Hundreds of people in Bristol West have written to me about the actions of Dominic Cummings and the Prime Minister’s defence of them. Some of you have written to me for the for the first time and it says a lot that this is what has prompted people to write.
I share the feelings of upset, anger, hurt and betrayal.
I am so proud of how calmly the people of Bristol have coped during this awful crisis, helping neighbours and friends, making incredible sacrifices to make sure we don’t pass on the virus. Probably all of us share the same feelings of missing family and friends desperately.
So of course it really hurts to hear of someone at the head of government, who was involved in setting the rules we are all abiding by, apparently flouting them, possibly more than once, and to hear the Prime Minister and his Ministerial colleagues defend these actions as ‘acting on instinct’ and something ‘any caring parent would do’.
But also, it’s incredibly dangerous. At this stage, when some of the lockdown rules are being changed, there is a risk of a second spike in infections and possibly deaths. If people believe that the official government guidance no longer applies and we can all ‘act on instinct’ this risk is even greater. Public confidence in the government requires trust and rebuilding that trust between government and public is vital for the sake of everyone’s health and welfare. We will have to show the PM and his advisor that we consider the public good to be important and will act on it.
The Leader of the Opposition said at the time that he would have sacked Dominic Cummings if he was Prime Minister. I am also certain that Keir Starmer would never have employed this person in the first place, but I’m pleased he is so clear about the need for accountability at the top of government.
As your Parliamentary representative, I’ve gone through every email and taken the spirit and some of the examples given (anonymised) and have written a letter on your behalf to the Prime Minister, which I have also sent to the Health Secretary and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Michael Gove) who is Cabinet Office Minister in charge of coordinating the Covid-19 response for public preparedness and infrastructure. In this letter I’ve expressed a summary of how you are all feeling, with some anonymised examples to show the depth of pain and anger. I’ve asked them to respond to the specific questions my colleagues the Leader of the Opposition and others have put to the government on the detail of what has happened, the need for a formal investigation and for work to be put in to repair public trust in health guidance.
I know it’s really hard to stick the government guidance but despite what has happened, it’s vitally important that we all continue to observe the guidance which is there to help us to stop the spread of the virus and protect each other. Please let’s show the country that we are better than those who would flout it with such apparent disdain. It’s especially important now that the guidance is being widened to allow more people to do more activities.
I believe that in Bristol we are doing so brilliantly. Let’s not let these actions of two men of power ruin things and risk our health. We mean a lot to each other. I believe that we can continue to show our respect for each other as a city, in spite of them. They do not represent us.
The Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP
The Rt Hon Matt Hancock MP
The Rt Hon Michael Gove MP
10 Downing St
Dear Prime Minister, Secretary of State and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster,
I am writing on behalf of the 130,000 people of Bristol West to express the dismay, hurt, anger and feelings of betrayal that so many of them feel at the alleged actions of the Special Advisor and the defence of those actions by you, Prime Minister. The press conference held this evening by Mr Cummings doesn’t change much for my constituents. Their trust in your government has been badly damaged by the entire process and it’s in all our interests that this is dealt with.
I ask you to take urgent actions to rebuild the shattered trust the public now has in your government and in government guidance. This is an urgent, critical task. Without it lives are at risk. As we come out of the lockdown, you will be as fearful as anyone of a second spike in infections. It’s critically important that the public believes in the guidance and that we as Parliamentarians can be sure that you are delivering it with conviction and without caveats.
Hundreds of people have contacted me. From checking my records, most of them have never written to me as their MP before and it says a lot that this is what has prompted them to write.
People who have contacted me in the last 24 hours include:
Many people who could not be with their elderly parents in their dying days during this crisis, who could not hold their hands as they died and could not go to their funerals – because they were sticking to the rules.
- People who have struggled with the care of their children whilst sick during this crisis, who’ve depended on the food deliveries from friends or supermarkets but stayed inside for weeks, alone with their children, because they were sticking to the rules.
- A constituent who has two children, one a baby, the other with cancer, who is having treatment at the moment and is shielded because of her vulnerability. She and her partner are just about managing but with an underlying fear of what they will do if either of them gets sick. They will not drive to their parents’ homes, they will just try to cope – because they are sticking to the rules.
- A doctor, married to a doctor, who have both had to struggle with balancing their vital work in the NHS and care for their children but didn’t take their child to stay with relatives – because they were sticking to the rules.
It’s not just the hypocrisy, or even the suffering others have gone through because they didn’t ‘follow their instincts’ as you, Prime Minister, defended Mr Cummings doing, although that’s bad enough. The reason I’m writing above all is because of the damage this has done to public confidence in the government guidance to protect our health. This is damage caused not just by Mr Cummings’ alleged actions but by your defence of them and your unwillingness to be accountable for them, even though this is in the Ministerial Code.
My constituents are also very upset at the implication from the Prime Minister’s statement that Mr Cummings was right to act on his ‘instincts’ that they have been wrong to repress their own instincts to drive to see an elderly sick relative or dying parent, or to ask their family to come and help them with a disabled or sick child, or to visit a bereaved friend, or hug someone in grief. They repressed their instincts, Prime Minister, because they thought that’s what was required, to stick to the rules for everyone’s sakes. They can never ever get those moments back. Some of them will live with the emotional and sometimes physical scars of this crisis forever. They feel insulted by your characterisation of Mr Cummings actions as those of ‘any normal decent parent’. They too are decent parents and they thought that the decent thing to do for the greater good was to put their own instincts aside and follow government guidance. I feel insulted for them.
My constituents have expressed great stoicism and generosity even in their distress. Almost every one of the upsetting personal accounts was followed by ‘of course I know others have had it much worse’. People are determined to do the right thing. But they, and I, feel horribly let down by you.
This is not a politicisation of the facts. These are human reactions to a very distressing set of circumstances in which most people felt that putting aside their own feelings in favour of the good of everyone else was the most important thing to do now compounded by the feeling that those at the heart of government were not leading by example.
Prime Minister, Secretary of State and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, I make no apology for the emotion of this letter. Reading these emails today has been one of the most upsetting experiences of my time as an MP. I cannot believe you have not also had similar emails from your own constituents.
For their sake, for the sake of everyone’s health, for the sake of respecting the sacrifices so many have made for each other and for our country, please take responsibility for what has happened, what has been said by you and for the consequences. Please urgently do everything you can to rebuild trust. It is a precious commodity which everyone was willing to invest in you in this time of national crisis. You have squandered it but it’s not too late to win it back. What’s more, it’s essential that you do. You will have my support in that endeavour.