A number of Bishops have rounded on the Prime Minister for not sacking his senior advisor Dominic Cummings, following revelations that he drove from London to Durham during lockdown to arrange childcare for his four-year-old son, Alexander. It was deemed necessary, he argued, because his wife, journalist Mary Wakefield, was already ill with the coronavirus, and he suspected that he might also succumb. He didn’t visit his parents, as some newspapers have reported: the childcare was arranged with his sister.
It is further alleged that he travelled to Barnard Castle on a subsequent date, but this has been robustly denied. Whatever the truth of this episode, there is a chorus of demands for Dominic Cummings to resign or be sacked – despite the guidance of the time and the law (6.2i) both permitting lockdown exemptions to arrange childcare – and the cries are coming from Labour, the Liberal Democrats, Tory backbenchers, and a veritable psalter of CofE bishops:
And, of course, the Bishop of Manchester, who has given the Prime Minister an ultimatum: sack Cummings, or there won’t be sufficient trust for the Church of England to work with the Government on the pandemic.
What does “not work together with [the Government]” actually mean in this context?
The Government allowed churches to livestream services, hold funerals within their buildings, and send their clergy’s children to schools. That is to say, clergy were recognised as keyworkers; and the importance of worship in the community and spiritual life in the nation were acknowledged. All of these measures and freedoms were blocked or stifled by the Church of England. If this is working together, what exactly does is not working together look like?
Aren’t Bishops supposed to be a focus of unity? One wonders how many of them support Labour and voted to remain in the EU. One also wonders how many threatened not to work with Jeremy Corbyn unless he sacked the rather malignant Seumas Milne.
That aside, perhaps these Bishops are all making a grave spiritual error: ‘Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment‘ (Jn 7:24).
It is interesting in his defence of Cummings at yesterday’s press conference that the Prime Minister referred to the need to travel “to find the right kind of child care”. In all the episcopal Twitter scorn and print-media square yards dedicated to this saga, it is incredible (literally) that not one journalist has probed what the Prime Minister might mean by “right kind” of childcare. And not one bishop has paused to consider that there may be something private and necessary here, concerning a vulnerable four-year-old and his need to be with a familiar aunt up in Durham, rather than in local authority childcare in strange surroundings with unfamiliar people.
Consider, for example, that little Alexander might be the autism spectrum. And consider, for example, that Dominic Cummings’ sister might be a special needs teacher. This may or may not be so: it would be a private matter. But consider that the Prime Minister is “doing nothing” about his senior aide because Alexander’s parents want to keep their son out of the media spotlight: they don’t want private matters of their son’s health broadcast all over the country. Would such a scenario justify a drive up to Durham during lockdown?