Dominic Cummings, once the most important adviser to the prime minister, has blown apart the web of lies spun around the British government’s handling of the pandemic.
Cummings is utterly untrustworthy and out to boost himself. But for his own reasons, giving evidence to MPs on Wednesday, he stuck the knife into Boris Johnson and his health secretary Matt Hancock.
A great deal of what he said was already widely suspected. But Cummings confirmed that what Tories derided as “rumour” and “tittle tattle” was in fact the truth.
He stated that “herd immunity” had indeed been the Tory strategy for dealing with Covid-19— and that ministers were prepared to let people die in their thousands to achieve it.
Cummings said that in the crucial months of January to March 2020 Johnson was in complete denial about the virus. Even when it became clear that many thousands were going to die and that the NHS could be overwhelmed, Johnson refused to consider lockdown measures.
In evidence, Cummings said it was a good thing that Johnson missed so many vital meetings deciding on key Covid-19 policy. Johnson, he said, would have insisted there was “nothing to worry about”.
The prime minister had even suggested he be injected with the virus on live TV in order to prove that it was relatively harmless.
Cummings added that in early 2020 as the virus was spreading in Britain, Johnson “went away on holiday for two weeks” to his Chevening countryside estate and “lots of key people were literally [on holiday] skiing in the middle of February."
Cummings accused Hancock not only of rank incompetence but of lying to ministers.
Cummings said that Hancock had reassured him and others that there were adequate supplies of PPE protective medical equipment. This was just as stocks ran out and panic spread across hospitals.
Hancock had also lied about throwing a “protective ring of steel” around care homes. He did this as thousands of infected hospital patients were being discharged into their care.
The cost of these, and dozens of other serious errors, could be measured in tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths, he said. Hancock should have been sacked, and that many key decision makers agreed.
Cummings recalled that in mid-March 2020 cases were spiralling out of control and yet the government remain paralysed and fixed on its “no lockdown” strategy.
As frustration built inside government Cummings recalled the deputy cabinet secretary, Helen McNamara, walking into the prime minister’s office. She said, “I’ve come through here to tell you all, I think we are absolutely fucked. I think this country is heading for disaster. I think we’re going to kill thousands of people.”
Cummings added there wasn’t even a plan for burying the bodies.
The former adviser makes much of Johnson’s inability to make a decision and stick to it.
Yet there is a consistency to the Tories’ approach. They saw all serious measures to restrain the virus as a threat to the economy and to profits, and acted accordingly.
In answer to MPs questions, Cummings admitted as much. He said that lockdown measures were only seriously considered when it became clear that the public was already acting on their own initiative and locking themselves down.
By mid-March offices in London were shutting, thousands were sent home and there was panic buying in supermarkets. This lockdown from below was already hitting the economy, he said, and that tipped the balance in government towards authorising the state’s lockdown.
The deadly pattern of delay was to be repeated again in the autumn. Johnson refused to listen when in September 2020 the government’s scientists were pleading for a second lockdown to prevent a more deadly wave of infections.
By then, said Cummings, the prime minister was insisting that everyone go back to work in offices, schools and factories. Johnson was firmly in the camp of those who said that herd immunity had already been achieved in the population and that the virus was on the way out.
Cummings also confirmed that he heard Johnson make the infamous statement that he would rather see “bodies pile high” than take Britain into a third lockdown.
Throughout his evidence to MPs, Cummings did much to divert anger away from himself.
He cast himself as reluctant and totally unqualified to lead the response to the pandemic—and repeatedly apologised for his failings.
And yet, rather like in a Hollywood movie plot, there he was trying to save the world, despite his inadequacies.
He says that in that autumn he came to the conclusion that Boris Johnson was unfit for office. If this is true, surely he must explain why it is that he didn’t come clean and tell everyone what was really going on?
Almost no one had more media contacts than he did, and yet he kept his mouth shut.
Throughout hours of evidence, Cummings repeated the word “transparency” again and again. So how does he justify keeping secret the lying and failures that led so many to their deaths?
The answer is that Cummings loyalty was not to “science” or to ordinary people suffering in such terrible numbers, but to the class that put him so close to the centre of power.
That class wanted Johnson in office, and they wanted as few restrictions as possible on their ability to profit.