PETER HITCHENS: Sack Dominic Cummings for his wild midnight ride to Durham? Only if you want a LONGER lockdown

This is Peter Hitchens’ Mail on Sunday column

I can’t stand Dominic Cummings. It was loathing at first sight when I first came across him in 2001 and nothing I have heard or seen since has changed my mind.

And I hope that anyone who reads this column knows that I am not a defender of the Johnson Government, which I regard as Blairism without the charm.

So why do I say that Mr Cummings should not be sacked from his Downing Street job? Why am I adamant that he should not be fined or prosecuted for his wild midnight ride to Durham, or for his blurred, myopic bumble up the road to Barnard Castle?

Well, there are lots of reasons. The first is that, like Mr Cummings himself, I think the rules he broke are stupid and futile. The only difference between him and me is that I have argued from the start that they are a mad over-reaction. He has never actually said so.

But he plainly thinks so – or otherwise why did he take no notice of those rules as soon as they interfered with his normal life?

In this, he is the same as Professor Neil Ferguson, the man whose warnings of mass deaths gave the Government the excuse for the whole disaster. If Professor Ferguson really believed this, he would not have dreamed of canoodling with a non-member of his family.

I doubt that anybody much in the top layers of Government truly believes all this rubbish. They know it has not worked and has done terrible damage and only cling to it in the hope that they will not be found out.

They created a panic and lost control of it. They are now just hoping to get through the misery they caused without anybody realising just what a mess they made, or punishing them for it.

Gosh, how I hope that a chilly, severe public inquiry, preferably headed by Lord Sumption, exposes these nincompoops to the derision they deserve, once this is over.

But for now, back to Mr Cummings. Why would you want him sacked? If he is dismissed, then he won’t suffer. He’ll walk into a better paid job in the private sector. What good will that do you?

Far worse, his dismissal or prosecution will only reinforce the unhinged rules which have caused so much misery and illness. If he must be penalised, then so must everyone else. The shutdown will grow tighter and last longer.

This throttling of normal life has already devastated the British economy. Isn’t it time at least to stop making this any worse?

Just you wait for the first of many ‘emergency budgets’ which will rip apart your standard of living and your savings, so that you can live on as a ghost of your former self in the blasted remnants of our former prosperity.

By keeping him on, the Government makes it certain that the remaining respect for those rules will shrivel and die, and they will go sooner. I think they are already fading. The police fear to enforce them. So keep him in his post.

Oh, and I don’t like living in a country where what seem to me to be perfectly normal private actions can be observed and reported by informers. This is what happens when the police become the enforcers of Government whims, rather than impartial servants of the law.

So let him stay, weakened and chastened. Better still, display Mr Cummings and Professor Ferguson at every future Government Covid press conference. Make them wear the muzzles the virus fanatics ceaselessly recommend to the rest of us, and let them keep silent.

And place a big red and yellow notice in front of them declaring: ‘They don’t believe this stuff, and nor do we – so why on earth should you?’

Boris’s one last chance to save us

As the coronavirus itself retreats, how are we going to cope with the panic that lingers everywhere? I still see real fear in the streets, every day, with people afraid of normal human contact.

And I see it in the self-evidently ridiculous restrictions planned in schools, workplaces, hairdressers, pubs and restaurants as we tentatively prepare to reopen some of our closed country.

I see it in the Ratnerisation of public transport by the Prime Minister, who in a few thoughtless words ruined any chance that people would turn away from cars to trains and buses, by proclaiming such travel unsafe.

Tracking and tracing of the panic will be useless. If you find it, you can’t cure it. There is no vaccination. No, there is only one way to dispel it.

Those who caused it must publicly admit they were wrong, that they hugely overstated the danger of Covid-19 and made a terrible mistake.

For a little while, they can do so voluntarily and be forgiven. But, if at long last they must be forced into it, then I do not think it will be half so easy to pardon them.

If closedowns worked, then explain what happened in Japan.

There is still a total lack of evidence that all these closedowns have done any good.

Countries which imprisoned their populations and stifled their economies, such as Belgium, have had high levels of deaths. New York State found that those who obediently stayed at home still caught the virus in large numbers.

But, most striking of all is Japan, which last week ended a less than half-hearted ‘state of emergency’, roughly as mild as Sweden’s policy.

Yet this highly urbanised, crowded nation with a population of 126 million and several enormous cities, has recorded fewer than 1,000 Covid-19 deaths.

All kinds of explanations have been offered for this happy outcome, and you may make of them what you will. But a tight shutdown cannot possibly be one of them.

The whole BBC is just as biased as Emily

If the BBC really disapproves of the blatantly biased outburst by the Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis then it will have to do something pretty ferocious about it. I do not think it will. I think the BBC has taken a decision, deep down, to stop even pretending to be impartial.

About two years ago, something happened in the Corporation. It finally gave up any pretence of balance. I am not sure exactly what changed, but it affected me personally.

I had been appearing on its discussion programme Question Time since the autumn of 1996, roughly once a year. They reckoned that my point of view was shared by some people, and so deserved its turn.

The intervals varied, but that was reasonable. Crafting a panel on QT is a bit like solving a Rubik’s Cube. But then they just stopped asking. Although people tell me I’m ‘always on’, I haven’t been invited back since March 2018. Other invitations from various bits of the Corporation have grown pretty sparse, too.

There is a definite shift. I suspect that the older generation, some of whom genuinely believed in impartiality, are now disappearing. But if that is so, how long can the licence fee endure?