• Isabelle Osborne

Flash Article: The Dominic Cummings Case

Dominic Cummings has been in the public eye this week after he travelled 260 miles away from his home in London to Durham, despite lockdown policy insisting the public must stay at home. Cummings justified his decision by insisting it was provoked by the fear that he and his wife would become too unwell to look after their four year old son, and that it would be better if they were surrounded by family members who could help in the event that either or both of them were hospitalised.

I value the importance of transparency, and believe it was right that Cummings publicised the details of his trip in order to reduce the possibility that the public would perceive his actions to be unlawful. I also appreciate that this is a controversial situation that will have agitated many and could undermine public confidence in the government, as Cummings did not adhere to the isolation guidelines. I also believe there are several inconsistencies within his story, such as the fact he claims to have travelled almost 300 miles by car without stopping for a comfort break - this is questionable, given that he has a four year old child - as well as his trip to Barnard Castle that he claims was to test the proficiency of his sight. Despite the government insisting anyone who presents symptoms must isolate alongside their household, Cummings argued his family did not pose any risk to others as they stayed completely isolated in their journey.

However, this situation has become more than simply an enquiry into whether Cummings was right or wrong in his decision to travel to Durham. Rather, it has become an opportune moment to launch a personal critic of Cummings himself. I was interested to hear that Lisa Mckenzie, Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Durham, believed that Cummings, a ‘rich, elite man’, did ‘whatever he wanted to do’. I perceived Mckenzie’s comment as an opportunity to criticise the Westminster Bubble for being dominated by a particular type of candidate, and has been provoked by an underlying tension that is prejudiced against the government, rather than offering a debate on Cummings' actions; Mckenzie's comment was unnecessary to her argument that this story has gained too much attention. What is more, BBC newsreader Ben Brown pointed out that Cummings gave the press conference on Monday evening in ‘shirt sleeves’ - was I the only person who felt this was entirely irrelevant to the discussion of whether Cummings acted lawfully or not? These examples seem to show that the attention the Cummings case has gained is not simply a reaction to the decision he made to travel to Durham, but has become a seized opportunity to directly attack the Prime Minister's advisor. If any ordinary person had acted in the way Cummings had, intending to protect their family in the event that they could have become critically ill, there would have been no media attention.

Cummings’ actions could risk how we as the public cooperate with the lockdown measures that the government insist are necessary, as people become disinclined to follow the rules that government officials themselves seemingly ignore. However, I believe there are many more important things to think and debate about within the COVID-19 discussion. I feel it is undeniably important to focus on the decisions that are being made in order to determine how we will continue to prevent the spread of the virus, rather than analysing one man’s decision to protect his son. Can we not focus on how we are dealing with the situation in the present and are preparing for the future, rather than continuously analysing the past? Cummings has given his statement, and the government have decided to support him - why can't we? The real enemy is not Cummings, but the coronavirus.

I am concerned that whilst the attention remains on Cummings, we are losing focus of what really matters - preventing the spread of the virus today, tomorrow, forever. Cummings allegedly came into contact with no one whilst travelling to Durham, yet we are allowing people to fly into the country and letting them leave the airports without being tested for the duration of the lockdown - surely this is a more pressing matter that is more concerning than the Cummings case and deserves more media attention? What of the assurance of people’s jobs, the reopening of schools, the trials for a vaccine? The fact that Cummings’ statement replaced the daily news conference, a time when government officials crucially update the public on the latest news regarding the pandemic, reaffirms how the Cummings case has wrongly dominated the BBC newsreel.

I am not condoning Cummings's actions, neither am I condemning them. Rather, I am appalled by how the situation continues to be the focal point of all media attention. The way the press have approached this case - brutally scrutinising Cummings' actions - undermines their integrity. I question the aggressive nature of the journalists' questioning Cummings at the conference on Monday, and am confident their questions could have been asked in a more polite, respectful manner. The media are supposed to present an impartial view of the stories they report, yet it seems they have already decided Cummings' action were wrong, which has subsequently provoked a social media hate storm. We must form our own opinions of the Cummings case, and decide whether these are the kind of stories we feel are important enough that they completely dominate our news channels.

Featured image courtesy of Lucas Davis on Unsplash. Image license can be found here. No changes were made to this image.