Here it was. At long last. Dominic Cummings in the flesh at the parliamentary select committee. Boris Johnson’s former chief adviser was dressed in the same immaculate white cotton shirt that he sported for his ‘agony in the garden’ appearance in Downing Street a year ago. But this time he wasn’t in the dock. He was like a school governor on prize-giving day, handing out gongs and delivering the odd stiff rebuke to senior prefects.
UK health secretary Matt Hancock got a dressing-down he won’t forget. He was accused of misleading officials and the public.
‘He should have been fired for at least 15 or 20 things,’ said Dom, ‘for lying to everyone on multiple occasions.’
Whoops. Time for Hancock to start work on his memoirs. Boris got off fairly lightly. The weekend newspapers were full of reports that Dom would dump on the British PM from a great height. The buckets of manure were empty. He declined to assert that Boris had called the virus ‘Kung Flu’. The rumor that he bunked off key meetings to complete his biography of Shakespeare also went unconfirmed. Dom, at his harshest, complained that Boris was ‘1,000 times far too obsessed with the media.’ The PM will be delighted to have received such a modest score. Most people would put it at a million.
Dom didn’t shy away from dismantling his personal reputation. The country knows him as the ‘evil genius’, the arch-manipulator of people and events, the malign wizard who can hypnotize the nation and bend us all to his will. But he corrected this impression numerous times. He heaped praise on experts who, he said, were ‘a thousand times smarter than I am.’ He even questioned his own role in government.
‘It’s completely crazy that I should have been in such a senior position…I’m not smart. I’ve not built great things in the world.’
He apologized that lockdown had not been prepared for in January 2020 and imposed sooner.
‘It was a huge failure of mine and I bitterly regret that I didn’t hit the emergency panic button earlier.’
He described chaotic scenes in Downing Street on a key date in mid-March. Meetings with health officials were interrupted by a request from President Trump that the UK join a bombing mission in the Middle East. Adding to the mayhem was Carrie Symonds who went ‘crackers’ about a press story concerning her and her pet dog. Downing Street was full of separate officials racing around and working on different projects. Dom added that Carrie (‘the prime minister’s girlfriend,’ as he dismissively termed her) was ‘desperate to get rid of me and my team’.
Some winners emerged from the awards ceremony. Rishi Sunak will be thrilled with his gold star.
‘Rishi and his team were extremely competent… The chancellor completely supported what me and Sir Patrick Vallance were arguing for.’
And he praised Sir Patrick for supporting the vaccine long before others had even considered it.
He singled out the former deputy cabinet secretary, Helen MacNamara, who acted immediately when she realized that any delay to lockdown would be catastrophic. On the evening of March 13 she apparently barged into Downing Street and shouted, ‘We’re absolutely fucked!’ This was the expletive that changed government policy, according to Dom. Her decisiveness encouraged him to bring lockdown forward. As he candidly admitted:
‘I was incredibly frightened about the consequences of pulling the emergency string [lockdown]… What if I’m wrong and I persuade him to change tack — and that’s a disaster?’
He said that the apparatus of government failed because ‘the wiring of responsibilities’ is confused. Ministers have overall control of their departments but they lack the power to fire useless officials.
During the next crisis he advised the appointment of a single civil servant who wields ‘as close to kingly authority as the state has.’ In a word, ‘a dictator.’
This article was originally published on The Spectator’s UK website.