Why we need to forgive Dominic Cummings
Dominic Cummings (Dominic Cumberbatch? Benedict Cummings?) is on the back foot. The left is out for his head. I’m no supporter of Mr Cumberbatch, because he was one of the architects of the BREXIT campaign. This is enough, in my opinion, to justify having him shot.
However, I’m uncomfortable with this persecution. It will be a pity if we take him down for something so minor and understandable, especially as his other offenses are rank and smell to heaven. How bad would it look if we rewarded him, with a position in 10 Downing street, for destroying our country’s economy, reputation and relationships with the rest of the world, but dismissed him for spending time with his family?
To have integrity we must be consistent. If we call for the resignation of offenders when they are Conservatives, while calling for tolerance if they are left-wing, we make ourselves look partisan and this undermines the validity of anything we say.
Even if we can’t be accused of hypocrisy, it trivialises us to descend to such Machiavellian strategies. It makes us look like nasty, mean-spirited, curtain-twitchers. It implies that we have no better reasons to object than tribal hostility. We should leave such behaviour to The Daily Telegraph.
On the other hand, given that other public figures, most notably Neil Ferguson, have resigned, it’s galling that Mr Cummibatch was not more apologetic. Some of his excuses were the most unconvincing dog-ate-my-homework efforts. It would be ludicrous to drive a huge hunk of metal at murderous speeds, to check if you were safe to drive a huge hunk of metal at murderous speeds. I don’t believe Mr Cumberdom would be so foolish. It would make as much sense to say “I tested if the gun was loaded by holding it to my head, and pulling the trigger. (And the heads of my wife and child.)”
To offer such flimsy excuses shows a lack of respect for the public, and disdain for the lock-down rules which, as his critics have said, will serve as an example to everyone else. If Mr Cucumber can break the rules, why can’t they? And this would put everyone in danger. Or it may suggest that he thinks the rules shouldn’t apply to the intelligently privileged.
Rules are important: why should you know best? To submit to the collective decision does much more than just reaffirm your membership of the group. It admits that you could be wrong; it accepts the selfhood of other members and thus their existential equality – that they might view your decisions with equal suspicion and submit to collective decisions with equal reluctance, but still be willing to go along with them to maintain the alliance. It confirms the central deal of any collective, which must always be negotiated, will always be a compromise: I’ll look after your interests, if you look after mine.
The problem is that these rules are absolutely unenforceable. How would the police know if this particular person is your designated friend or not? It would be extremely difficult to prove Mr Benedict’s explanations were false. All we can do is try to keep to the rules assiduously ourselves, even when they seem unnecessarily strict, and trust others to do the same.
This is how such slippery figures always weasel their way out of trouble. I suspect the Bullingdon club has always predicated its sense of entitlement on the moral force of its members’ loyalty to each other. It allows them to view themselves as good people. And good people should be in charge. Unfortunately, loyalty to the gang comes before loyalty to the country. This would explain David Cameron’s inexplicable faith in George Osborne as he repeatedly stifled any chances of economic recovery after the 2008 crash. Boris Johnson will support Mr Cummings; The old boy MPs and the privately educated members of the press will support their colleague and ex-colleague, Mr Johnson.
This leaves us with nothing but the moral high ground, and it’s a barren upland, but at least it’s ours. We need to remember that we are not the good guys, a priori, because we were born that way. We’re the good guys because we act and speak morally, based on sound moral principles.
One of those is tolerance and flexibility. We can’t, and have no right to, control other people, so we will have to trust them, as far as possible, to make their own sensible, moral decisions, even if it puts us in peril. Trust is an act of courage and principled socialism.
And credit where credit’s due: Mr Cummings is a wonderful actor, both as Doctor Holmes and as Sherlock Who. I first noticed his skills when he played that reptile in Atonement, years ago. Playing to type, I guess.