The pandemic update from Britain, political edition: Boris’s brain breaks Boris’s rules

Back in March, Boris Johnson’s brain–that’s his advisor, who has a name of his very own, Dominic Cummings–was infected with Covid-19. Keep him in mind, because he’s the heart of the story, but as usual we need some background.

Britain had gone into lockdown by then, and had widely publicized guidelines on what that meant. Leaving home (defined as “the place you live,” because a lot of us weren’t clear about that) “to stay at another home is not allowed.”

The guidelines didn’t define that other home, the one you don’t live in and weren’t to go to. Presumably it was a place someone else lived, although it could also have been a second home–a place no one lived. 

That’s enough possibilities. If I go on, it’ll only get worse.

Unnecessary travel was banned. Unnecessary wasn’t defined, but let’s take a shot at it ourselves: If you were being chased by a bear, it probably would be okay to run down the street or take other evasive action. No bear? You stay in the home where you live.

Completely irrelevant photo: an azalea.

People who had the virus were told to self-isolate. That collision of words, self impaled on isolate, was created by a computer that hadn’t been fully briefed on the spoken language, but most of us accepted it. We were thinking about a deadly virus. 

And it wasn’t just people who had the virus who were supposed to self-isolate: So was anyone they had contact with. Because we had to stop the virus. And the whole thing was serious enough that the police could fine people who broke the rules.

The rules, admittedly, were still hazy. In the most extreme case I know of, the police scolded people for buying (or was it a store for selling?) chocolate Easter eggs, which unlike Red Bull aren’t strictly necessary. 

After a wobble or two, though, the line between necessary and unnecessary became clearer. What really mattered was the We Were Taking This Seriously. So seriously that Boris Johnson made a public appeal to our better natures, asking us not to go see Mom on Mother’s Day. 

And most people listened. They didn’t visit their mothers. They didn’t visit their elderly relatives in nursing homes. They didn’t say their goodbye to dying family members. Because this was the way to beat the virus and we were all in it together.

Except for Boris’s brain, who by that time knew he was ill and drove 260 miles, leaving a trail of virii behind him. And with him went his wife (who was also sick) and their kid. 

Why’d they do that? To get to his parents’s home (sorry: estate), because, hell, they needed help with childcare. What else were they to do?

Well, gee, what would anybody else do? Manage, probably. Not expose their parents, possibly, not to mention whoever they had contact with between the home where they lived and the where home they didn’t live. Turn to somebody local if they could–a relative, an organization that could help. See if a relative wouldn’t come to them, which wouldn’t be within the guidelines but would have been a hell of a lot safer.

I don’t minimize how hard the disease can hit people–a friend of ours died of it–but these are two people who were well enough to drive 260 miles but weren’t well enough to deal with their kid.

I admit, I don’t know their particular kid. 

We’ll skip the which-day-did-what-happen details. Someone local called the cops, who talked with someone at the home where they did not live.

“Oh, no, they didn’t,” 10 Downing Street says.

“Oh, yes, we did,” the police say. 

Cummings was seen 30 miles away from his parent’s estate, out in public, not self-isolating.

Cummings went back to London and returned to work at 10 Downing Street. 

A few days later, he was seen 30 miles from his parents’ estate again. 

“Oh, no, he wasn’t,” Downing Street says.

“Oh, yes, he was,” the witness says, “and I have the browser history to prove that I checked his license plate number at the time to make sure it was  him.” Except you don’t call it a license plate in Britain, but let’s not stop for that, we’re busy doing something else here.

The witness has filed a complaint with the police.

What does Boris’s brain have to say? That he did the right thing by driving to his parents’ estate.

What did Boris’s body have to say? “I believe that in every respect he has acted responsibly, and legally and with integrity and with the overwhelming aim of stopping the spread of this virus and saving lives.”

Other politicians and one scientific advisor who’ve been caught messing around with the lockdown rules have stepped down. 

Will Cummings? Like hell he will.

The steps under his feet aren’t looking overly solid, though. After Johnson’s press conference, Stephen Reicher, a scientific advisor to the government, tweeted, “In a few short minutes tonight, Boris Johnson has trashed all the advice we have given on how to build trust and secure adherence to the measures necessary to control COVID-19.,” and “It is very hard to provide scientific advice to a government which doesn’t want to listen to science.”

Not to mention, “Be open and honest, we said. Trashed.

“Respect the public, we said. Trashed

“Ensure equity, so everyone is treated the same, we said. Trashed.

“Be consistent we said. Trashed.

“Make clear ‘we are all in it together’. Trashed.”

Someone got onto the Civil Service twitter account and called Johnson “an arrogant truth-twister.” Nine minutes later, the tweet was taken down but it had been shared 25,000 times. No one knows who done it at the moment, but J.K. Rowling offered to pay them a year’s salary if their name became public.

A group called Led by Donkeys parked a van outside Cummings’ house with a huge screen on the back. It plays a clip of Boris Johnson telling people to stay home and  interviews with people who’ve struggled to care for their kids while they were sick. Over and over again.

The Financial Times writes that “The prime minister’s efforts to save his aide appeared to have failed. Support for Mr Cummings appeared to be spread thinly across the government and Conservative party. Following a barrage of supportive messages from cabinet ministers on Saturday, a notable silence on Sunday suggested that backing for the adviser was evaporating. One member of the government said the prime minister’s press conference had made the situation worse.”

One more quote, then I’ll stop: Former Brexit minister Steve Baker said the government was spending “enormous political capital…saving someone who has boasted of making decisions beyond his competence and clearly broke at the very least the guidance which kept mums and dads at home.”

Life’s going to be interesting around here for the next week or two. Watch this space. Or any other. 

118 thoughts on “The pandemic update from Britain, political edition: Boris’s brain breaks Boris’s rules

  1. I expect many politicians have broken the lockdown rules, but so far haven’t been caught out. The press have been circling Mr Cummings like vultures around a corpse. Sooner or later he’ll have to step down, as you can bet the press or the opposition are not going to let this drop.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Just being devils advocate for a moment. Myself & husband watch his boss get hospitalised. we weigh up the risk that we may have (due to contact with boss) picked it up our selves. not diagnosed but likely. Child is fit and well, but if we get hospitalised together, what happens to child? Family have discussed it and themselves are well, have room and offer. I would get the hell out of London, go to family pretty damned quick. Guidelines are to be adhered to but was it essential? Yes, did he have someone who met the criteria, in London? no. Could he have left the child unsupervised alone? No. This looks like and feels like essential travel. Only once the isolation period past, did they take a legal socially distanced walk in the woods. If something looks like a political man hunt, smells like a launch to upset the balance of power or is simply exaggerated, taken out of context news, then it probably is.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I’ve just asked The Lord Google how many people are called “Someone”. It seems to be a very rare surname. Surely the press can identify them and interview them in person? Seems rather lax just to quote them, especially since they are so well connected. Also rather rude not to give them a first name or at least a courtesy title.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Reblogged this on Stevie Turner and commented:
    Ellen Hawley always writes interesting and informative blogs (funny too!) about UK history or politics. Today’s one is about Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s advisor, who drove 250 miles to stay near relatives during lock-down in case he and his wife were too ill with the virus to look after their child.

    This reminds me of the time Sam and I caught chicken pox from our sons. They had a few spots and were leaping around as usual like mountain goats. Sam and I felt absolutely dreadful and could happily have slept in a darkened room for a week. However, did we drive 100 miles to leave them with either of our mothers? No, we didn’t want to infect them as well, and so we bloody well had to get on with it!

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Apparently his aide lives 2 streets down and his wife’s brother lives not far away either.

    The reason why they went there was because the child is apparently autistic and if the worst was to happen, they wanted the child to be somewhere he knows people, which I can understand (I can’t find evidence for this, just twitter) but even so, unless there is a massive row between the wife and her brother, surely staying at home and not attending birthday parties would be better.

    Liked by 1 person

    • He’s hardly in full view anyway. I expect you’re right about him just changing overcoats and doing what he’s always done. Still, I think it matters as a way of holding him–and them–to account, at least a little.


  6. I think I can safely speak for the majority of this understated and polite country (well, the bits of it I’m normally in anyway…well, they are until I get there) when I say ‘Grrr.’
    Thank you.
    I need a cup of tea now.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. As he was against the policy from the start it is no wonder that he did not respect it…or the people undergoing all the hardship it entailed.
    Equally no wonder that the hounds are on his trail…
    He supports Brexit, and thinks that the top echelons of the civil service don’t provide good value for money.
    Remove him and Johnson is isolated as his cabinet have about as much loyalty as – well, a cabinet.
    Weaken Johnson…and who are delighted?
    Murdoch, as he didn’t get the BBC handed to him on a plate.
    Top echelons of the civil service who are anti Brexit and have a reluctance to have their linen aired in public.
    Weaken Johnson and, despite the purge, Tory M.P.s have about as much loyalty as – well, a cabinet…
    Result? A vote of no confidence in Johnson? A coup in the Tory leadership?
    Watch this space…the probability of a government of national unity….a long extension of the process of leaving the EU…..and still no halt to the process of privatising the functions of government which the reaction to the virus have been shown to be totally inefficient.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I’m enjoying the debacle, but it just makes us ever more like the US with the levels of hypocrisy – anyone for golf? My prediction is that he will have to go, but will suddenly find himself becoming the recipient of a lucrative new contract from the Tory party. Plus ça change, and all that.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Boris’s brain. Love your sarcasm! I really dont like that man. They hushed the heard immunity chatter, and the whole BAME topic.

    It is scary Boris has a brain a mind, but that boris’s brain the real thinker, the back end pm. Is so scary. That a single person has too much influence and cant be brought to account.

    This whole thing pains me so.😔🤒🤕

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Thanks for the details on this. I’ve been somewhat consumed with our narcissistic Chief Golfer who reverently supported the resumption of Going to Church as so Essential that it overrode the contagious nature of the Virus and then zoomed off to ride around in his speedy golf cart with stops to hit (and/or move by hand or foot) a small dimpled ball toward tiny holes in vast lawns while the rest of us think about all the War Dead and/or consider the value of going out into a partially reopened world on this Memorial weekend. Covid time makes for obsessive focus on things like this. In the background I could hear Radio 4 mentioning Cummings but it was a distant distraction until I saw someone on Twitter add an S to his name. Twitter has some pretty clever name calling and this one got my attention but it was 1 a.m. so I thought of you and went to sleep hoping for your view of this. Here it is. Seen 30 miles away tells me this guy does not think rules and probably laws don’t apply to him. That plus his careless exposure of parents is pretty astounding. This inability to see that leadership requires more than fancy words seems contagious among posh boys on both sides of the pond.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. The UK is so utterly morally bankrupt at this point that they surely have no authority with which to even attempt to lead the country through this crisis. This is obviously something I can identify because this elitist attitude of “one rule for me and one rule for the plebs” is straight out of the Trump playbook. Choosing to defend Cummings at all costs tells us all we need to know about BoJo and his attitude towards leadership if we had not already cottoned on to it before. He is choosing to preserve the inner sanctum of his own leadership, to which Cummings is apparently so critical, instead of choosing to preserve the health and wellbeing of the citizens of the UK. I did read somewhere that the defence of Cummings, which involves so much pretzel knot reinterpretation of the guidelines, has paved the way for every single person who has been fined for breaking guidelines to appeal and be refunded.

    Liked by 3 people

  12. I was surprised you can drive 260 miles from London snd still be in England. We don’t know a lot about England over here, other than it shares a small island with Wales and Scotland. And they speak somewhat the same language.

    I probably would have done the same as he did. Bur I don’t know all the facts or the whole story. But I am contrary by nature and usually disagree and take the other side. Wonder why that is? (Do they say that in Cornwall?)

    Liked by 2 people

    • I don’t think I’ve heard anyone say that particular phrase, but it translates well enough from English to English, so it’d be understood.

      The thing about this story is that he’s part of a government that set up the rules. To make them for everyone else and then not bother with them for himself is just fucking arrogant–and more or less what I’d expect from this bunch, which is why so many people are bounding off the walls over it. My heart usually is with rule-benders, but not when they’re the people who make the rules.


  13. A slap in the face for everyone who has followed the rules. And then, to top it all, he went for a short drive to see if he could drive safely ??? Yeah, totally safe and reasonable behaviour, along with the lack of self-isolation when infected with the virus…..

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Presumably Mr Cummings’ parents would be in an age group considered at risk ? But I suppose the servants looked after the kid so they never had to get too near. (And the Duchess was able to shelter in her wing of the manor.)

    Trump’s youngest son is supposed to be on the autism spectrum (as am I, just in the interest of fairness), so maybe that is where the twitteratti got their info on Cummings’ offspring.

    Apparently he is not only Boris’s Brain but Trump’s Secretary of State and Trump’s Closest Adviser (S. Miller, whose wife is Pence’s press secretary and who tested + for Covid 19)), an impressive display of multitasking.

    Release The Hound.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Is that the One Hound of the Apocalypse?

      I don’t think Cummings’ family’s quite on the level of servants taking care of the kids, but hell, what do I know? And he now says they stayed stayed in a separate building (because of course they have multiple houses waiting for occupants) on the compound. Who knows. I’m not taking anything as given. He also says he make a 30 mile drive to test his eyes, in which case he should be arrested for reckless driving.


  15. I sometimes wonder if politicians talk in ambiguities on purpose. The United States came out with proposed guidelines, which many of the governors promptly ignored. Even President Trump praised protestors, who were willfully ignoring the recommendations. Talk about mixed messages.

    Most parents give clear and concise directions to their teenagers, but what if they didn’t? “Be home by midnight! No exceptions! On the other hand, if you’re planning on staying out later, at least have the decency to call me. No alcohol! Oh, if you do drink, make sure to call a cab or wake me up.”

    Liked by 2 people

    • Speaking from the other side of the thing (we’ve been in the UK for 14 years), it’s an odd thing to be living abroad when your country’s falling apart. You’re still very much connected to it, but outside it.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. I made a vow not to make political comments on the internet, but I can’t tell you how much I want to comment on this. My lips are tightly shut and my fingers are twitching. I might have to go out into the back garden and shout.

    Liked by 2 people

        • This is one of those areas where I’m more American than British. Three are situations (in either country) where I’ll put my emotions in my pocket and try to fake my way through, but I’ve never been any good at it. And I grew up in New York, where letting loose in public–at least if you were angry–wasn’t unusual. Somehow anger is/was always easier to tap into than the happier emotions.

          Liked by 1 person

  17. Excellent thank you – this now completely explains why my FB page blew up with commentary from my friends back in England about “twits (with an a) that break the rules” but without specifying who. (Unlike here in the USA where you don’t have specify who in government did something stupid- we all just know! )

    Liked by 2 people

  18. All I seem to do anymore is shake my head in amazement that these politicians seem to think there are two sets of rules, one for the peons and a different set for them. Then when the peons notice, the politicians can’t figure out why everyone is mad at them. It boggles my mind.

    Liked by 2 people

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