Monday 25 May 2020

This show trial turned my stomach

This evening I witnessed perhaps the most disgraceful scene of Television that it was ever my misfortune to see. Dominic Cummings being hounded by a pack of journalists who were shaking him as if he were a bone that they were determined not to let go until they could say Gotcha, turned my stomach. It reminded of me of nothing less than a Soviet show trial where the victim is paraded before the court until he confesses his crime only to be taken from that place to the basement of the Lubyanka where a bullet awaits.

After about an hour I could just about manage a bowl of soup and some toast. I watched Love Affair (1939) with Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne, to remind myself that there used to be kindness and romance in the world and because I wanted to think about something else than scoundrels taunting a good man who had done his best for his family and his child.

I have written frequently about journalism since the start of this crisis and will do so again shortly, but nothing has angered me more and reminded me that I was on the right track when I described Journalism as missing the mood of the country.

Yesterday when we had the daily press briefing, we had interesting and useful questions from members of the public. Afterwards we had Pretty Polly Peston and friends parroting the same question about Mr Cummings and receiving the same answer from Boris Johnson. They think that if only they hound someone long enough, he will either resign or else he will kill himself because of the pressure. At this point Mr Peston will lead tributes to their great friend and he or she will be elevated into the sainthood of the departed. The hypocrisy of this process tells me that journalism has nothing whatsoever to do with truth, or morals or honour.

I have faithfully stayed inside since lockdown began. I am not a lockdown sceptic. I go once a week to the shops. But if someone else doesn’t follow the rules it is their business not mine. I rather admire their courage. Lots of people are travelling throughout Britain. Journalists for instance are allowed to travel where they please including abroad.

Morality is about focussing on what I do. It is not about condemning others. That is for their conscience, not mine. I did not condemn Catherine Calderwood for visiting her second home. She did no harm. First do no harm. I did not condemn Professor Neil Ferguson for having a friend over. Nor did I condemn Stephen Kinnock for visiting his parents. The vast majority of Brits are obeying the rules, much more than expected. But the law if it is to remain human has to allow for exceptions. It has to allow for the defence that the person had a good reason.

I would have done the same if I had walked in Mr Cummings’s shoes. I would have been frightened that both my wife and myself would be unable to look after my child. But even if I disagreed with what he did I would reflect that he made his decisions while infected with Covid and that this illness makes thinking and judging difficult. The illness itself is an extenuating circumstance, to all but the hounds with the bone.

Mr Cummings has always appeared to me to be an exceptionally intelligent and original thinker.  Our Government needs him in this crisis.

None of the journalists who were desperate today to trip him up have anything approaching his intellect nor indeed his morality. They were not acting for the good of Britain, rather they were acting out a drama that is only of concern to their failing profession. The task they set themselves is to keep attacking as a pack until the victim breaks psychologically under the torture or gives up with submission. If this is morality it is the morality of the mob.

I listened to Mr Cummings’s humility expressed in his rather nice Durham accent. I heard how he admitted his imperfection and his mistakes, and I believed him. This is someone who is doing his best for Britain.

I heard no such humility from the mob that were attacking him from all sides. I heard nothing about the mistakes they have made in the judgements they make with 20/20 hindsight. I have yet to hear remorse from a journalist about the damage he has done.

Dominic Cummings is marmite. Remainers and the Left despise him because he has consistently outfought and outthought them. Journalists despise him because he rightly views them with contempt. But this is a human being who made incredibly difficult decisions while about to become sick with a life-threatening illness. Would I have made better or different decisions? No, I don’t think so.

People who have recently been ill with Covid are frequently very vulnerable. It takes a long time to recover fully even when you rush back to work because you are needed. When someone is vulnerable the last thing, they need is to go through a struggle session with the People’s Liberation Broadcasting Corporation. They need peace and quiet and to be left alone.

There has to be a reckoning for what happened today. We need to tell journalists that we don’t want show trials and gotchas and that their morality is not our morality. If necessary, we need to cease watching their Television stations, refuse to pay our TV licences and cease renewing our satellite subscriptions. We have already ceased buying newspapers.

I hope tomorrow I will be able to eat normally, but the memory of various dogs with a bone that they would not let go will live with me forever.