A Week Is A Long Time In Coronavirus Politics

It was former Prime Minister Harold Wilson (c1964) who is attributed with the phrase ‘A week is a long time in politics’, suggesting that the fortunes of a politician or political group can radically change for the better or worse in just the course of a single week. This certainly appeared to be true for the Prime Minister’s Chief Aide and Special Advisor, Dominic Cummings, who allegedly broke his own ‘lockdown’ rules to travel with his wife and young son to County Durham to self-isolate on a property belonging to his parents whilst his wife appeared to have coronavirus symptoms and he also feared that he might be coming down with the illness. This episode was made worse by his own admission that before travelling back to London, and worried about his eyesight, he and his family went on a 50 mile round-trip ‘test drive’ to Barnard Castle. The media storm which followed was inevitably ferocious, culminating in Cummings giving a press conference in The Rose Garden of Number 10, which was in itself unprecedented. For days, his apparent denial of responsibility or recognition that he had done anything wrong angered the Press, political foes and the public alike, and the Prime Minister’s backing of Mr Cummings was considered partially protective. The story took an unexpected twist when Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis used her programme’s introduction to fire a blistering attack upon Dominic Cummings and Number 10, claiming that the public had been made to ‘feel like fools’ which resulted in her being taken ‘off air’ and subject to an inquiry.

Now of course from my perspective it’s very difficult to make any sort of comment or offer any sort of reflection without it appearing as if I’m taking sides or running the risk of upsetting someone – but I’d like to give it a go, being as fair as I can, stripping out the personalities and looking at the bare facts. Dominic Cummings (and the government) have been accused of hypocrisy and of being two faced summed up in the often quoted statement that there is ‘one rule for them and another rule for everyone else’. This is a considerable charge and one that’s easily understood to cause outrage to all those who have been caught up in the coronavirus crisis and particularly those who suffered because of it, and nobody wants to demean or denigrate the suffering of others. This was in essence Emily Maitlis’ charge and one that brought her considerable admirers. But Cummings pleads ‘not guilty’ because he doesn’t believe that he has actually broken any rules but has simply taken advantage of a certain leniency that was always ‘built into’ the system. His position seems to be one that was backed up by County Durham police who simply said that if they had bumped into him they would have advised him to return home but ‘wouldn’t be taking the matter any further’. This response inevitably causes outrage by those who assume ‘he must be guilty’, whether they be political rivals (of all parties) on the opposite side of the Brexit debate or those who are hurt because they’ve suffered but feel they had no other choice than ‘to do the right thing’ and stay at home – just as the government advised. But even if Mr Cummings hasn’t broken any rules, surely, he’s broken the spirit of the rules and should apologise? In normal circumstances, the answer would be an unequivocal ‘yes’, it’s the only decent thing to do, but of course these aren’t normal circumstances, and above all this is politics! No self respecting politician (or political advisor) can ever be seen to apologise, because then it would feed calls for his resignation. So until we create a climate where it is possible for politicians to apologise without fear of losing their jobs, we will never get the politics we want or deserve. So ‘by hook or by crook’, Dominic Cummings remains in his position. However, Emily Maitlis may have felt that she was ‘speaking truth to power’, but as a journalist employed by the BBC, it’s hard to see how she was being impartial – in which case she did break the rules of her position, which is why she was taken ‘off air’ (or voluntarily stood down) and is subject to an inquiry. Will she be subject to the same level of scrutiny as the Prime Minister’s Chief Aide and be asked to apologise or even resign? Only time will tell!

So where does this leave us? Well, I suppose in the first instance it reminds us that ‘people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones’! It is all very easy to point the finger at others, but what does that say about us, our character and our motivation for doing so? Are we driven by a real sense of injustice or are we driven by some less righteous motivation or anger? Do we want to get even and get our own back?

The Christian will remember the story of the Pharisees who brought a woman to Jesus who had been caught in the act of adultery. This wasn’t simply a religious matter or of righteous indignation; it was highly political. Would Jesus condemn the woman to death, which only the Roman authorities had the right to do, or would he let the woman go, in which case he was seen as weak minded and not respectful of the religious rules of the day? Either way, Jesus was caught on the horns of a dilemma, so what did he do? Well, he simply said ‘let he who is without sin cast the first stone’ (John 8.7). The result was that all the woman’s accusers melted away because his question had required them all to look inwards and consider their own motives and religious standing before God. Perhaps there are times when we should do the same!

For ….. all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Romans 3.23


Published by

Stephen Thorp

Rector of Necton, Holme Hale, North & South Pickenham with Houghton on the Hill

6 thoughts on “A Week Is A Long Time In Coronavirus Politics”

    1. Hi Joe, I’m not actually saying that she should resign, I’m simply pointing out that if people are in general automatically seeking the resignation of rule-breakers, then she is a prime candidate as she had actually broken the BBC rules on impartiality which has now been confirmed by the BBC only yesterday. Whereas Dominic Cummings maintained that he didn’t actually break any rules at all – and County Durham Police have agreed with him. We may not like Dominic Cummings, and we may most certainly feel that he has broken the spirit of the law and bent the rules to suit his purpose, but technically speaking that’s not the point. Theoretically (i.e. it wouldn’t actually happen) Emily Maitlis wouldn’t be resigning because she spoke the truth but because she could no longer be seen as being impartial. Because she is not likely to resign or be sanctioned in any way she won’t feel the need to apologise. Equally Dominic Cummings won’t apologise because that would give ammunition to his political opponents who will call for his resignation. Because our political climate doesn’t allow for people to own up to mistakes or errors of judgment without being called to resign very few people do – in that sense as I said in my piece we ‘get the politics we deserve’.

      And yet of course, theologically speaking we are all ‘rule-breakers’ and deserve to be punished but fortunately we trust in a God who loves us and offers us through Christ the forgiveness of sins.


  1. Stephen I totally agree with your perspective. As for your saying that ” without it appearing as if I’m taking sides or running the risk of upsetting someone ..” In my own experience it is impossible to state an opinion without upsetting someone. I am reminded of a skit from ‘The Really Fast Show’! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lmTahAali90
    As you say, Dominic Cummings acted under a certain leniency allowed for in the guidelines. Was an eyetest also allowed for -not as far as I am aware, but am I foing to jump up and down over it? Only if I have another agenda -say, bring this government down at all costs, or “I want an excuse to break the guidelines, so thank you Dominic for providing it.”
    Unfortunately we British are very slow to praise or encourage people and very quick to condemn. Sometimes spitefully so. For myself I really didn’t much care if he had broken the guidelines because I saw the need for them, and there are always going to be those that ignore or flout them for whatever reason. He could have communicated to colleagues what he was going to do and why, but publicising that or making his own declaration of guilt wouldn’t really change anything. Only that Boris (recovering from the virus himself) would lose a valued advisor. And in the grand scheme of things we need this government to complete Brexit. So bringing down Dominic Cummings and possibly the government too would achieve what, precisely? There have always been men or groups of men with an agenda, and unfortunately that national trait of petty fault finding and finger pointing plays right into the hands of such saboteurs.

    Liked by 1 person

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