Boris Johnson does not deserve our trust after Cummings affair – Andrew Vine

FOR all of us, the past few weeks have been about doing the right thing.

Boris Johnson took part in the Clap for Carers celebration on Thursday - but has trust in the Prime Minister been damaged by the Dominic Cummings scandal?

For ourselves, for those we love, and even for those we don’t know. That’s why we’ve obeyed the rules and stayed at home, not driven or visited shops unless absolutely necessary, and kept our distance.

For everybody’s sake, so the spread of this horrible disease can be minimised. For the sake of our NHS and its staff putting themselves in harm’s way to save others.

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I don’t know anybody who doesn’t get this, nor a single person who hasn’t done their utmost to play their part, whatever the personal cost.

Should Boris Johnson have sacked his chief aide Dominic Cummings for lockdown breaches?

And it has come at a dreadful price for many, with tears shed over lonely deaths that will haunt loved ones forever, funerals in empty crematoria, and nights sleepless with worry over isolated elderly relatives crying out for the companionship coronavirus denies them.

We all understand the price to be paid, and we’ve borne it because everybody is in the same boat. We’ve learned to trust others to do the right thing too.

So after all this, why does the Prime Minister treat us with such contempt?

A sense of rottenness has enveloped Boris Johnson and his Government over the Dominic Cummings affair. At a time when we needed to put our faith in the sincerity of the people running the country, they stand exposed as cynical and self-serving.

Boris Johnson's approach to the House of Commons Liaison Committee has been much criticised.

They have undermined public trust in politicians all over again, just at the point when it was beginning to be rebuilt after the rancour over Brexit undermined faith in the democratic process.

It is no less than Mr Johnson deserves to see his popularity amongst voters plummet. He has squandered public goodwill, and even sympathy for his own bout with Covid-19, by taking Britain’s people for fools.

What a shabby and disreputable spectacle this has been, to see a Prime Minister who urged the country to solidarity and strict observance of the most draconian restrictions imposed in peacetime finding loopholes to wriggle through on behalf of his political bag-carrier.

And how unedifying of his Cabinet to follow suit in insisting Mr Cummings did nothing wrong by driving 260 miles to Durham at the height of the lockdown and then taking a trip out to Barnard Castle, when the public knows damned well it was one rule for him and another for the rest of us.

It is all very well for Mr Cummings and his master to insist that what he did was lawful, even though Durham Police disagree, but that’s beside the point. What he did flouted the spirit of the law, which the rest of us have taken to heart.

None of us scrutinised the fine print of the emergency legislation in search of loopholes. Instead, we embraced its core messages and obeyed them because that was the right thing to do.

This is a simple matter of right and wrong, and yes, sometimes the choice between the two is that straightforward.

What Britain’s people have done in complying was right. What Mr Cummings did was wrong, even if technically lawful, and Mr Johnson’s defence of it is also wrong.

The breathtaking degree of cynicism at the heart of this is underlined by an article written by Mr Cummings’s wife, Mary Wakefield, published last month in The Spectator magazine.

In it, she told the story of her husband becoming ill with coronavirus. It failed to mention that they had driven to Durham and gave the clear impression of the family being isolated at home, even including the line “we emerged from quarantine into the almost comical uncertainty of London lockdown”.

Nowhere did it allude to the couple having childcare concerns – the reason cited by Mr Cummings for their trip north – and said their son had helped care for his father.

Nor was there any reference to Mr Cummings suffering eyesight problems, the reason cited for his going to Barnard Castle, to establish if he was capable of driving.

These omissions are presumably for the simple reason that if the facts had been revealed, there would have been the public outcry which instead happened this week. No, the trip north had to be kept quiet.

There was no contrition, let alone an apology, from Mr Cummings when he was found out, which left the impression of arrogance.

The decency of a resignation? Out of the question. Dismissal for undermining the Government’s measures to combat coronavirus? Never even the remotest possibility.

By choosing to act as his adviser’s human shield, Mr Johnson not only looks arrogant as well, but also shifty and untrustworthy, dismissively swatting away questions from senior MPs at this week’s Liaison Committee as if they were asking about trivia and not a matter that goes to the heart of trust in the Government.

It is a measure of the value Mr Johnson places on Mr Cummings that he is prepared to sacrifice the country’s trust on his behalf, but maybe that shouldn’t be so surprising.

Let’s not forget that this duo bear a large measure of responsibility for the collapse of trust amongst voters over Brexit, thanks to the bitterness whipped up by the Leave campaign in which they were prime movers.

All that was supposed to have been put behind us. Mr Johnson’s election victory last year was meant to be a new start, in which trust would be rebuilt.

And when coronavirus hit, trust mattered more than ever. We all needed to be able to trust the Prime Minister to make the right decisions, and we did. The way the British people rallied to his call to put their lives on hold – and risk their livelihoods – for the country’s sake proved that.

We did the right thing. Except it turned out that the people at the top weren’t doing likewise, and for that there will be many who never trust this Prime Minister again.

Read Andrew Vine every Tuesday.

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James Mitchinson