This week we watched Dominic Cummings, Chief Special Advisor to the Government explain his decision to break the lockdown rules. Was the public outcry justified? Yes, it’s a matter of character.

The chant was ‘He did what any Father would do’. But he isn’t anyone! He should operate to a higher standard. Why? Because although not a politician he is a leader. A person with significant influence whom others follow. Would Mr Cummings judgement call have been different if he had considered this? Perhaps not. He made clear his judgement was based not only on it being an emergency but also concerns about harassment. Also, the regulations gave no explicit directions and so it was a matter of discretion. None-the-less as a leader one’s action are, and should, be open to scrutiny.

Whether we agree with Mr Cummings judgement call is not the point that I wish to make. Rather, his unwillingness to be held accountable. This was evidenced by the delay in making a public statement, and, then only on the instructions of the Prime Minister. Also, his lack of humility, where many others had worthy emergencies but maintained compliance with the regulations. In my opinion, all of this showed a lack of character and an absence of leadership in not choosing to give an account immediately.

As a Government Advisor, I understand some of the responsibility Mr Cummings carries. I also appreciate the need to be accountable.  I have had to evaluate my personal choices to ensure they are not perceived as running counter to policy. I know I must ‘lead by example’. Have I always gotten it right? No, and neither will Mr Cummings. Let’s hope he’s learned his lesson.

The problem is that whilst Leaders today recognise it’s their job to hold others accountable, they often act as if they are accountable to no-one. This goes across the political spectrum. BREXIT was full of examples including;

(i) the Prime Minister was found to have intentionally called a 5-week suspension of Parliament to silence MP’s [1], or

(ii) Labour MP’s who were personally supportive of Remaining in the EU. Yet despite the majority of their Constituents voting in the Referendum to leave they lobbied in Parliament and voted to stay. [2].

Defining Character

What is character?  It’s about morals. An old-fashioned word that we seem to have abandoned in our attempts to be politically correct.   If we want greater accountability, transparency, fairness and integrity in Government, then it starts with the moral character of the leader.   This makes this incident worthy of our time and attention. It also provides a reminder that Great leaders have character.


[1] ‘Boris Johnson’s unlawful conduct has been called to account”, The FT,  https://www.ft.com/content/2b217664-deb9-11e9-b112-9624ec9edc59 [accessed 27/05/2020]

[2] ‘o the Labour MPs who want to reject May’s Brexit deal – are you sure?’, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/nov/30/labour-mps-reject-may-brexit-deal-voted-leave [accessed 27/05/2020]