I used to do a bit of lecturing on crisis communications some years ago including how to handle hostile media interviews. For a while I ran a module on the subject as part of a University PR and Media course.
Partly out of professional interest I watched the whole of yesterday afternoon’s press conference by the Prime Minister’s senior advisor Dominic Cummings.
For the last few days large elements of the media, left-wing politicians and even some Conservative MPs have been calling for his resignation after it was revealed he’d travelled to isolate at a cottage on his parent’s estate during the early weeks of lockdown.
In many ways the media statement he made was the absolute antipathy of what you’d expect from this so-called “career psychopath” media genius, and all the better for it.
Cummings came across as a quiet, humble, modest man trying to give an honest, full account of the decisions he took at an extraordinarily stressful time in his and the nation’s life.
Putting aside the details of the story he came across as a caring, family man doing his best to look after his wife and young child when they fell ill with suspected Covid while dealing with the demands of an extraordinarily high pressure job.
His loyalty to his boss whose time he described as the “most precious commodity” shone through when he explained why he didn’t consult him about travelling to Durham.
“I did not ask the Prime Minister about the decision. He was ill himself and had huge problems to deal with. The honest truth is that there are endless problems all day long and I can’t go to him all day asking him what do you think about that, what do you think about the other, otherwise what’s the point of having people like me around.”
So did Cummings’ humility when he admitted that he made errors every day: “Sometimes I do the right thing, sometimes I make mistakes.” Twice he spoke about the “personal hardship endured by millions” to dispel the suggestion that there was one rule for him and another for the rest of us. “I know the British people hate the idea of unfairness,” he said.
At the end of it I thought well that’s that then, no one could condemn the man in these circumstances. Would any boss hearing that account decide to sack his subordinate.
For God’s sake surely people can find it in themselves to cut Cummings some slack, what mean-spirited times we live in when a seriously ill man, who has had a close family member die, whose wife is also seriously ill and whose young child has been taken to hospital by ambulance is still condemned.
All this when working under the most intense pressure, being constantly abused on social media and with demonstrators outside his house while working for a boss who himself is gravely ill at a time of national emergency.
And yet ploughing on regardless of whether they are right or wrong are the usual suspects of SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford, former Tony Blair campaign director Alastair Campbell and disappointingly now new Labour leader Keir Starmer.
For me it would be a travesty of justice if Cummings was to go. I hope Boris sticks to his guns and ignores the baying mob.