Dominic Cummings is at the centre of yet another scandal during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. The Mirror reported that he was investigated by police after allegedly breaking lockdown rules. But Cummings needn’t worry. Because he had the BBC on hand to leap to his defence.
Cummings: did he break lockdown rules?
On 22 May, the Mirror and Guardian ran a joint exclusive that revealed Cummings, Boris Johnson’s “top aide”, allegedly flouted rules surrounding self-isolation and lockdown. It claimed that:
The Prime Minister’s chief-of-staff was spotted by witnesses at his parents’ home in Durham, more than 250 miles from his London property.
The Mirror further claimed:
Mr Cummings started suffering from a bout of coronavirus at the end of March which left him self-isolating with his wife, journalist Mary Wakefield, and young son for 14 days.
Downing Street claimed he was holed up in his London home – and afterwards his wife wrote about ’emerging from quarantine’ into the London lockdown.
But a joint investigation by the Mirror and the Guardian can reveal that Mr Cummings was in fact in the North of England.
The Mirror went on to detail how a neighbour of Cummings’ parents had spotted him and his son in the garden. And in the most bizarre twist (if that’s possible) to this story, Abba’s Dancing Queen was allegedly “blasting” out of the house. But the bigger point is a senior government adviser breached coronavirus rules.
Downing Street says…
Owing to his wife being infected with suspected coronavirus and the high likelihood that he would himself become unwell, it was essential for Dominic Cummings to ensure his young child could be properly cared for…
His sister and nieces had volunteered to help so he went to a house near to but separate from his extended family in case their help was needed. His sister shopped for the family and left everything outside. At no stage was he or his family spoken to by the police about this matter, as is being reported. His actions were in line with coronavirus guidelines. Mr Cummings believes he behaved reasonably and legally.
So, it seems that while Cummings did travel to Durham, he didn’t stay in his parent’s house and the police weren’t involved. Allegedly. This is despite even the Tory-friendly Sun reporting that police had confirmed they had visited Cummings’ parents’ house.
I ain’t getting on no plane!
Then, the situation all went a bit like the 80s TV show The A-Team. That is, as the opening lines of its titles used to say:
If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire: The A-Team.
Cummings clearly has his ‘A-Team’ on speed dial. Because the BBC quickly stepped in.
First, analysis from political correspondent Leila Nathoo said that:
A source close to Dominic Cummings is insistent that he didn’t break the rules.
Next up, and BBC Radio 4 Today also fell into line:
BBC in full Defend No. 10 mode.
Mishal Husain keeps asking Ian Blackford "What would you do" if you and your partner were both seriously ill and your sister offered to look after your 4yo?
OFF THE TOP OF MY HEAD, Mishal, I may get my healthy sister to make the 270-mile journey. pic.twitter.com/zSbEy0PDNw
— Alex Andreou (@sturdyAlex) May 23, 2020
But it was political editor Laura Kuenssberg whose response to the Mirror scoop was perhaps most staggering.
PM's chief adviser did travel from London to County Durham during lockdown when he and his wife had coronavirus to stay in a separate building at his family's farm, a source close to him confirms – source says it is not true that he was spoken to by police … https://t.co/v8foQb9rL5
— Laura Kuenssberg (@bbclaurak) May 22, 2020
More “details” emerged from Kuenssberg. Problem is, these were not “details”, in fact, but a repetition of what Downing Street itself claimed:
Few more details this morning –
-small number of people in No 10 knew that Cummings had gone to Durham, not stayed in London -seems it was his sister who had offered to help with childcare when he and his wife fell ill
-family stayed in separate house + had no contact in the end
— Laura Kuenssberg (@bbclaurak) May 23, 2020
But the BBC‘s political editor also perhaps did the most unsubtle bit of defence possible on Cummings’ behalf. As she literally went onto the Twitter timeline of her counterpart at the Mirror Pippa Crerar to effectively rebut the story:
Source says his trip was within guidelines as Cummings went to stay with his parents so they could help with childcare while he and his wife were ill – they insist no breach of lockdown
— Laura Kuenssberg (@bbclaurak) May 22, 2020
Shilling for the Tories?
This is clearly not how an impartial journalist at the nation’s public service broadcaster should act. But this is the BBC, which already has form on defending Cummings in the past. Moreover, as The Canary previously reported, a senior journalist at the broadcaster confessed that its role during the pandemic has been to:
provide what the nation needs… It needs to know what’s being done about testing [for coronavirus]. It doesn’t need a great bust-up about what’s gone wrong in the recent past… the bosses are keen that we come out of this with the sense that we looked after the interest of the nation, not just our journalistic values.
So leaping to the government’s defence is all in a day’s work for the BBC. But, above the broadcaster’s shilling on behalf of the Tories, there’s a bigger point to be made about Cummings’ actions.
As a parent, Cummings was understandably concerned about the welfare of his child. But his actions reek of hypocrisy and a ‘do as I say, not as I do’ agenda. And moreover, his behaviour shows the gaping inequality at the heart of the pandemic, and UK society.
As the Observer reported, nearly a fifth of households with children did not have enough food to eat in the five weeks leading up to May. It also noted that:
A reported 30% of lone parents and 46% of parents with a disabled child are facing food insecurity
of the 621,000 children who were accessing free breakfast clubs before the pandemic, only 136,000 are being provided with an alternative. However, 31% of children entitled to free school meals are still not getting any substitute, leaving more than 500,000 children going without.
Then, around 700,000 children aged 11-18 have no internet access via a computer or laptop – while being expected to do school work at home. So the pandemic, and the Tories’ unpreparedness, has hit the poorest children in the UK the hardest. And the government has also almost forgotten the estimated 800,000 young carers aged 5-17 in the UK. In 2011, one in eight young carers were under the age of eight. As Sky News reported, Phoebe, aged eight, not only has to look after their chronically ill mother, but also her two sisters aged four and six. But so far, the government has done little to support children like her. And during the pandemic, Phoebe’s already difficult situation has probably been made a whole lot worse.
Our broken society: exacerbated by the BBC
We live in a society where some children have been going through hell during the pandemic. Others, though, get to travel across the country to be protected from it. This is the real problem with the Cummings scandal. So the BBC leaping to his defence is damning. But its failure to recognise the horrendous inequality his actions sum up is another part of this disgraceful, systemic problem.
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