From 'he should go' to 'media witch-hunt' - the differing takes on Dominic Cummings from Lancashire's top Tory councillors

Clear blue water has emerged amongst some of Lancashire’s most senior Conservative politicians over the Dominic Cummings saga.
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Lancashire County Council leader Geoff Driver says that if he had been in Boris Johnson’s position, he would have asked the senior aide to resign amid the controversy over his lockdown trip to County Durham – and his activities while he was there.

But in a survey of opinion around the top table of councillors at County Hall, another Conservative cabinet member described the affair as a media “witch-hunt” – and warned that it was journalists who risked encouraging the public at large to flout the ongoing lockdown rules by their coverage of the story.

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Shaun Turner, cabinet member for health and wellbeing at the authority – but speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service in a personal capacity – said he had wanted to know “what had gone on” when the story about Mr. Cummings broke over the weekend.

From top left - Dominic Cummings (Getty Images), County Cllr Shaun Turner, County Cllr Geoff Driver and County Cllr Keith IddonFrom top left - Dominic Cummings (Getty Images), County Cllr Shaun Turner, County Cllr Geoff Driver and County Cllr Keith Iddon
From top left - Dominic Cummings (Getty Images), County Cllr Shaun Turner, County Cllr Geoff Driver and County Cllr Keith Iddon

But County Cllr Turner – who represents Wyre Rural East – said that following the controversial adviser’s explanation of events, people either had to “believe him or call him a liar”.

“I can see that the circumstances he was in could lead you, as a parent, to do [what he did]. But one theory that’s being peddled is that his actions will affect [adherence to] the lockdown.

“I think it’s this incessant, aggressive, witch-hunt by the mainstream media which could very well lead to people breaking the [rules] – and I’d obviously be keen that they didn’t.

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“But I don’t think it will cause any normal, upstanding person to do that,” County Cllr Turner said.

However, County Cllr Driver said that he believed Dominic Cummings should have left Downing Street over the affair – but accepts that Boris Johnson had to make his own assessment, taking other issues into consideration.

“Only the Prime Minister can judge how vital Dominic Cummings is to the administration moving forward.

“But on the basis of what I know [about] what he did, he should have gone. He clearly broke the guidelines by leaving home when his wife – and possibly himself – had symptoms of Covid-19.

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“I don’t see that it was an exception where he could use his discretion,” said County Cllr Driver, adding that not a single member of the public had contacted him about the issue.

Deputy county council leader Keith Iddon said that locals had approached him with concerns about the story, but that, for him, the issue was “black and white”.

“Dominic Cummings is claiming that he was allowed to do what he did within the legislation – if that is true, then fair enough. But if it’s not, he should go.

“As the first cabinet member to appear in the media on the subject, Grant Shapps [the transport secretary] was very clear that, as far as he was concerned, Dominic Cummings hadn’t done anything wrong,” County Cllr Iddon said.

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Margaret Smith, leader of the Conservative opposition group on South Ribble Borough Council, warned that the party had to keep an eye on the opinion of both the general public – and grassroots Tory members.

“I think they will have to do something to get the rank and file back on board.

“There is a real strength of feeling amongst everybody, because people have been incredibly good about the lockdown in the main, “ Cllr Smith said.

Seven members of Lancashire County Council’s cabinet and the leaders of the Conservative opposition groups on Preston and Chorley councils were approached for comment.