Dominic Cummings neither apologised nor expressed regret when he made the extraordinary move of hosting his own press conference in the Downing Street Rose Garden yesterday. The Prime Minister’s key aide instead confirmed that he, his ill wife and their child travelled 260 miles during the height of lockdown and also took a trip to Barnard Castle that just happened to fall on his wife’s birthday and Easter Sunday. Apparently the first is excused by the fact that they were seeking childcare (that they didn’t use, and they didn’t check whether anyone in London could do it) and the second is justified because he was checking his eyesight (which does not dignify a response).
We have heard much about the “big brain” of this supposed genius. But he couldn’t come up with an explanation that wasn’t clearly ridiculous. He even shoehorned into his statement a boast that he had been warning for years about the dangers of pandemics, pointing out that he wrote last year specifically on the threat of coronaviruses. It turns out, however, that this tech-fascinated fan of “weirdos and misfits” doesn’t even know about the Wayback Machine. On the day he returned from Durham, April 14th, Cummings appears to have inserted a reference to coronavirus into an old blogpost. LabourList had a quick look at the site map and archives last night, and noticed that he had recently added the tag “pandemics” to several posts.
Labour’s response has been restrained, in line with Keir Starmer’s style. The party first called for a “swift explanation”, then an “urgent inquiry”. The Labour leader didn’t demand a resignation as others did, but on Sunday evening said: “If I were Prime Minister, I’d have sacked Cummings.” We can expect that the party will now use its capacity for detailed scrutiny to highlight the potential implications of the Cummings defence for policing and crucially for the testing and tracing programme that should be rolled out shortly. Unfortunately there will be no Prime Minister’s Questions this week as parliament is in recess, but a junior minister has just resigned this morning. The Rose Garden statement did not make this story go away.
I trust that readers are still interested in Labour news. It is, of course, the day that Labour’s new general secretary will be appointed. There are six shortlisted applicants, but sources on the national executive committee (NEC) say it now comes down to two: Byron Taylor, a former trade union and Labour liaison organisation (TULO) officer who is favoured by the left, or David Evans, a former assistant general secretary preferred by the leadership. LabourList has given space to different views on Evans: from the FBU and Bakers’ criticisms to the praise of local government leaders. And Taylor? You may never have heard of him, but he is in fact a quietly pivotal figure.
In the wake of the 2015 general election, the Labour left discussed the need to find a candidate if Ed Miliband resigned. As detailed in Protest and Power: The Battle for the Labour Party by David Kogan, they were struggling – until Jon Lansman attended a TULO reception hosted by Byron Taylor. How about Jeremy Corbyn? He has no enemies and with some union support we could get him on the ballot paper, Taylor pointed out. And that is how the Corbyn era was born. Lansman describes Taylor in the book as “not a rabid left-winger” but “a trade union bureaucrat who had been a party bureaucrat under New Labour”. Today, he is the left’s best chance of denying the leader’s office its top pick for general secretary.
Who will succeed Jennie Formby? It has been a long time since there was a shortlist of more than two in the general secretary process, and the NEC is very finely balanced. After the ruling body votes using a preferential system, we can expect the result to be released late afternoon or early evening. Keep up with LabourList throughout the day for updates.Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.