I can’t believe I’m saying this, but in defence of Dominic Cummings …

It pains me to say this but I have some sympathy for Dominic Cummings right now. It has emerged today that he travelled from London to Durham sometime in March when his wife was showing symptoms of coronavirus so that his 4-year-old child could be near extended family for support. People are now calling for his resignation. While there may be many reasons for Dominic Cummings to lose his job, this isn’t one of them.

As a parent to young children and with no extended family around I’m not sure what we’d do if Ben and I became severely ill. There’s really no one we could ask to care for our children. We’d literally have to take them to the hospital with us. If we had a supportive family 200 miles away and a home to isolate ourselves in I’d definitely go there for the sake of the children. This is vastly different from meeting up with your lover or visiting a holiday home by the beach. In this instance, the needs of the child should come first.

Once when Daniel was a tiny baby and Ben was overseas on a work trip I became dreadfully ill with norovirus. I had only recently moved to Christchurch and had no family there and no close friends I could ask for help from. I’m also someone who is reluctant to ask for help from others, preferring to be self-dependent. I spent 24-48 hours alternating between puking into the toilet and crapping out my insides, sometimes both at the same time, while somehow managing to breastfeed a newborn baby. It was truly ghastly and an experience I’ll never forget.

Being ill is awful. But being ill and having to care for someone else at the same time is on a completely different scale altogether. Thank goodness the children are older and fairly independent now. Thank goodness also to Ben who always looks after me whenever I’m feeling under the weather. I hope I do the same for him and hopefully we’ll never get sick at the same time.

31 Replies to “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but in defence of Dominic Cummings …”

  1. I would feel more sympathetic if his wife hadn’t written an account of the incident that seems to bend the truth around what went on. Also in light of the government finger pointing at high profile scientists who have broken lockdown rules and been forced to resign from their advisory positions, which strikes me as trying to deflect attention from criticising their own performance. But on a personal level I do get that it must have been a frightening time, the prospect of both being ill without anyone to look after their son.

    1. Ah, I haven’t read the wife’s account. I’ll go and look for it. If he and his wife have lied about what happened then that changes things. I’m only going on what I’ve read in the news. The high profile scientists who lost their jobs definitely did break the lockdown rules and I think it’s right that they resigned. But travelling to care for a child should be a reasonable reason to travel if it’s not already. My brother and his wife had a baby last month and his wife was taken ill shortly after birth – she’s fine now – but while she was ill my step-mother was given leave to fly from one state in Australia to another to support my brother and the new baby. I think that is a reasonable reason to travel and not so dissimilar to the situation here.

      1. Yes everything is within the rules, I think it was a reasonable decision for the Cummings’ to take, and it was reasonable for the scientists to resign, but I’m uncomfortable with the hostile attitude that the government had towards them. Also I understand that that article didn’t lie (I couldn’t find it, only read several quotes from it) but it implied that they were in London all the time, and it seems a bit mercenary for Mary Wakefield to be making out that they were single handedly battling the odds along with the rest of the country.

      2. Oh, I see what you mean. Yes, they could have been more transparent and disclosed the situation at the time and also explained that they’d got leave to travel given the circumstances. Whenever people try to hide something it always ends up worse for them when it becomes known.

      3. I don’t think that version would have made such a dramatic story! But yes, hiding things is never a good idea.

      4. Also just want to add that I’m not a fan of Dominic Cummings at all and don’t think it would be a bad thing if he did resign.

      5. Yes I noticed that from the tone of your post! I’ve actually met the mum and dad at a reunion, as my husband was part of the Durham scene of the 70s. It was about 20 years ago and everyone was aware that the Cummings’ son was doing “something” with the Conservatives and he was successful. His mum seemed very sweet. It’s hard to tell when you’ve only met someone once, but his dad struck me as being a speaker rather than a listener.

      6. Interesting. He’s not a very likeable person from what little I’ve seen of him on the media. He was very rude to the journalists who tried to interview him outside his home yesterday which really didn’t help his case at all and was completely unnecessary.

      7. No I didn’t see that and it does make things worse. I do think that when making a defense, pick the one or two strongest arguments and just reiterate them. Muddying the waters by bringing in extraneous, weaker arguments tends to make things worse.

      8. I think Dominic Cummings will be present to answer questions at the press briefing today which will be interesting.

  2. Whilst I entirely agree with you about Mr. and Mrs. Dom’s family transportation vehicle, I am forced to take issue with your apparent support of their trip to Durham.

    Exhibit A – My critique of BoJo’s somewhat shorter trip to Chequers:

    https://CoV-eHealth.org/2020/04/08/covid-19-in-the-united-kingdom/#comment-17

    Redacting one or two expletives:

    “If anyone could still be in any doubt about the utter contempt they hold us in?

    Even after the #BrexitShambles and the #CoronavirusShambles “they” still find ways to astonish me. #StayHomeSaveLives!”

    1. I agree that Boris Johnson going to Chequers to recuperate is pretty shady and I was never supportive of that. That is clearly someone going to a second home in the country and I don’t see how that is allowed just as Prince Charles going to Aberdeenshire should similarly have been frowned upon.

      However, this situation is different. It’s got less to do with Cummings and more to do with a 4-year-old whose interests should always come first regardless of how much we may despise the parent. As a parent myself I would want the option to take my child to a caring family who could look after them in the event that I’m incapacitated. If that’s not allowed then we should fight to make sure it is.

      1. However, reiterating my point on Twatter, obviously Boris has had lots of young children and Dominic has had one.

        Evidently that experience hasn’t led either of them to draw up laws and/or “guidelines” that address the “realities” of life in the Covid-19 constrained UK, in this and many other ways?

        Why should there be one law for “them”, but a different one for the rest of “us”?

      2. Yes, I agree there should be guidelines for this. But I disagree that it’s one rule for them and another one for everyone else. I know of people who have grandparents living with them specifically to help with childcare and who moved at the start of the lockdown. I also read a BBC article yesterday (can’t find it now sorry) about a women who left her child with the grandparents so she wouldn’t infect the child (she’s a nurse). And another story about a man who became ill and who left the family home (during lockdown) and went and stayed in a cabin so as not to infect them. I don’t think any of these people have done anything wrong.

        I listened to one of the interviews with the Science and Technology Committee when they interviewed someone from China on how they managed it. When a member of a family became infected they were whisked out of the home and into a quarantine facility so they didn’t infect other family members. We don’t have that here. Instead people are left together to infect each other, become ill, potentially end up in hospital, and have no one to care for their child.

  3. Even after BoJo’s “briefing” yesterday evening you still don’t believe that it’s one rule for them and another one for everyone else?

    1. Well no because I know of other people who’ve done something similar – leaving children with grandparents or travelling away when they were sick. Even Prince Charles travelled to Aberdeenshire and tested positive almost straight away. He must have been ill when he was travelling. However, if it turns out that Cummings also visited castles and villages and drove back and forth multiple times then he absolutely should go. My defence stops at welfare for the 4-year-old. I personally think he should be sacked for bullying anyway so I won’t be sad if this is the end of his political career.

    1. I wrote this before hearing his explanation yesterday and there are bits of his explanation that don’t make sense like the 30-mile drive to test his eyesight. That really doesn’t make any sense. It’s one thing to make sure your young child will have the appropriate care in the event both parents are incapacitated and another entirely to drive unnecessarily but also to potentially put other road users at risk. That shows a grave misjudgement and selfishness on his part. He should resign.

  4. I understand and respect where you are coming from, but he is involved in making the law therefore he has more of a duty to abide with it, to show respect to the public. Boris Johnson made it very clear that no prolonged journeys are allowed, and most families would not have dared to travel that far during the time, even if it was for childcare. He could have easily afforded a child minder, or alternative care.

    1. Nannies and childminders were not allowed to work back then. They’ve only just been allowed to return to work this month so I doubt that was an option, not for any of us. I do think this is something that needs to be addressed more explicitly because it’s a worry for parents all over the country. What do we do if both of us become too ill to care for the children? I think travel to appropriate care should be allowed. Not that I’m speaking for myself – we don’t have any family anywhere in the country who could help anyway. I also think Cummings made a poor judgement in going for a 60-mile trip to test his eyesight.

      1. Thankyou for this, I wasn’t aware that was the case, or hadn’t really thought about it.
        I am pretty convinced that was probably a lie about his trip to test his eyes, I’m sure it was for pleasure but even so, its poor judgement.
        If it had solely been for childcare reasons then I suppose I do symphasise, though like you say it’s a concern for many parents.

      2. Yes, I agree that parts of his story do not add up so I understand why people are angry about it.

  5. Since you’ve focussed on the childcare issue, I thought I’d mention this, as one of the oddities (to me) of Cummings account.

    They drive to Durham because his sister and nieces has offered childcare support the family, but when the child needs hospital treatment, the sister and nieces aren’t involved. Instead his wife, who is symptomatic, stays overnight in the hospital, and Cummings, who is also symptomatic drives to pick them up the following day because he couldn’t book a taxi. So why wasn’t the childcare offer accepted ? Where was his sister ? In his account the only reason they went to Durham was to have the support of the extended family, but when they needed it, they didn’t use it

    1. I assume the sister and nieces were only needed in the event that both parents were unable to care for the child and I can understand the need to make sure that care is available before it’s needed. But if it’s not needed then it’s probably best not to expose them to the virus. Presumably the hospital they took the child to knew they had been exposed to the virus and took the necessary precautions and more importantly, had the right PPE which I’m assuming the nieces would not have had.

      Most parents will have contingency plans for their children. It’s a standard clause in your will when you’re a parent with young children – what will happen to them in the event that both parents die. It’s very unlikely that it will happen but we all plan for that. This isn’t really all that different.

      They messed up going to Barnard Castle though. There really isn’t any reasonable explanation for that. I too would have liked to visit castles in Aberdeenshire but we rightly stayed away.

      1. If Cummings decided that he couldn’t involve his sister and nieces because they didn’t have the appropriate PPE, why did he drive 260 miles to Durham in the first place ?

      2. Presumably he would have involved them had Cummings and his wife become too ill to care for the child but as it was they didn’t need to.

  6. Oh, incidentally Rachel, one of the claims on twitter was that Cummings child is on the autistic spectrum. Now, there has even no official confirmation or denial of this (perhaps for good privacy reasons). This claim was used to justify the trip to Durham, because the child had more particular needs than others. But I couldn’t help wondering, without specialist knowledge, about how good it would be to move him from his familiar surroundings, if he was autistic. Perhaps it would depend on how familiar he was with the Durham house, and where he is on the spectrum ? But it would interesting to have your thoughts …

    1. Ah, I hadn’t seen that. Yes, that certainly makes the care of a 4-year-old more tricky even if the parents had a relatively mild illness. When you’re sick and have a child to care for some children are easier than others. My daughter Elizabeth was so easy as a toddler whereas Daniel, who is or was also on the spectrum, was very challenging, even at 4. We really couldn’t ever take our eyes off him. It was relentless and I can remember wondering how people could manage more than one child. Then Elizabeth came along and I understood. Taking him to different surroundings was fine as long as they were child-proof. Some autistic children also don’t like strangers which may have made the need for known family members nearby all the more important.

      1. Thanks, just to re-iterate – the autism claim is just a claim, it may be true or it may not.

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