Dominic Cummings’ testimony in front of the joint session of the Commons Health, and Science and Technology committees was brutal, shocking and damning of this government – and of Johnson and Hancock, in particular. In seven hours of evidence, the former chief advisor to Johnson laid bare a catalogue of delays, mistakes, falsehoods and stupidities in the mishandling of the Covid-19 pandemic which cost thousands of people their lives.
Did it count that the testimony came from the architect of a campaign built on lies (Brexit) who had backed the biggest liar of them all in his leadership bid and the subsequent general election? Whatever his own agenda might have been, he spoke of things that Byline Times and the Bylines network have been writing about consistently and confirmed many of our worst suspicions.
The failures of leadership:
Johnson did fail to take the pandemic seriously. The pandemic was not a priority for Johnson and his government in January or February. Bandwidth was absorbed by Brexit and Johnson was minded, as we know from his infamous Greenwich ‘superman’ speech, to view any measures taken to tackle the virus which damaged the economy as more harmful than the virus itself.
Then there was the belief that the British would never stand for lockdown, never stand for masks and testing, that we were incapable of enduring the sort of measures taken in the Far East.
We had confirmation that herd immunity was indeed the only strategy in play until the capitulation in mid March when the evidence of the spread showed the virus to already be out of control. We heard that it was a good thing that Johnson was not at COBR meetings because he would have been flippant in them and that, anyway, COBR meetings were useless powerpoint sessions and the leakiest meetings in Westminster. In any event, in the later months, most decisions were made by Johnson alone with no discussion in cabinet, much less any sort of vote. We were told that it was a fatal error to keep SAGE meetings secret and that groupthink exacerbated already poor decision-making.
At one point Cummings railed against the political system saying:
“Any system that gives people a choice between Corbyn and Johnson shows things are terribly wrong…and parties are wrong. Loads of people could do a better job than either of those two. Crackers that Johnson [and Cummings included himself in the crackers sitution] in the PM role. Lions led by donkeys”
The care home scandal
Most devastating was the confirmation that older and vulnerable hospital patients were indeed discharged to care homes without tests, seeding the virus which then spread like wildfire. Cummings claimed that Matt Hancock had told barefaced lies that testing was happening.
For friends and relatives of victims, this made grim, distressing listening with one reader telling us:
“I feel numb this afternoon having heard all that he said over sending Covid patients back to care homes. I suspected it but to hear it in black and white. My Linda went before her time because of Covid in her care home and we couldn’t even see her!!!! This is bringing it all back. And they effing knew! Like they were all expendable because they were old and infirm. F@@@ing shitbags. I’ll never forgive them.”
It’s a tragic, scarring experience and a reaction that will be shared by people right across the UK. Those people deserve to have an inquiry now, Cummings agreed:
“Tens of thousands died who did not need to die. An inquiry is needed now, not after an election when accounts will have been rewritten and documents will have gone astray. There is no reason for a delay.”
Johnson, the media, Carrie and Barnard Castle
There was a whole lot more – Johnson’s obsession with the media, his actions largely dictated by the media message, his Trumpian slavery to the news; the distractions from Carrie (including her alleged determination to get rid of Cummings and his team), the dog/holidays/divorce; the image of Johnson as a trolley careering around in the supermarket aisles, directionless, changeable, uncontrollable. The continual changing of the message, with Johnson contradicting advice.
Did Johnson say that the bodies could pile up? He did. Did they abandon testing in February 2020 because they were pursuing a herd immunity strategy? Yes. They did. What was the point of testing if 60 to 70 per cent of people were going to get it, ran the argument.
Lack of planning
But in the end, all that really mattered was there was no plan for how to keep us safe; incompetence ruled; decisions were made on false assumptions; the PM thought it was the new swine flu and took it no more seriously after he’d had it than he had before. There was no system in place for shielding…it had to be hacked together in two all-nighters. There was no plan for anything in any kind of detail and by the time infection rates began to climb again in the autumn, it was clear that nothing had been learned from the first wave at all.
In fact, Johnson was more resistant to lockdown than he had been in the first wave and complained that he felt the first lockdown should never have happened, that the numbers had been gamed. Despite all the evidence, he dug his heels in until once again, he was forced to admit defeat. But that is Johnson’s decision-making methodology…leave everything until there is no more time or no alternatives. It’s a crazy, dangerous, irresponsible way to act, much less lead.
Cummings was asked if Johnson was a fit and proper person to get us through the pandemic. “No.” came the simple, bald response.
Sure, Cummings has axes to grind and scores to settle but it was hard not to believe that much of what he had to say had a real basis in truth. What a shame that this ‘whistleblower’ should have done so much to undermine the truth himself and render hollow his apology to the British people for his failure to hit the panic button earlier.
Linda and getting on for 130,000 others…maybe as many as 160,000…looked to Johnson to be in charge and to look out for them. He failed. He failed and continues to fail miserably, disastrously. It did not have to be this way.