by Eric Kaufmann
Wednesday, 27
May 2020
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07:00

Cummings is guilty but shouldn’t resign

I took a look at how governments across the world have responded in similar cases
by Eric Kaufmann

Should Dominic Cummings resign? Hardly the best-loved individual in Britain, his conduct has been denounced as selfish by both the left and sections of the right, who are adamant he must go. Rather than jump to conclusions, it’s best to render a nuanced judgment based on how governments have responded in similar cases.

I argue in my book Whiteshift that public norms, which often carry enormous personal costs, should move from a political wrestling match over whether one side can move the herd in its direction to enforce taboos to a more regulated ‘normative jurisprudence’ model that takes a legal approach, considering precedent, similar cases, and appropriately calibrated punishments.

The aim here is to make a determination that takes into account competing values, and examines things from a ‘shades of grey’ rather than ‘black and white’ binary perspective. If someone shades over a line, they must resign. If they do something wrong but fall short of the line, they receive a lesser punishment, such as being demoted or having to publicly apologise. Decisions should consider extenuating circumstances and punishments short of sacking.

If we consider the range of similar infractions — by no means an exhaustive list, largely compiled by The Washington Post — then it would appear that the appropriate penalty is for Cummings to apologise but not resign. Resignations, such as those of Catherine Calderwood, Neil Ferguson and Don Harwin in New South Wales, are all linked to frivolous violations, notably travel for recreational purposes.

Figure 1. Violations of lockdowns in various Anglo countries, and corresponding penalty

Extenuating circumstances, such as New Zealand Health Minister David Clark’s expertise and skills, which Jacinda Ardern claimed was vital in the decision not to sack him, are also taken into account in making decisions. Higher-ranking figures with larger portfolios are thereby less likely to step down. Ergo, prime ministers like Trudeau or opposition leaders like Scheer are unlikely to be forced out by their parties or the Commons. Had Boris defied lockdown, even for recreational purposes, it is unlikely he would resign.

Cummings may have had no choice, or he may have been able to find another solution to his childcare problem. His trip to Barnard Castle to test his eyesight is almost certainly not justifiable. In this instance, he should acknowledge that he could have tested his eyesight in a more considerate way.

However, the severity of the offence in Cummings’ case is mitigated by the fact it was not obviously recreational. He is also important to the government’s public mission, as Ardern noted of Clark in New Zealand.

We should be able to distinguish between various degrees of violation of norms, on the one hand, and sentencing, on the other. On the basis of these standards, and the precedent set to date in Anglo societies, he did wrong and should apologise but did not breach the threshold required for him to resign.

This said, if it should come to light that he lied about his motivations and actually left for recreational reasons, the appropriate penalty would be for him to resign.

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ovicto01
ovicto01
2 years ago

This seems like a very considered, sensible and reasonable approach from a brilliant political scientist. The furore over it seems to be more of a hate-hate relationship between Cummings and the hardcore remain camp, still bitter over the entire Brexit win, bent at find any measure of revenge in one last swing of the sword, despite the war being decisively won. It feels more like sore loser syndrome than real news. Rather than get riled up over such issues why does the media not home its attention on the real serious source of Covid-19 – the CCP. Not only is there a possible burgeoning of a second wave, Xi Jinping is taking this opportunity, whilst the world’s attention is diverted, to introduce more draconian laws on Hong Kong. There, real despotism is for all to see. Far too much has been made of the Cummings issue than is warranted, when there are far more serious domestic and international concerns to deal with.

Spong Burlap
Spong Burlap
2 years ago
Reply to  ovicto01

Some attention was paid, at least, to the President of Austria who nipped out for a recreational Habsberger or two beyond lockdown hours (boom boom). Coverage seemed fair and balanced. By “Sky Views”, if memory serves.

So that’s something?

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
2 years ago
Reply to  ovicto01

Exactly. What a breath of fresh air Mr Kaufmann is.
This is an irritating and trivial matter in comparison to the vile behaviour of the CCP.
Does no one in the media have any sense of proportion? Or is it just too difficult?
Either way we are badly served by most of these cretins.

Paul Wright
Paul Wright
2 years ago
Reply to  ovicto01

Ah yes, the hardcore remain camp of the Daily Mail, Iain Dale and Julia Hartley-Brewer.

The objection to Cummings’s actions is based on the natural British objection to unfairness and people getting above themselves. If he had immediately apologised (and not come out with obvious nonsense about test drives to castles), he could feasibly have stayed on. As usual, it’s not the crime, it’s the cover up.

William Cable
William Cable
2 years ago
Reply to  Paul Wright

The Daily Mail’s editor is a remained and they’ve moving in that direction for sometime now.

Alex Camm
Alex Camm
2 years ago
Reply to  Paul Wright

You think the press would have let him off with just an apology?
I don’t think there is much fair minded about the press especially without any other scare stories available to them

T C
T C
2 years ago
Reply to  Paul Wright

What “crime” did he commit? Have you read the Coronavirus Act 2020? Do you know what it provides? If so, tell me which crime was committed thereunder? In any event, what about the presumption of innocence. Does that not matter to you? Should we just start lynching people if we do not believe their excuses? If he has committed a crime, as you say, then it is for the police to investigate, the CPS to prosecute and a Court to convict. Unless and until that happens, why should be resign?

Viv Evans
Viv Evans
2 years ago

In fairness – Cummings left for Durham at the end of March -27th, IIRC. So to date his ‘crime’ to May 24th is factually wrong.
This is when the MSM started their ‘war’, it is not when Cummings went to Durham.
Therefore I wish journalists would ask: why now? Why this huge hullabaloo now? What are they trying to hide? There are hints; the row with the trade unions over school closures – why are the MSM not asking about Starmer’s failure to call them to task? There’s the scandal of the ‘excess unexplained deaths’ – not worth investigating, is it?
And perhaps someone might even ask why it is that all the other transgressors -e specially those in the UK, are not similarly hunted? Never mind the blatant disregard of the press pack for social distancing rules when harassing Cummings: one rule for ‘us’, one rule for the press, is it?
And would someone ask the police if they’re investigating the hate tweets against Cummings and other MPs – or is it one rule for Momentum, one rule for everybody else?
There’s much to do – and much time has been wasted even by usually good journalists who seem to feel they must be seen to be on the ‘dump cummings’ bandwagon …

Spong Burlap
Spong Burlap
2 years ago
Reply to  Viv Evans

More fuel for the fire; DC might well decide, as a result of this witch-hunt, to seek a revenge fit for well … a very angry man with a gigantic IQ.

BBC take note. Can’t do much about the Graun or the other rag, but that there licence fee now.

Spong Burlap
Spong Burlap
2 years ago

Not a recreational trip. That is exactly it.

To watch the fop Peston, the malevolent Morgan P., the dismal Graun hacks and the rest of the media sc(r)um believe they finally get their well-earned anti-Brexit vindication by publicly wetting themselves with a self-righteous frenzy is glorious entertainment in itself.

Indeed, the ever-obnoxious Graun ‘newspaper’ headline “Cummings will not resign” (not verbatim) one can read as “We failed. Again”.

Lovely.

Giulia Khawaja
Giulia Khawaja
2 years ago

“Guilty ” seems to be overstating it, suggesting a crime has been committed. Cummings appears to have socially distanced with his family at all times so what is the problem? The problem seems to be that certain MPs of all parties are jealous of a non elected person having more influence than they have and/ or being a brexiteer. Reading the latest book by Hilary Mantel there are so many parallels between the wielding of power in the 21st century and Tudor England. But instead of being beheaded the victim gets tortured on the rack of public opinion heavily influenced by the pernicious Media.

Auberon Linx
Auberon Linx
2 years ago

The hysterical response to Cummings’ possibly violating the lockdown rules is most undignified. At some point, almost every article on the Guardian website front page was about this, and from a single, narrow point of view. It would be great if the recommendations above about bringing some objective standards in meting out punishment were followed, but with the current partisanship levels, that will never happen. British liberal cosmopolitans are seriously after blood this time, and who could blame them? Here is a man who has done more than most for the Leave option to win in the referendum, and then ensured Brexit actually went through by ushering a Conservative majority in the latest election. It must be said that Cummings himself is to blame: after becoming an obsession for the liberals and relishing the endless analysis of even the slightest off-handed remark that he would make, didn’t he realise that such scrutiny comes with a price? And that any misstep that he makes would be immediately pounced upon?

I can see this ending only one way as the liberal left really is masterful in getting people sacked. But they should be careful what they wish for: capable individuals scorned by the establishment tend to wreak havoc if not co-opted in the system – just look at Farage and Trump as recent examples.

Stephen Follows
Stephen Follows
2 years ago

Good article. It still omits the fact that the longer trip (at the very least) is covered by Regulation d, which permits travel to provide care or assistance to a vulnerable person.

delchriscrean
delchriscrean
2 years ago

Well said

Julian Fletcher
Julian Fletcher
2 years ago
Reply to  delchriscrean

Don’t bring facts and evidence into this argument. That’s not what this is about. Don’t you know it’s about making sure that DC is punished for the failings of the Left at the election and Brexit. We don’t want anyone thinking this is unfair. I’m glad DC has the guts to face the press down and Boris has the nous to back him.

Mary May
Mary May
2 years ago

who holds the media to account? Their behaviour in this has been shocking for its lack of basic human decency, and any who have taken part in the hounding of a person acting in the best interests of an autistic 4 year old should be ashamed of themselves.

Paul Wright
Paul Wright
2 years ago
Reply to  Mary May

There is no evidence his child is autistic. It appears the suggestion comes from a now deleted Twitter account: https://twitter.com/jamiemc

Paul Theato
Paul Theato
2 years ago

Guilty of what? Not being the horrendous, imploding Elizabeth Rigby or the ghastly Robert Peston?

As Carl Benjamin brilliantly summarised on You Tube, this was a victory for Dominic Cummings over a press and media that is quite simply a national disgrace.

Johnny Norfolk
Johnny Norfolk
2 years ago

He is not guilty. You need to read the guidlines again.

Paul M
Paul M
2 years ago
Reply to  Johnny Norfolk

That’s what I was trying to imply a round about way 👍 I don’t believe he did.

Robin Lambert
Robin Lambert
2 years ago

Conjunctivitis IS a condition of SARS2.ask yourself why are Twitter YouTube censoring any criticism of China?Lefty Michael Moore documentary “Planet of the humans “has been taken down as it criticized the lying mantra biomass is good or chop down rainforests to burn and it is dangerous for George Soros Richard Branson Bill Gates to try to own most of the World’s resources

Paul M
Paul M
2 years ago

Good article. I had heard the media questions and news reports but not actually heard what he had said in his defence. Having done so it really does appear to be just media whipping up stories to obsessive levels again (the daily covid report questions Sunday or Monday was embarrassing to watch) The mildly supportive across the board approach by media to the covid response in the early stages of lockdown has now evaporated, much to the disappointment of many i would guess?. Surely it’s a case of applying the law and any sanctions if he’d broken any? another reiteration of the rules and how they apply on this on this occasion would be useful to all.
Whatever leanings you might have I think we could and should all agree the media in the UK needs to take a look at itself and ask some hard questions about the way it reports stories and gets carried away to often.

Alan Hughes
Alan Hughes
2 years ago

A good piece and well argued. Perhaps it is too late now for any reasonable course of action. The fight is afoot and neither side can truly win in the sense of proving their position unassailable. Hatred of the man does appear to drive much of the venom of this attack and it is little surprise that his detractors, largely, hail from the “remain” camp and seem to think this is a way to strike back at someone who hurt them. Certainly it is my ‘remain’-ing’ friends who speak most volubly against him, often just after a rule-breaking non-essential trips out in Wales. Perhaps John 8:7 may be useful reading.

John Kirk
John Kirk
2 years ago

An interesting and useful article spoiled by the following:

” His trip to Barnard Castle to test his eyesight is almost certainly not justifiable. In this instance, he should acknowledge that he could have tested his eyesight in a more considerate way.”

As a sufferer from intermittent double vision for 30 years (continually cleared to drive by optician and eye hospital) I can assure Eric Kaufmann that this is one bit of the story that he has not understood. The aspect of Cummings’ eyesight that he had to test was whether he could be confident that he could safely drive with his novel condition for four hours.

That is not something that any optician or any other “eyesight test” could help him with. A drive of 30 minutes out and 30 minutes back seems appropriate and reasonable. He would have known by the time he reached the farm gate that he could start safely. How long could he keep it up?

Nor was it, he said, a trip “to Barnard Castle”. It was a test drive on the road to the town of Barnard Castle, and he stopped short of the town let alone the castle itself.

I well remember the first time that double vision afflicted me while driving. It was disconcerting, verging on alarming. Only by practice did I learn that my brain would always give me one dominant image. Fatigue made it harder but I never thought it was too dangerous to continue. It was just a question of carrying on and putting up with it the discomfort and mental effort.

The man is no saint but on this aspect he can be believed and over against the disgusting pack hounding him he handled himself impeccably and was quite right not to apologise.

Anyone can review the Regulations (no 6) at http://www.legislation.gov…. . Reasonable excuses (d) and (f) seem to be in point, plus the generality of “includes” at the start of of 6(2).

John Broomfield
John Broomfield
2 years ago

To be considered guilty we need to see the specific rule that was broken, the evidence to support guilt beyond reasonable doubt and the exact nature of the offence.

How about spelling that out for everyone who is not gripped by their hatred for the man.

However, after his public confession he may be guilty of driving without due care and attention.

Robin Lambert
Robin Lambert
2 years ago

Cummings is a target because he wants to reform the civil servants.BBC governors and helped mastermind Brexit.It is five weeks until yet another Transition period is due or Not(hopefully) it has already cost UK Taxpayers £85billion with £5,3 billion VAT receipts each year.For UK high streets to row back decline VAT needs to be halfed it will also stimulate the economy…If you look at Venezuela and Brasil they will overtake Belgium Russia and Uk with their hospitals collapsing…Yes Lockdown should have been accompanied by the Airport’s quarantine…the lockdown needs easing.And MSM credibility is finished the BBC ITV ch4 ch5 are certainly not purveyors of the truth😁😀🤭😹

Samuel Gee
Samuel Gee
2 years ago

I think the case that a more calibrated attitude to the misdemeanors of public officials (and other in the public eye) is well made.

The Cummings situation, though, proves, that in the UK at least, that boat has long sailed. Our politics are now essentially tribal, The interesting part of the Cummings affair is how poorly Cummings and in fact Johnson fit into the tribe they lead.

The social attitudes behind objections to welfare largesse, and to some extent immigration, about levelling up, are about fairness . About people who do the “right thing”, Play the game, wait their turn, pay their dues and feel that this is not being respected. That others are jumping queues, swinging the lead, and not playing the game. In terms of a football metaphor are instead; playing to the whistle, playing the ref, and via confected victim status are diving to win free kicks and penalties.

The Cummings defence that he was playing to the whistle makes him “not guilty”. He shouldn’t have to apologise for not breaking the rules. But how this looks to the Tribe just doesn’t fit.

They should watch that in future

Andrew Baldwin
Andrew Baldwin
2 years ago

It’s not correct that Justin Trudeau issued an apology for staying with his family at Harrington Lake over the Easter weekend although he should have. This is what he said: “After three weeks of my family living up at Harrington and me living here, I went to join them for Easter. We continue to follow all the instructions from public health authorities.” No apology there. They have never been Trudeau’s strong suit. Trudeau had been scolding the Canadian public not to slip away to a cottage to spend time with family, in defiance of COVID-19 distancing rules, but that’s exactly what he did (his family has been living in a cottage at Harrington Lake), adding insult to injury by crossing provincial borders to do so, for which he might have been charged, but wasn’t. Rules are for the plebes, but not for him. Also, Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer didn’t apologize for taking his family back to Ottawa on the plane with him, nor should he have. Unlike in Trudeau’s case, no rules were violated. No-one was visiting anyone: the family had decided to make Ottawa their common home. Cummings may also not have violated the rules, as Stephen Fellows’s comment below suggests. In any case, of the three men, Trudeau was much the worst offender.

Nick Whitehouse
Nick Whitehouse
2 years ago

People seemed very worried by his test drive to Barnard Castle.
Personally, if I had been very ill – yet cleared to return to work- , I would take a local test drive to confirm I was able to drive a long distance.

It seems to me that to not take a test drive would have been far more irresponsible.

Helen Barbara Doyle
Helen Barbara Doyle
2 years ago

Having received death threats due to press lies about him, when his wife fell ill and it was likely he would too he chose to drive non stop, so as not to spread infection, to a separate property on his parents farm where his family could self isolate as a unit. His sister dropped off food and his nieces had agreed to provide emergency child care if needed.

Even when he needed to collect his ill son from hospital he stayed in the car to avoid spreading the infection.

Before returning home, and after his 14 days were up, having been bed ridden for some days he drive to Barnards Castle as a test to see if he was up to driving. Very sensible, I have done the same after an operation.

He did not see his parents except at a distance and he did not return to Durham later in the month as has been falsely reported.

He kept within the rules.

G H
G H
2 years ago

A good analysis. Cummings error of judgement was not to realise than any minor transgression on his part would be the green light for the media pile on. He should have had the political nouse to know that the predominantly Remain legacy media types were just waiting for him to slip up. His judgement on the childcare options were spot on. Very logical and I would have done exactly the same. His measured press statement and extraordinary polite response to the vapid questioning afterwards plus the unpleasant personal rant from the BBC activist on Newsnight convinced me that he must stay in post.

Gerry Fruin
Gerry Fruin
2 years ago

Mr Cummings has to stay. When the media launch such a viscous vendetta against an individual it’s a given that they are running scared.
Perhaps the most positive outcome of this situation is that the media’s behaviour is so arrogant and ignorant that the backlash from the public will force the owners and paymasters across the media to maybe have a rethink about what and who they are paying for the appalling misleading and perverted misrepresentation of ‘facts’.
Sadly this does not apply to the BBC. We tax payers are criminals unless we cough up! It is also obvious that the media believe they are the sole arbitrators of what is in the public interest. News, and facts are irreverent. Perhaps it’s a 21st century thing?

Peter KE
Peter KE
2 years ago

The severity in Cummings case is not the action but the reaction from the press, they speak not for the public but themselves. The anti-conservative bbc is a particular case and various journalists should be dismissed to move the bbc to be a more balanced body.

ruthengreg
ruthengreg
2 years ago

My problem is that his “eye test drive” Is too stupid for words. This is unbelievable full stop. What intelligent soul would do that? I find if it’s true! He is not going to me be much help to Boris! If I disbelieve him, as I do he should be sacked.for that alone.
Yes there is a witch hunt for truth!! Or more likely it’s it’s Political!
Now to move forward if the Press keep to me Breaching the Peace. He will as a family man resign to save his family. As a friend Boris could advise him. This wasting time we can I’ll afford. And playing into Labour hands and Sir Kier won’t drop it!
Boris needs to watch this or ??

katatjuta2011
katatjuta2011
2 years ago

Cummings isnt guilty of anything as he hasnt been accused or charged or punished by any legal prceedings im aware of? whilst ome may disapprove and some think he is guilty, he is no more guilty than i am of shoplifting today when i went to the supermarket. i many have been caugjht shpoplifitng but i wasnt, so im innocent.