‘Demonic Cummings’ And The Worst Week For the Conservative Govt.
If there was any worst week for Boris Johnson’s government to date, then last week’s collection of scandals and U-turns would probably be it. The events of the past seven days have culminated in a political car crash for the Conservative government, with speculation arising as to whether Johnson himself will be able to retain his place in №10 for much longer. The scandal however surrounding his most senior political advisor, Dominic Cummings, is perhaps the most severe.
It was announced last week by the IOPC (Independent Office for Police Conduct) that the PM will NOT be facing any criminal investigation referring to his close relationship with the US businesswoman Jennifer Arcuri. It has been proven that at the time when Johnson was Mayor of London, Arcuri received public money and exclusive access to trade trips/missions, organised by the Mayor himself. Arcuri was also awarded £11,500 by the Mayor’s own promotional agency, London & Partners, amongst other grants of public money.
The IOPC announced that they found no evidence of an abuse of conduct in relation to the US businesswoman, however a further investigation will be held to uncover Johnson’s overall conduct when he was Mayor. This scandal has been something that Johnson has refrained from commenting on ever since it came to light some time before the 2019 election. He has ignored the subject altogether. However, as Owen Jones at The Guardian titled his article on the scandal, “Johnson has escaped a criminal inquiry. This doesn’t mean he did nothing wrong.”
Johnson’s conduct referring to Arcuri is something that exhibited a clear abuse of mayoral power, and whether the IOPC recognise this is somewhat besides the point. It is clear that his abuse of power was done so openly and with uncaring transparency. However, since the story broke, Johnson has hidden from the subject almost entirely.
The phrase “if you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear” springs to mind. If Johnson’s conduct referring to Arcuri was completely within his purview as Mayor of London, then surely, he would turn to the media and say so, as would Arcuri. Neither have done so. This scandal will continue for as long as Johnson remains in office, because of his point-blank refusal to discuss the matter.
Last week the government U-turned on three key policies. First was the U-turn that the PM personally carried out which ended the immigration surcharge for NHS staff. In other words, NHS staff from overseas will no longer have to pay the surcharge fee in order to use the health service in which they work.
This comes after huge pressure from opposition parties and medical organisations who, among many others, believe that the immigrant staff of the NHS have been vital to keeping the country functioning throughout the pandemic. These members of staff were to be rewarded with having to pay a surcharge fee of £400 per year (increasing to £624 in October) for the right to use the NHS. Since the mounting pressure and Sir Kier Starmer’s interrogation of the PM at last week’s PMQs, the government have U-turned on this policy, which has subsequently been dropped.
Second, comes the U-turn by the Home Office, who were planning to exclude migrant and native NHS cleaners and porters from the bereavement scheme, set up to support families whose members have died from COVID-19. This U-turn came minutes after the daily government press conference on the 21st May, in which NHS England medical director, Stephen Powis, gave an impassioned tribute to those NHS workers who have died from COVID-19. The Home Secretary, Priti Patel, issued a statement that the scheme now cares for all NHS workers, both native and migrant. This policy, had it not been reversed, would have effectively created a financial apartheid within the NHS, where only workers who earn enough per annum could enter the scheme.
The third U-turn concerns a policy that a year ago was at the forefront of public opinion: the Irish border and Brexit. Last year, the PM promised that after Brexit there will be no internal border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, and there will be no checks when good are carried over the Irish Sea.
That however has now changed, and the government has come to accept that there will have to be some checks put in place when goods are imported from Ireland to the mainland, therefore implementing an internal border. Michael Gove addressed parliament on 20th May to announce that these additional controls would need to be implemented; completely shattering the promises made last year to avoid customs checks on trade crossing the Irish Sea.
Finally, the most severe scandal of the week was Dominic Cumming’s breach of lockdown and isolation rules, in which he travelled with his wife (who had COVID-19 at the time) and child 260 miles from their home in London to his parents house in Durham. Cummings was seen at his parent’s house by a neighbour on April 5th, after lockdown was imposed. His wife has since also reported that he had been suffering from COVID-19 symptoms as well. He then made this trip from London to Durham a second time two weeks later.
In a clear breach of the lockdown and isolation laws that he helped to create, Cummings has been openly supported by many members of the cabinet, including Johnson himself, who addressed the scandal last night at the government press conference.
This is by far the worst scandal of the week and perhaps of the entire pandemic, as it shows a blatant disregard, by a senior government advisor, of the laws which he helped to make. It is a stark example of how there are two sets of rules: one for the unelected elites, and one for the rest of us. Sir Kier Starmer has already called for an inquiry, and thousands more, including fifteens Tory MPs, are calling for Cummings to be ousted from government. The truth is though, Cummings will remain in government as long as Boris is PM. Cummings provides the ideological and strategic basis which Johnson’s premiership rests upon. Without Dominic, there is no Boris.
This is why no form of inquiry will solve the scandal, and the stinking hypocrisy will remain. If the nation wants Cummings gone, then they need to get rid of Johnson first. Cummings will not budge unless Johnson falls, because Cummings effectively controls the PM in every aspect of government.
The past week has been a masterclass in how NOT to conduct U-turns and handle government scandals. There is obviously so much more to discuss, but it would take days to iron out all the creases in the government’s scandalous sleeve. Slowly but surely, the government are becoming ever more untouchable and impenetrable.
Johnson has already gone into hiding, and it will be surprising if he or Cummings makes any appearance before PMQs on Wednesday. All we can do is wait and see what Johnson comes up with when Sir Kier begins what will surely be a brutal cross-examination. I for one cannot wait.
Words by William Cooper.