When the Cummings story broke on Saturday morning, the media and country were understandably in uproar.
The sheer arrogance and hypocrisy of one of the political ‘elites’ paying such blatant disregard to the isolation and social distancing government guidelines – that he undoubtedly helped to craft – outraged huge swathes of the population, many of whom are calling for his resignation.
However, I can’t help but feel a slight sense of discomfort when scrolling through Twitter and paying close attention to politicians’ TV interviews; the issue becomes more and more partisan. No doubt the Labour Party were licking their lips with anticipation at the incoming opinion polls and subsequent diminishing reputation of Boris Johnson and his government. My discomfort comes from the opportunistic weaponising of the story and the complete inability to analyse it with an apolitical and non-tribalistic approach.
If it had been a Keir Starmer or an Angela Rayner who had been caught with the same offence, you would bet your bottom dollar the exact same arguments would be used by the Conservative Party supporters, with calls for resignation. Vice versa, the left-wing media outlets would be taking the exact opposite view of the ones they are currently taking. When Peter Mandelson was condemned for obtaining a passport for Srichand Hinduja who was donating to the Millennium Dome project, I certainly didn’t hear any condemnation from the likes of Alastair Campbell, who is now destroying Cummings and Co.
Put the shoe on the other foot, though, and ‘Tory hands out passport to wealthy project doner’ from the very same outfit that was defending his actions would have been in uproar against it. I’m not saying the criticism itself is wrong – far from it! Let’s merely examine this on a case-by-case basis and leave the tribalism out of it. C’est tout!
I am not defending Cummings’ actions – in fact the opposite. In my opinion, what he did seems fishy and deserves to be scrutinised. What I am doing, however, is highlighting the pathetic culture that partisan politics has created; an arena where politicians’ views and comments can no longer be trusted due to party loyalty. Much of the news media that the average person consumes is, therefore, devoid of reasonable, rational and authentic critique.
Ask yourself, if a politician you hold in high regard had committed the same offence, would you be as outspoken against them? Would you be calling for their scalp? Abusing them in the streets? If you can honestly answer yes, then fair enough, your argument holds water. But if, in your heart of hearts, you confess not, then perhaps you need to review your own political attitude.
Thinking within this paradigm, a case can surely be made that the bi-partisan landscape in which UK politics is situated has created an unreliable media culture, where each tweet or interview has questionable levels of legitimacy and authenticity. It is not now the case that issues are assessed on their individual merits. The party lens must always be applied and that is surely not a good thing for democracy.
To round things off, I find myself in search of a litmus test: a method by which I can assess a scandal, agenda-free, and come to my own conclusion with rationale and fairness. This is what I have come up with. Ask yourself: would I be happy criticising and calling for the same reprimands if the scandal were connected to my own party? If so, it is fair – if not, it is not.
I urge you to apply this litmus test to the Cummings story, not because I desire to change your mind, but merely in the interest of honesty.