A reckless eye test

A reckless eye test

Downing Street, London. No 10. Home and office of Britain’s Prime Minister. Workplace of a good many other people, too, including Boris Johnson’s Special Adviser, Dominic Cummings. Mr Cummings is widely credited with getting Mr Johnson into Downing Street. He may well be on the way to getting him out equally effectively too. Mr Cumming’s story will be largely familiar to you, I expect. I’ll just run over the main events, however, in case you should have missed some vital point or not fully understood the implications of his actions.

Mr Cummings’ wife, Mrs Cummings, got the symptoms of coronavirus recently. The Cummings have a four year old boy whose welfare they rightly put first in their considerations. Scared of what might happen to the child if Mr Cummings also succumbed to Covid-19, they decided to drive North to their house near his parents, near Durham – a lengthy drive of some 300 miles or so. Being near his parents made sense if both of them were to be struck down with the disease. The parents could look after the boy while they recovered. All very sensible.

On arrival at their northern home Mr Cummings was concerned about his eyesight. It had, perhaps, been deteriorating a little on the journey northwards. Fuzzy eyesight is apparently a possible symptom of coronavirus. He felt it only right to test his eyes before making the return journey to London, a wise and proper thought. So, the next day (I think), he put his ailing wife and four-year old child in his car and drove 30 miles to a popular resort called Barnard Castle. So successful was this eye test that he again took to the road and drove back to his northern home.

The apparent absence of fatalities, even on the return journey, confirmed their suspicion that his eyes were fine – good enough, indeed, for him to make the return journey South. This, too, was completed without police chase or incident worthy of note. Mr Cummings was well pleased with himself for completing such a successful eye test without even incurring the cost of an eye doctor. His symptoms lessening – maybe even disappearing – Mr Cummings resumed his political duties.

All was not well with the media, however. They perceived his journey as a jaunt, in contravention of the Government guidelines for preventing the spread of Covid-19. Mr Cummings demeanour, it has to be said, is not one of soothing diplomatic cooperation. From his actions you might think that he didn’t even like the press. Knowing that his boss – the Prime Minister, in case you had thought otherwise – was supportive, he decided, notwithstanding his apparent antagonism towards them, to hold a press conference. He obviously felt the matter of a 300-mile drive, whether with or without failing eyesight, really warranted such a move, especially during a planet pandemic.

Favoured for such events is the Prime Minister’s garden, also at Downing Street. During clement weather, Prime Ministers have used it from time to time to soften the blow of their often unwelcome news. The formation of a coalition government was such an occasion in the time of Mr Cameron. Mr Cummings, secure in the knowledge that Mr Johnson owed him a big favour for making him Prime Minister, chose this venue for his strident but unimportant defiance of the popular mood.

For a person supposed to be able to mould the media to his way of thought, the event turned out to be disastrous. Mr Cummings may well want to sit in the Prime Minister’s garden seat but the presumption of doing so to vindicate a dangerous eye-test journey to a particularly attractive part of the country seemed ill-advised, if not downright stupid. The unbridled arrogance associated with the whole event poses one question above all others. Does Mr Cummings think that his behaviour is a model for his four-year-old son, who will now have to live with it for the rest of his life?

I can end on a cheerful note.

In the unlikely event that I become the oldest ever Prime Minister of Britain I will not be asking Mr Cummings to fill the job of Special Adviser. But when his son is a bit older I may well invite him to come fishing with me one day. If he accepts I will tell him, as the trout race upstream, that the whole event wasn’t really as bad as it sounds.

The boy deserves nothing less.