Sunday 14 June 2020

Cummingsgate: will it be Johnson's Black Wednesday?

A recently elected Conservative party leader won a surprise victory against considerable odds in a general election, and, as a result, appeared to be in a strong position with considerable authority. But just a few months later came a crisis.

The prime minister and his government did not handle it well. They made promises they were unable to keep, and though they stayed in office for the best part of five more years, the prime minister's credibility never recovered, and his government was torn apart by internecine warfare over Europe. When the next general election came along, the Tories were comprehensively defeated.

That is the story of John Major, prime minister from 1992-7, but the first three and a half sentences at least could also have been written about Boris Johnson. The crisis that found Major wanting, was 'Black Wednesday'. The government promised to keep the UK in Europe's Exchange Rate Mechanism at all costs. But even raising interest rates 4 per cent in a day and spending billions of pounds was not enough to fight off the currency dealers who believed Major was trying to keep the pound at a higher level than the economy justified, and the UK crashed out.

Johnson's crisis has been an odder one: his insistence on hanging on to an unelected adviser who had flouted coronavirus lockdown rules. It is coalescing, of course, with a general feeling that the crisis has been handled badly: locking down too late, abandoning testing, failing to supply protective equipment to frontline workers, failing to protect care homes, etc, but the decision to protect Dominic Cummings generated a huge wave of anger, even among Conservatives.

Will the story end the same? Sam Goldwyn said: 'beware of making predictions especially about the future,' and a lot can happen in what could be four years or more before the next election. Johnson also has a much bigger parliamentary majority than Major, but it is possible that when the history of his government is written, the day he decided to defend Cummings instead of firing him may be seen as his 'Black Wednesday'.

Wednesday 10 June 2020

Coronavirus watch: lessons from past plagues, my interview with Radio Cornwall

What can the plagues of the past tell us about coronavirus? The dreadful Black Death, that killed around 40% of England's population; bubonic plague that returned not just in a second wave, but time and time again over three centuries; the mysterious sweating sickness that nearly killed Anne Boleyn before she married Henry VIII; cholera - a scourge in the 19th century.

You can find my interview with Debbie McCrory of BBC Radio Cornwall here -

Tuesday 9 June 2020

Cummingsgate: a reply from the commissioner

On May 28, I posted the email I had sent to Durham's Police and Crime Commissioner enquiring about Dominic Cummings' lockdown busting visit to his county. I have now had a reply which I attach below. It does not answer any of the questions I asked, but this is not unusual in modern Britain. (It also spells my name wrong.)

This may not be the end of the matter, as a group of lawyers backed by health workers and families of coronavirus victims is now demanding a proper police investigation.

Anyway here's the commissioner's reply:

Dear Mr Whithington,

Thank you for your correspondence regarding the visit by Mr Cummings to the County of Durham, I can assure you that your contact is valued.

I think it is important to make it clear that in my role as Acting Police Crime and Victims’ Commissioner, I am politically restricted and that I have no affiliations professionally to any political party. I take my role of ensuring an efficient and effective Police Service seriously and it is this that steers me in my day to day responsibilities.

Trust and confidence of the public in the police service is vitally important. It is even more so at this time of national emergency. What is needed is compliance with the rules to prevent spread and infection. To enforce after a breach rather defeats the object, as the risk will already have taken place. This informed the approach adopted by, and agreed with the Force, in the policing style in Durham.
As a result we are amongst the lowest for penalty notices. In my view the Force area has seen excellent compliance and where this has not been the case, appropriate and proportionate policing has been the response. This has helped maintain public confidence despite the draconian powers available. It is because of the need for this confidence that I took the decision to ask the Chief Constable to establish the facts amongst the sea of opinion, story and reporting. It is not a step I took lightly.

Now that the Force has concluded their enquiries, I am hopeful that our communities will see that the Force has dealt with the matter with fairness, proportionality and care.
I do hope that this provides you with some reassurance and an explanation of the way this matter was dealt with.

Kind Regards
Steve White
Acting Police Crime and Victims’ Commissioner