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Bearing False Witness: How Mr and Mrs Cummings Broke the Ninth Commandment

Reverend Joe Haward provides a Bylines Times ‘Thought for the Day’, in light of current events and the duty in the Ten Commandments to tell the truth.

Dominic Cummings and his wife Mary Wakefield

Bearing False WitnessHow Mr and Mrs Cummings Broke the Ninth Commandment

Reverend Joe Haward provides a Bylines Times ‘Thought for the Day’, in light of current events and the duty in the Ten Commandments to tell the truth.

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The revelations that Dominic Cummings and his wife Mary Wakefield broke lockdown rules, travelling from London to Durham at the beginning of April, has understandably caused a lot of anger and dismay – not least because both, by their own public admissions, had symptoms of the Coronavirus.

Government instructions for anyone with symptoms – guidance which Cummings may well have helped to devise – was to stay at home and self-isolate. Do not travel under any circumstances. 

Wakefield’s appearance on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme – delivering its ‘Thought for the Day’ – in April was a theatre of nostalgia, religion and propaganda; an exercise designed to present Cummings and Boris Johnson as vulnerable heroes who, through prayer and indomitable will, pulled through. What she failed to mention on air – and in the articles published by her and Cummings in the magazine she is the commissioning editor of which, The Spectator – was the journey to Durham to see his parents, a drive that could easily have spread the Coronavirus and made his parents seriously ill. 

As soon as The Guardian and Mirror jointly published the story, the political editor of BBC News, Laura Kuenssberg, was quick to publish Cummings’ defence from a “source”, followed by Cabinet ministers – including Dominic Raab, Rishi Sunak and Michael Gove – tweeting that no rules had been broken and that this whole story is all about political point-scoring.

What is quickly becoming clear from this whole spectacle is how easily lies and bearing false witness flows out from the corridors of power.

One of the lessons from the mythical book of Job in the Old Testament is how what matters most is the one who speaks the truth. Those who blame the sufferer for their sufferings in order to safeguard some kind of moral reputation – whether that be God’s or, as in our case, the Government’s – are exposed for their falsity. The book of Job gives voice to the victim and it is from the voice of the victim we most often hear truth.

With a likely 60,000 deaths in the UK from COVID-19, we have many victims whose voices demand to be heard. Yet from the palaces of power we have the continued act of bearing false witness, obscuring the truth in order that such power can be maintained. 

A decade of austerity inflicted violence upon the most vulnerable within our society – an ideological choice cloaked in the lie of necessity. 

Vote Leave broke the law, resulting in a pitiful fine in court. Its entire Brexit campaign was built upon the premise of bearing false witness, stoking the fires of fear, xenophobia and nationalism. Last year’s General Election was fought in a similar vein, with Cummings one of the architects of the Conservative victory. Time and again, Johnson’s party was called out for lying, for bearing false witness – and time and again a compliant media and an exhausted population, allowed them to get away with it. 

Now we are in the midst of a national scandal and tragedy, and as Byline Times‘ Editor Hardeep Matharu has written with such clarity, “they’re lying, we know they’re lying and they know that we know they’re lying”.

For a variety of reasons, I am no fan of the French reformer John Calvin but he was piercingly accurate when he said “whoever bears false witness against his neighbour kills him [because] he robs him and is guilty of whatever evil proceeds from his lie”.

That Cummings travelled to Durham in lockdown, having symptoms of the Coronavirus, is no small matter when one considers how easily the Government will bear false witness in order to cover his actions. Not only that but people up and down the country have suffered the pain of separation and isolation, some unable to attend family funerals, in order to follow lockdown for the sake of others – we might call it “loving our neighbour”.

Conversely, the Government has repeatedly bore false witness against this country as a “neighbour” throughout this pandemic. The truth about avoidable deaths in care homes, a lack of mass testing, the lateness of lockdown – to name a few – has consistently been obscured behind political rhetoric and ideology. To bear false witness with such regularity comes with a cost, as Calvin rightly pointed out. 

Cummings’ actions potentially have consequences because of what might “proceed from his lies”, to use Calvin’s language. Certainly one such consequence is that people may see his behaviour as a signal to stop lockdown for good. 

We must also consider what this story, and the Government’s response to it, tell us of the kind of democratic society we now live in. If Cummings stays in post, bearing false witness for the pursuit of power at all costs is unashamedly the Government’s political position. Such a position should concern us all, for if history teaches us anything, it is that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

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