Public anger swells ranks of Tory MPs turning on Dominic Cummings

Rowena Mason, Kate Proctor and Heather Stewart
Photograph: Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images

Dominic Cummings has little love for Tory MPs, having once said they “basically don’t care” about ordinary people.

But a swelling band of Conservatives showed on Tuesday they were prepared to be swayed by the ordinary people who are their constituents, as at least 32 publicly called for Cummings to resign or be sacked for breaking lockdown rules.

A further eight were publicly critical of the senior aide’s actions, and three Tory MPs said off the record that they thought he should be forced out.

“He claims to be part of a government of the people against ‘the elite’, but really he has shown contempt for the people I represent,” said one who is urging him to go.

Despite Cummings’ attempt to explain himself at a press conference in the rose garden of No 10 on Monday, a trickle of Tory MPs expressing anger turned into a deluge throughout Tuesday, as their postbags and inboxes bulged with furious complaints.

Steve Baker, the straight-speaking former Brexit minister, was the first to put his head above the parapet over the weekend, with an article entitled “Cummings must go”.

Many more were given the impetus to speak out after Douglas Ross, the MP for Moray, issued a blistering statement of resignation as a Scotland Office minister shortly after 9am on Tuesday.

“I have constituents who didn’t get to say goodbye to loved ones; families who could not mourn together; people who didn’t visit sick relatives because they followed the guidance of the government,” he wrote. “I cannot in good faith tell them they were all wrong and one senior adviser to the government was right.”

One former cabinet minister said Tory WhatsApp groups had buzzed with praise for Ross’s resignation as it happened, which had prompted other backbenchers to feel they should go public.

He denied their actions were coordinated, suggesting instead they had “all moved together, like a flock of swallows”. Others may claim they acted more like vultures, circling floundering prey.

default

There were former cabinet ministers – Jeremy Wright and Mark Harper, select committee chairs such as Caroline Nokes and Sir Bob Neill, and new MPs from 2019.

One of the new intake, Elliot Colburn, representing a highly marginal seat in south-west London, told his constituents: “It is clear that many feel his decision is not one that they would have come to, or have open to them in similar circumstances. I myself do not believe I would have come to such a decision, although I confess that neither myself nor my husband-to-be have children yet.

“What is more, I am deeply concerned about what this could do to the public’s engagement with the measures being taken to tackle this virus.”

Those speaking out were from no particular tribes, ranging from hardline Brexit supporters such as Peter Bone to former second referendum supporters such as Damian Collins.

“The rose garden interview just confirmed to me that he had driven up to Durham when we were in a strict lockdown. He absolutely should resign,” said Bone. “I have 400 emails from people and I’m sitting here with my colleague going through every one, and we’d rather be doing some case work but we just have so many people to reply to.

“None of this is organised. This is individual MPs making up their own minds. There’s no orchestration – this is MPs looking at their constituents’ comments and deciding what to do.”

However, some Tory MPs would like some collective action, such as a delegation sent to the prime minister by the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers demanding Cummings is reprimanded or sacked. Sir Roger Gale, the North Thanet MP, said: “There are people on the 1922 executive who are courageous, and that’s their job. They are elected to tell the PM what he needs to hear, not what he wants to hear.”

The powerful committee, chaired by Sir Graham Brady, was silent on Tuesday and has been generally supportive of Johnson, but has been receiving representations from backbenchers.

The pressure was also piled on by Jackson Carlaw, the Scottish Tory leader, who told STV News: “Given the furore, given the distraction this is, given the distraction of the prime minister on this issue, if I were Mr Cummings I would be considering my position.”

No 10 was still hoping to ride out the storm on Tuesday night, with supporters of the government pointing out that the publicly critical MPs amounted to about one in nine of the parliamentary party.

While some of their colleagues called for Cummings to go, dozens of Tories were also busily copying and pasting supportive messages and the adviser’s full statement to their websites and Facebook pages in an attempt to bolster the government’s position.

However, even many of those who issued statements to defend Cummings have done so through gritted teeth and with deep frustration that the government’s coronavirus response has been so thoroughly derailed.

When asked how Cummings could manage to cause so much damage with a cavalier approach to the lockdown rules, one leave-supporting Tory backbencher who knows Cummings well said the adviser was a master of the resonant three-word phrase – take back control, or get Brexit done – but in this instance a four-word phrase had been more applicable: “Don’t give a fuck.”