It has been quite a weekend. I’ve spent far too much of it watching press conferences, seeing friends fall out on social media and writing (and quickly deleting) my own tweets. I am not sure anybody emerges from it with much credit.
The Government has had a dreadful weekend. At one level, if the account that Dominic Cummings has given us is true, you can be sympathetic. It can’t be easy juggling immense responsibility at a time of national crisis, sickness and parenting requirements. And you could argue that some of his reasoning appears coherent.
Yet there can be little doubt that he breached the spirit of the Government’s regulations- and that plenty of people in a similar position chose to make sacrifices in order to stay at home. Now you could say that the regulations were too tight and that Dominic Cummings should have been entitled to make reasonable provision for childcare in line with his instincts. Or you could say that the letter of the regulations allowed what the Cummings family did and the Government failed to communicate that opportunity to other parents. What you can’t say is that the Government has handled this well and there is no case to answer.
I desperately want to be sympathetic to the Government. I know that this is the hardest situation that any Government has faced for a generation or more. And yet it is the arrogance and self-righteousness that has become hard to defend. The fact that we have the worst outcome in Europe must indicate that they have made errors. And yet the response is banal and simplistic tweets that are an insult to the intelligence, sent out by those who must know better. Worse, the result of these is likely to be damaging in the weeks ahead.
A friend of mine noted the lack of grace being shown to the Government by their critics. That is true- I’ll say as much in a moment. But the problem is that grace flows to the contrite- to those who are prepared to admit their own weakness and fallibility. And that is what has been desperately lacking.
But, at the same time, I’m not sure it has been a great weekend for the critics. Don’t get me wrong- I understand the pain expressed by those who have not seen loved ones in their dying moments. But, in a more general sense, it seems to me that to criticise somebody fairly you need to have made some effort to put yourself in their shoes for a while. And, although I think Dominic Cummings has been far from the greatest influence in public life, one must be able to acknowledge the difficulty of the situation he was in at a time when his mind must have been racing with a weight of responsibility. So this is the time for cautious rather than hyperbolic criticism (which is why I deleted my tweets over the weekend that headed on a bit of a rant). I think this is a poor Government- but there has been far worse in the history of the world. You need to leave yourself somewhere to go with your levels of criticism for the times when there is real malevolence involved.
In the end the reality is that we are a bitterly divided country. There were exceptions but the weekend felt like the Brexit divide being re-ignited with self-righteousness and exaggeration on both sides. It is a desperate position for our country to be in.
So here I am- writing from a position of moral superiority describing a plague on both your houses. And yet I can’t. Because if the accusation against Cummings is hypocrisy then I haven’t got a leg to stand on. I know that I am better at preaching the Christian life than living it. There are vast swathes of places where somebody could come at me saying “You told us to live like that but you have done the opposite.” And if the accusations against the critics is leaping to conclusions without putting yourself in the other person’s shoes then I can certainly think of times that I have done that.
Which means that the only cry at the end of the weekend has to be- “God have mercy on us all.” A divided country facing a dangerous epidemic with weak leaders that is desperately divided. And I can’t stand in judgement over that. How we need to cry for the Lord’s mercy and the work of His Spirit.