Melanie McDonagh

What else could Dominic Cummings have done?

What else could Dominic Cummings have done?
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The question is, does Dominic Cumming’s four-year-old son possess preternatural resilience – a bit like the infant John the Baptist who went off into the desert as a boy. Or does he, like my own children at that age, need a bit of feeding, occasional supervision to stop him playing with matches and a bath at bedtime?

If the former, and the child can fend for himself at this tender age, then it would indeed have been wrong for Mr Cummings and his wife Mary Wakefield (of this parish) to have taken themselves off to Durham, where his family lives, where his sister and nieces were volunteering to take care of the little boy. There, he and his wife, who had come down with coronavirus, could isolate in a separate building knowing their little boy would be looked after if he needed to be.

But if the child is like every other four-year-old, there weren’t that many options available to Mr C. He and his wife could, of course, have bribed a nanny – maybe they have one – to live 24 hours in his virus-infested London home, or to take the child away somewhere else rather than stay with his family. But that would, presumably, have breached the guidelines in a different fashion. Nannies, like cleaners, are out of action during lockdown, remember?

So the question to ask Piers Morgan and Ian Blackford, who have both been demanding that the PM sack Dominic Cummings, is what they would have done in the same circumstances? If both they and their wives had similarly contracted an illness which leaves you hors de combat, flaked out, unable to register what’s happening to you, well, who would have minded their children, had they been that small?

I honestly can’t see the problem. I cannot see what other course of conduct open to the Cummingses would have been more moral than the one they adopted. They kept their distance from Mr Cummings’s parents and indeed from his sister, according to the statement from No. 10. The only possible contact they could have had with his family was when his sister left shopping at the door. In fact, the sole troubling aspect that occurs to me is whether Mr Cummings was fit to be driving that distance if he wasn’t feeling terribly well. The neighbour who appears to have shopped him observed disapprovingly that he was playing ABBA's Dancing Queen very loudly at the gate of the home. OK, it might not be to everyone’s taste.

But other than that, where, exactly is the problem? The fatuous critics draw comparisons with that woman who was Nicola Sturgeon’s Chief Medical Officer until she was found to have breached guidelines by nipping off to her holiday home in Fife, twice. Or with the hilarious Neil Ferguson, the government scientific adviser, who met up with his environmental activist lover twice in his home – though who’s to say they weren’t keeping their distance indoors?

How can I put it? These two cases were non-urgent. They are not only not the same, they are practically the opposite of Mr C’s. It was not actually necessary for Nicola Sturgeon’s adviser to get a bit of sea air in Fife. Even in the case of professor Ferguson, whose animal instincts may be untrammelled, it was not necessary to have his lover round (twice).

But if you have a little boy and your wife is unwell because she’s got coronavirus and you’re starting to feel (correctly) that you’re coming down with it, what are you meant to do? Mr Cummings didn’t just not do anything wrong. He did what was probably the only thing he could have done in the circumstances. Me, I’d have told everyone what I’d done, and why, just to anticipate comment. But on the merits of the thing itself, he was quite right to have said, 'who cares?' No one should.

P.S. The only question worth asking anyone who criticises Dominic Cummings’ decision to bring his family to Durham, 260 miles from London, remains: “What would you do for your four year old son if your wife had come down with Corona and you could feel that you weren’t well” – correctly, as it turned out in his case. Last night, Radio 5 Live’s brilliant Stephen Nolan, asked that question repeatedly of Ed Davey, the acting LibDem leader. But no answer came, other than the shifty observation that Dominic Cummings must surely have friends in London and if he didn’t there was always “the NHS and the voluntary sector’ plus social services. Really? Honestly? Would Sir Ed actually have put his children in the care of Islington social services if he couldn’t park them on a friend for what could be an unlimited time? Personally I’d have taken my son much further than Durham to avoid that fate.

As for the observation – passim- that there can’t be one rule for those in power and another for everyone else, the point is that anyone could have done what Mr C did if they were in his position – with a four year old child, family far away and potentially two parents with Corona. Jenny Harries, the assistant chief medical officer was pretty clear at the time. As BBC News put it: "The day after lockdown began, 24 March, the deputy chief medical officer for England, Dr Jenny Harries, clarified who could look after a child if both parents or carers were incapacitated."

She said: "Clearly if you have adults who are unable to look after a small child, that is an exceptional circumstance. And if the individuals do not have access to care support - formal care support - or to family, they will be able to work through their local authority hubs."

In other words, any of us in this situation could have done what Mr Cummings did. Not one rule for the elite but a common sense approach – that vanishingly rare thing - for everyone.

Incidentally, I don’t know more than anyone else whether it’s true that Mr Cummings did take a break from quarantine to go to Barnard Castle. But that’s the lesser point. On the big issue, he wasn’t just right; it was the only right thing to do.

Written byMelanie McDonagh

Melanie McDonagh is a contributor to The Spectator.

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