UK PM Johnson’s support plunges over Cummings scandal

A man wears a mask depicting Dominic Cummings, in reference to a recent trip made by Cummings to Barnard Castle, amid COVID-19 restrictions, Barnard Castle, Britain, May 27, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 27 May 2020

UK PM Johnson’s support plunges over Cummings scandal

  • Cummings, one of the architects of the 2016 Brexit campaign, drove his wife and young son on a 264-mile trip from London to Durham
  • The polls add to a sense of growing revolt over the government’s handling of Cummings, with nearly 40 Tory MPs demanding he lose his job

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson saw his public support suffer the sharpest fall for a Conservative leader in a decade Wednesday as he prepared to be grilled by lawmakers over his handling of the Dominic Cummings scandal.
Johnson has stuck by Cummings despite a public and political backlash over his top aide’s travels to visit family despite the government’s strict rules to curb the coronavirus pandemic.
“The Cummings affair seems to have really cut through to the public and is taking a rapid toll on support for the government in general and the prime minister in particular,” Tim Bale, Professor of Politics at Queen Mary University of London, told AFP.
“The danger is that it triggers and reinforces a long-held concern among British voters that the Conservative Party cares more about its rich friends than about ordinary folk.”

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A YouGov poll for The Times newspaper showed the Conservative lead over the main opposition Labour party shrink by nine points in a week.
The survey put the Tories on 44 percent — down four points — and Labour on 38 percent, up five points over the past seven days.
The last Tory leader to see his lead fall by the same amount was David Cameron during the 2010 general election campaign.
A poll in the Daily Mail newspaper showed Johnson’s approval rating had plummeted from 19 percent to minus one percent in just a few days — despite leading his party to a comprehensive general election victory just six months ago.
Cummings, one of the architects of the 2016 Brexit campaign, drove his wife and young son on a 264-mile (425-kilometer) trip from London to Durham, northeast England, during the strictest phase of Britain’s coronavirus lockdown.
His wife had by then developed COVID-19 symptoms, and Cummings himself came down with the virus a few days later.
Cummings has also admitted taking a 60-mile round trip to a local beauty spot — as he explained, to test his eyesight — before driving back to London.
Although some have suggested the support and criticism of Cummings is split along pro- and anti-Brexit lines, Bale says public disquiet goes further.
“An awful lot of Leavers think the whole thing stinks — something that should worry the government, big-time.”
The polls add to a sense of growing revolt over the government’s handling of Cummings, with nearly 40 Tory MPs demanding he lose his job, while one junior minister has quit in protest.
Among those to add his criticism of Cummings overnight was former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, who came second to Johnson in last year’s Conservative leadership contest.
Hunt, in a letter to a constituent, said that Cummings had broken the government’s own rules and that there were “clearly mistakes,” the Guardian reported.
However, cabinet minister Robert Jenrick, the housing, communities and local government secretary, backed Johnson’s top advisor on Wednesday.
“I think, is the time for us all to move on,” he told the BBC, adding that Cummings had not broken any government guidelines.
He added that anyone could drive across the country to seek childcare in the same way that Cummings did, but said there would be no review of fines imposed on those who have done that before now, contradicting suggestions on Tuesday from Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
Britain is one of the worst-hit countries by the pandemic, with more than 46,000 deaths attributed to COVID-19 by mid-May, according to official statistics released Tuesday.
Johnson’s government, whose tally only includes deaths confirmed by a positive test, has counted 37,048 fatalities.


US ‘cloud’ supremacy has Europe worried about data

Updated 11 min 18 sec ago

US ‘cloud’ supremacy has Europe worried about data

  • Europe is sitting on a wealth of data that is the 21st century equivalent of a precious metal mine
  • Europeans may be allowing American tech giants to gain control of all the excavation equipment

PARIS: Europe is sitting on a wealth of data that is the 21st century equivalent of a precious metal mine during the gold rush.
But instead of exploiting it themselves Europeans may be allowing American tech giants to gain control of all the excavation equipment, some experts say, pointing to a flurry of European companies announcing deals with US tech players for cloud services.
Renault, Orange, Deutsche Bank, and Lufthansa recently plumped for Google Cloud. Volkswagen signed up with Amazon Web Services. The French health ministry chose Microsoft to house its research data.
The cloud is a term for offering data storage and processing services externally so clients don’t need to invest as much in costly gear.
This trend has sparked concern particularly in Germany, which has a rich trove of data thanks to its powerful industrial sector.
The EU is “losing its influence in the digital sphere at the moment it is taking a central role in the continent’s economy” warned a recent report by a group of experts and media leaders under the leadership of the former head of German software firm SAP, Henning Kagermann.
“The majority of European data is stocked outside of Europe, or, if stocked in Europe, is on servers that belong to non-European firms,” it noted.

A senior French official recently delivered an even more blunt assessment in a meeting with IT professionals.
“We have an enormous security and sovereignty issue with clouds” said the official at the meeting, which AFP attended on the condition of respecting the anonymity of participants.
“In many cases it is convenience or a sellout” by European companies and institutions “because it is simpler” to sign up with US tech giants than find European options, said the official.
“However we have very good firms offering cloud and data services,” he added.
One of the causes of concern for Europeans comes from the Cloud Act, a piece of legislation adopted in 2018 that gives US intelligence agencies access in certain cases to data hosted by US firms, no matter where the server may be physically located.
“My company is American and I know very well what the implications are of the legislation,” said a Franco-American executive.
“And given what is happening in US policy debates, that situation won’t be getting better.”
Beyond the integrity of data, it is the capacity to analyze and exploit that information that worries many European experts and policymakers.

If in Europe “we are just capable of generating data and need others to exploit it then we are going to end up in the same situation as countries with mineral resources that rely on others to process it and end up with meagre economic benefits,” said the French official.
The French and Germans unveiled in June the GAIA-X project that aims to develop a competitive European cloud offer.
Rather than encourage the development of a European champion — in the mold of Airbus in response to Boeing — that would offer the full gamut of services, the project takes a different tack.
It aims to set standards so different firms could offer storage, processing, security and artificial intelligence services seamlessly. It would operate as a marketplace of sorts where each client could find the services they need without having to leave European jurisdiction.
It is hoped GAIA-X’s decentralized model might prove a better fit with the issues raised by treatment of data from connected devices.