The leader of Greenwich Council’s Conservative opposition has joined calls for Boris Johnson’s closest aide to resign – calling his actions in taking his family from London to Durham while his wife had coronavirus symptoms “a personal insult to us all”.
Nigel Fletcher, a former adviser on education to the Tories, spoke out this morning after new claims emerged about Cummings’ conduct during a time when his government was telling people with coronavirus symptoms to stay at home.
The special aide and his wife, journalist Mary Wakefield, drove 260 miles from their home in Islington to his parents’ home in Durham when Wakefield developed Covid-19 symptoms. The pair have a four-year-old son, who they took with them.
A joint investigation by the Guardian and the Daily Mirror found that Durham police spoke to Cummings’ family. Downing Street and a succession of Tory cabinet ministers have stood by Cummings, the architect of the campaign to take Britain out of the European Union, even contradicting the police statement that the family was spoken to.
Fletcher, who formally took over as the borough’s opposition leader earlier this month, said on Twitter this morning he had “had enough of silence”.
“Others have been braver and more honest. I’ve held off my direct criticism of Cummings for years, as I haven’t wanted to revisit the personal anguish he caused me when I was a Tory adviser. And, frankly, because I feared the consequences of speaking up,” he said.
“I woke up expecting Cummings to have gone overnight. As the examples of heartbreaking sacrifices made by families during lockdown mount, every minister sent out to defend him is further tarnished, as is the government. This isn’t an SW1 scandal- it’s a personal insult to us all.
“Anyone with any experience of political comms can see what a disaster this is, how toxic is the charge of ‘one rule for us…’. It required a swift, fulsome apology and, probably, a resignation. Anyone with the best interests of the government at heart would have gone.
“Tribalism in politics makes people do strange things, but loyalty to your party shouldn’t override personal integrity. We all know MPs and ministers who have been aghast at Cummings for years. The PM is being poorly served by someone who should never have been appointed.”
As of Sunday lunchtime, Cummings is still in post and Johnson has not spoken about the issue.
When Downing Street started insisting Cummings had acted “responsibly and legally” in travelling the length of England, the Eltham Labour MP Clive Efford asked on social media: “So should all of the people who have received fines for breaches of the lockdown rules ask for their money back?”
And when the health secretary Matt Hancock defended Cummings, Greenwich cabinet member Chris Kirby commented: “Every day is an opportunity to find a new low point.”
However, two of Fletcher’s Conservative colleagues “liked” a tweet from the Tory MP for Devizes, Wiltshire, claiming Cummings and Wakeford’s trip was “was necessary and therefore within rules”. Spencer Drury and Geoff Brighty appeared to approve of Danny Kruger saying: “What’s also necessary is not attacking a man and his family for decisions taken at a time of great stress and worry, the fear of death and concern for a child. This isn’t a story for the normal political shitkickery.”
If you're unsure, you can find out what you can and can't do here: https://t.co/j0vkk0cbvH#StayHomeSaveLives pic.twitter.com/KZkS24QcKo
— GOV.UK (@GOVUK) May 9, 2020
Government advice tells people showing coronavirus symptoms: “Do not leave home.” For people with children, it adds: “Keep following this advice to the best of your ability, however, we are aware that not all these measures will be possible.
“What we have seen so far is that children with coronavirus (COVID-19) appear to be less severely affected. It is nevertheless important to do your best to follow this guidance.”
The Observer and Sunday Mirror today reported that Cummings had also been seen in the town of Castle Barnard, 30 miles from his parents’ home in Durham. He is also alleged to have made a second trip to the north-east after returning to London.
As of yesterday, 692 people in Greenwich borough had been confirmed as having died from Covid-19. In Lewisham, 979 people have died, and in Bexley 704 lives have been lost.
Report from BBC Look North appears by arrangement with BBC Local News Partnerships.
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