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Dominic Cummings‘ lockdown trip to Durham damaged the public’s trust in the Government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, new research suggests.

The report from think tank British Future also warns that the “sense of togetherness” felt by the public during the crisis may be starting to “fray” as lockdown eases.

Mr Cummings sparked fury among Tory MPs and the wider public after it emerged on May 22 that he had driven from his London home to his parents’ farm estate in County Durham, with his wife suffering from suspected coronavirus symptoms, at the height of the lockdown in late March.

In a series of interviews, diaries and surveys, researchers found that people “became notably angrier when describing politicians” after the controversy emerged.

“Public trust in the Government’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis fell after the Prime Minister’s adviser Dominic Cummings was seen to break lockdown rules,” the report says.

“Participants became notably angrier when describing politicians in the later discussion groups and in their diary entries.”

Researchers also found that most people disapproved of Mr Cummings’ actions regardless of their political views.

“The perception that the Prime Minister’s adviser Dominic Cummings had broken lockdown rules was a highly salient issue that appeared to damage trust in politicians,” the report notes.

“It was not, however, as divisive an incident as might be thought. Most people, irrespective of their political views, appeared to disapprove of Cummings’ action.”

The study was carried out for the Together campaign which was set up in the wake of Brexit to bridge social divides.

More than 2,000 people took part in surveys in early March and late May and June and researchers used material from online discussion groups and WhatsApp diarists.

The study found that the first weeks of lockdown were “characterised by a strong sense of national and local unity and an appreciation of the kindness of others”.

But by mid-May, the unity had started to dissipate, the report says.

“The perception that some groups of people were not observing social distancing rules was a major source of division,” it said.

“As the lockdown rules were lifted such perceptions grew more intense. It also became more obvious that different sectors of society were experiencing the Covid-19 crisis very differently.”

Dominic Cummings: The lingering questions

Jill Rutter, author of the new report, warned that past divisions seen before the crisis may start to re-emerge as lockdown eases.

“The shared experience of lockdown made many people feel more connected to their neighbours and local community,” she said.

“Now that sense of togetherness is starting to fray. The good news is that people would rather we kept hold of it.”

The researchers have now called on the Government to “make healing social divides a priority” and to “commit to a practical agenda”.

“Building a kinder and more socially connected society is not a job for government alone,” they said.

“Every sector – education, business, sport, civil society and faith – can make their own contribution to bridging social divide.”