If you think about it, the recent actions of Dominic Cummings illustrate perfectly the Thatcherite maxim there’s no such thing as society.* In putting himself and his family first, in neglecting the needs of others and the common good, he exemplified that maxim in action. Me and mine come before you and yours; that’s what it boils down to, plus an egoistic plan to interpret the rules in your own way. Supposing we all did this? Supposing we applied our own interpretations to, say, the speed limit? I might say ‘Well, I know it’s supposed to be thirty round here but it’s fairly quiet so I choose to interpret the speed limit as forty-five.’ Or, on the motorway I might say ‘Yes I know it’s actually seventy but I take that as a rough guideline. The road is clear so I interpret seventy to mean up to eighty-five.’ And so on. This is the worst kind of egoism and yes, we are all prone to it; I cannot hold my hand up and say I’ve never broken the speed limit. I find it very hard to stick to thirty mph on a straight road with no traffic; I am often tempted to exceed seventy on the motorway. However, were I caught I would absolutely expect to suffer the penalty. I would I hope admit my mistake.
* To be fair, Thatcher may not have been suggesting that people should be quite as selfish as this implies. She was telling people to look after themselves and their families first; it was an argument against the state rather than ‘society’; however it has been interpreted by Left and Right alike as a call to rampant individualism.
And therein lies the problem. Had Cummings only apologised his job would not now be under threat. Had he acknowledged the insult to the rest of us who followed the rules; people dying alone, people unable to see dying members of their family, people risking their lives to self-isolate; his job would not now be under threat. Instead he came up with an ‘explanation’ that insults not only our suffering but also our intelligence. Yes, we are all prone to error and should be slow to judge others who err. But as Rev Richard Coles pointed out (on his Facebook page) you cannot be a law-maker as well as a law-breaker. You must hold yourself to a higher standard. Cummings must go – and the sooner the better. Now. Today.
And here, Marina Hyde in the Guardian has a brilliant and witty analysis of why Johnson is reluctant to sack him.But I shall conclude with some words of Oscar Wilde might have uttered in this situation: ‘Never speak slightingly of society. Only those who can’t get into it do that.’