Hardeep Matharu explores why the chief advisor’s revelation about his failing eyesight was so revealing – about his lack of self-knowledge and need for reality.
Sitting in the sunshine of the Downing Street rose garden, Dominic Cummings was entirely right in discussing concern for his eyesight.
For, in two crucial ways, it is crystal clear that it has failed him. The first lies in his inability to see things outside of himself from the perspective of others – “until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them,” as Atticus so beautifully advises his daughter in To Kill A Mockingbird. The second is his failure to see how his behaviour is viewed external to his self-narrative. Judging from the developments of recent days, he is blind to both.
In finally emerging from the shadows yesterday to enlighten us on why he had travelled 270 miles across the country during a pandemic when the UK was in lockdown and he and his wife feared they had symptoms of a deadly virus, the Prime Minister’s controversial chief advisor shook off his mystery and revealed a man cut-off – emotionally and psychologically – from others and from himself.
His actions in moving around the country were legal, reasonable and could all be explained, he said, in the middle of a crisis which has resulted in 50,000 people dying with COVID-19 in the UK – one of the highest death tolls in the world.
In respect of his curious trip to the now infamous Barnard Castle, his statement was truly eye-opening.
He claimed he drove 30 minutes there and back, with his wife and child in the car, in order to test his eyes.
“Fifteen days after I had first displayed symptoms, I decided to return to work [in London],” he said. “My wife was very worried, particularly given my eyesight seemed to have been affected by the disease. She didn’t want to risk a nearly 300-mile drive with our child, given how ill I had been.”
So, instead of staying put, delaying a return to London or requesting a Government car to whisk him back to Downing Street, Cummings decided to drive to the castle and back.
“We agreed that we should go for a short drive to see if I could drive safely. We drove for roughly half an hour and ended up on the outskirts of Barnard Castle town.”
Cummings and his chief defender Johnson have revealed a severe lack of foresight and insight; knowledge of self and reality.
Does he expect people will believe this?
It seems so – as he repeatedly said he hoped the public would judge his actions to be reasonable now they’ve heard his side of the story, confirmed that he has never thought about resigning, and his demeanour and conversation suggested he believed the press conference to be working in his favour.
In reality, it has thrown up far more questions than it answered and has resulted in Cummings, Boris Johnson and all those in the Cabinet defending this unelected Rasputin-like figure becoming laughing stocks. The things that memes are made of.
When asked about Cummings’ innovative Barnard Castle eye test at the Government’s daily Coronavirus briefing following the press conference, the Prime Minister bizarrely reached for a pair of glasses in his pocket before offering: “I have to wear spectacles for the first time in years because of this thing so I think that’s very very plausible that eyesight can be affected by Coronavirus.”
Never mind that ‘I’m blind As A Bat, says Boris Johnson’ was the headline of a 2014 Daily Mail article in which Johnson told the newspaper that he needed glasses to see things around the house.
In not being able to see, from the beginning, how his actions would come across at a time when millions of people have made unthinkable sacrifices – watching members of their family die alone through a smartphone, not being able to attend funerals or those with disabilities having to be left isolated – Cummings and his chief defender Johnson have revealed a severe lack of foresight and insight; knowledge of self and reality.
And those without such blinkers will be able to see through this. It is revealing.
The latest opinion poll out today shows that Boris Johnson’s approval rating now stands at -1% – a 20% drop in four days.
My mother – an Indian immigrant and Labour supporter for many years who voted for Brexit and backed the Conservatives in the past two General Elections, as I have written about previously in these pages – had never heard or knew much of Dominic Cummings before the events of this Bank Holiday weekend.
Last night, she sent me a message unprompted saying how silly she thought the chief advisor had been: “Cummings created more problems for himself. Gone driving to check his eyesight with a four-year-old child? How stupid can that be.”
Will any of this have any bearing on the future direction of the country? We will have to wait and see.
But this we know: what is once seen, cannot be unseen.