I’ve enjoyed the whole Dominic Cummings media circus over the last few days.
There I’ve said it.
I need to be honest, I don’t appreciate his brand of populist politics and seeing him in the spotlight has been quite something to behold.
Now I’ve got to be willing to look at my own reactions to try and unpick the genuine issues from the feeding frenzy.
So what’s at play here? There are three areas I want to explore:
- Why his actions in lockdown matter
- Why I need to look at my own attitude in response
- What this tells us about the inner battles we all face
So first, why does any of this matter? Is it not just smug left wing muck raking? It matters because by his own account Mr Cummings is a very influential man. In his press conference on Monday he spoke as one who helps make the rules and is involved in decisions affecting millions of lives. Mr Cummings is unelected and yet wields great power. The accusation that he broke the rules he’d helped to make matters because if he doesn’t follow them then why should anyone else? Serious stuff when tens of thousands have died and further spikes of infection are expected.
The nub is this: if government messaging loses credibility people could die as a result.
The lockdown advice the public received was very clear. I checked my copy the other day.
The letter said:
‘We are giving you one simple instruction – you must stay at home’
It went on to say:
‘You should not meet friends or relatives who do not live in your home’
I re-read the accompanying leaflet, which said under the symptoms section:
‘Anyone who has these symptoms must stay at home until the symptoms have ended and in all cases for at least seven days’
My leaflet had no exceptional circumstances section.
Since the news story broke Mr Cummings has tried to weave a plausible retrospective explanation with the backing of senior politicians. In his own words Mr Cummings exercised his own judgement in choosing to take his family to Durham. The factors he outlined were the fears for his child if he and his wife both became too ill to care for him and his desire to continue to be able to carry out important government work.
Thankfully it was never the case that Mr Cummings and his wife were not well enough to care for their child. He went against government guidance based on a hypothetical scenario. He did this having already returned to work after going home to support his poorly wife thus potentially taking infection into the heart of government. He took the risk of exposing the virus to another part of the country should his family’s new lockdown have to be broken as was the case when his child was treated in a local hospital.
It would appear that Mr Cummings thought he knew best to the degree that he exercised his judgment without reference to the Prime Minister.
There have to be questions about the suitability of man to advise if he is not willing or able to do that which his government have asked others to do.
So why is my attitude important in all this?
Seeing Mr Cummings humbled on Monday was quite a spectacle. In two days he had gone from swatting away journalists to being scrutinised by them and having to thank them for their questions. A man who prefers the shadows was exposed to the media’s full glare and afterwards social media had a party with memes about driving to Barnard Castle to check your eyesight. This was an opportunity to look down on someone and enjoy them being knocked off their perch.
The Bible is very clear that if we think we are without sin, we are deceiving ourselves. If we think we have a right to judge others we are wrong. Before we throw accusations at others we need to look at ourselves.
I understand that others who have made agonising family decisions during lockdown will feel this more than me. When my wife appeared to have symptoms we isolated for 14 days. We didn’t go further than putting the bins out and turning the car engine over. We were fortunate that we didn’t have childcare issues or poorly relatives to worry about. For those who suffered more the temptation is to feel that they are better than Mr Cummings.
That is a temptation we should resist. We all fail. We all fall short.
Specifically people should not be throwing insults at Mr Cummings, people shouldn’t be going to his house and the stunt with the big screen on the truck was out of order.
At times we all struggle and wrestle with challenges and decisions and we’ve all made bad calls. The reason Mr Cummings is in a hole is that he doesn’t appear willing to reflect on the decisions he took. It is understandable that he was panicked by his wife’s health and the prospect of struggling to care for their son but he can’t explain why that fear gave him the right to disregard guidance he had helped develop to keep the country safe.
In a revealing moment in the questions after his statement, Mr Cummings stated that the ‘guidance doesn’t say you have to just sit there’.
You can imagine the internal wrangling – a very powerful man facing a situation where he faced the powerlessness of doing just that – just sitting there and waiting to see what happened. That surely was exactly the point – isolate, wait it out, seek help if further problems emerge. That is exactly what the nation was told to do.
I, though, can recognise my own inner control freak and my tendency to be driven by an anxious desire to fix things. We all mess up, which means at times we all have to face the music. A healthy approach to life and decision making is to choose to be accountable, to own our mistakes and to seek and learn and grow from them.
I believe in a God of hope and restoration. I also believe that the starting point is repentance – to confess our sins. My story is that God in his grace then turns the mess into an opportunity for something better.
The choice for all of us is how we react when things do not go to plan.