If there was a saving grace from Catherine Calderwood’s terrible lapse of judgement when she flouted her own lockdown rules, it was that her resignation came quickly.
Her swift departure as Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer (CMO) after making trips to her holiday house in Earlsferry, at least underlined that the “Stay at Home” message was for real. Her public humiliation was a graphic reminder that breaking the rules was a very serious matter.
As she struggled in vain to save her career, the former CMO declared the fact that she had made two visits to her second home in the East Neuk of Fife. She did that to pre-empt any further embarrassing revelations. She also apologised profusely within hours of the news breaking. Despite her apology, the reaction to her behaviour made it abundantly clear that she could not continue taking the country through the coronavirus crisis without undermining her own life-saving advice.
I know it is tough to lose a trusted adviser at the height of crisis, but when it’s a choice of that or integrity of vital public health advice, the latter must come first. That’s the judgment I and, to her credit, Catherine Calderwood reached. PM and Cummings should do likewise.
— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) May 24, 2020
In contrast, the furore over Dominic Cummings’s 260-mile trip to Durham at the height of the pandemic has lingered. Now, thanks to Boris Johnson’s defence of his aide, the damaging controversy has escalated dramatically.
Given the extraordinary sacrifices that have been made by the British public during the outbreak, the sophistry surrounding arguments that he was acting to protect his family has been insulting.
Why, for example, should Mr Cummings think it was acceptable to travel to the north-east of England when 13-year-old Ismail Mohamed Abdulwahab died from the virus without his family by his bedside at King’s College Hospital, London?
Watching Johnson. This is despicable. Parents all over this country have abided by the lockdown rules, even while ill themselves. Hundreds of thousands managed toddlers while shut up inside cramped accommodation, purely for the common good AS THE GOVERNMENT TOLD THEM TO DO.
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) May 24, 2020
Tory MPs could see the damage Mr Cummings’s behaviour had caused and several called for him to go.
By standing by him, Boris Johnson has caused outrage, misread the public mood and has added to the feeling that he does not have a proper grip on the Covid-19 crisis.
But it is worse than that. Mr Johnson appears prepared to undermine the UK Government messaging that is so important when it comes to dealing with this deadly illness. At a crucial time when lockdown restrictions are being eased, it is more important than ever that the public can trust the advice coming out of Downing Street as it becomes more nuanced and complex.
Astonishingly, the prime minister has sabotaged that fragile trust by letting this row rumble on. That sort of arrogance and defiance, as Dr Calderwood well understood, could prove extremely dangerous.