campaign as is pertained to spending limits and the gathering of data. Boris Johnson, titular head of the UK Government, still has questions to answer about awarding contracts in exchange for favours from a young American businesswoman.

 

Boris Johnson, during his time as London mayor, with US businesswoman Jennifer Arcuri

On the same weekend that Dominic Cummings’s lockdown transgressions surfaced, The Sunday Times produced detailed charts showing how the UK Government’s complacency and incompetence had resulted in the needless deaths of thousands of its citizens. The revelations of Cummings’s bucolic peregrinations in Durham weren’t even the biggest story of the weekend, let alone the year. But they have successfully averted our gaze from what else has been going on.

When the tide of this pandemic does begin to recede, it will be interesting to examine what other detritus it has left behind. What other seedy little transactions were being conducted underneath the tumult of the waves? Thus far, we know that the Government is hurriedly drawing up plans to cut tariffs on US agricultural imports to hasten a trade deal with the Americans. The plan to ease tariffs will lead to cheaper US goods and undercut British farmers, while stricter UK hygiene regulations will also be bypassed.

Elsewhere, The Guardian has reported that £1 billion worth of public sector contracts have already been awarded to private companies without any tender process. These have been awarded on an emergency basis and amount to a Klondyke for some of the Government’s pet firms such as Deloitte, PWC and Ernst & Young. There has been no scrutiny of pricing or conditions. These firms will make many millions out of the coronavirus pandemic and are just among the few we know about.

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FROM this far out it remains impossible to predict when the UK can say with any degree of confidence when this contagion has been defeated. I’ll make this prediction, though. Long after the rest of us have been told that emergency funding for small businesses and individuals has ceased, large firms will continue to use the coronavirus effect as an excuse for sacking staff and shutting down operations they don’t consider sufficiently profitable.

We already know that the rate of deaths from Covid-19 is up to three times greater in the UK’s disadvantaged communities than in its more affluent neighbourhoods. Those heroes we stand to applaud each Thursday of this pandemic are among those most afflicted by poor wages, unhealthy working conditions and the serf contracts of the gig economy. They are likely to live in those places worst affected by coronavirus.

Don’t kid yourself that the entire UK economy will suffer from the effects of this pandemic. Many sectors and individuals – already rich – are feeding on it. Those who are already struggling will be told to bear the brunt. It’s what every Tory administration does and how they roll. Set against this, the crimes and misdemeanours of one Dominic Cummings amount to very little. Let’s not become distracted.

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