‘Lions led by donkeys’
By Ricky Browne
Its always entertaining to see someone sling mud whilst simultaneously trying to wash his hands clean. It takes great dexterity. But that is what the British public got a chance to view yesterday.
Dominic Cummings gave more than six hours of televised evidence today, when the prime minister’s former top aide was questioned by MPs on how the government had handled the Covid-19 pandemic.
“When the public needed us most, we failed” he said.
His testimony gave Cummings an opportunity to twist the knife once more in the wound he had earlier inflicted on Boris Johnson, when he had said that it was government policy to head for herd immunity. He repeated that in his testimony.
Out of the hours of testimony, there were perhaps two comments which stuck out more than others. First was his statement that it was completely “crackers” that he should have been in such a senior position, when they were many people more qualified and able than him.
“I’m not smart” said Cummings, who holds a first-class degree in modern history from Oxford University.
And secondly, he made another swipe at Johnson’s fitness for office when commented that the party political system was broken if the choice that it should give the electorate was between two unfit candidates like Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn.
Any system that gives a choice between Johnson and Corbyn is a system that has gone “terribly wrong”, he said – while seeing nothing wrong in contributing to that system.
Corbyn was the campaign director for the Leave campaign, and was Johnson’s main advisor from 2019 to leaving office in 2020.
Cummings was dressed in his usual overly casual way – no T-shirt, but a loose-fitting white cotton button down long sleeve shirt, with the sleeves rolled up below his elbows and the top two buttons undone – no tie in sight. It looked like the same shirt he wore for the famous news conference he in the garden at Number 10 to explain his trip to Barnard Castle.
Anybody who might have believed from previous TV appearances that Cummings doesn’t own an iron, had no reason to change their view on this occasion.
On the first point, if he thought he was unfit for his position, the question might be why did he resent being out of power… and why did he think it necessary to embarrass the Prime Minister with allegations of his unfitness, shortly before the local elections.
Cummings also took out his knife for Health Minister Matt Hancock, who he said should have been fired for lying in government meetings on Covid-19, and for 15 to 20 things.
“I said repeatedly to the Prime Minister that he should be fired and so did many other senior people,” Cummings said.
It appears that in a nutshell, Cummings is saying that he saw the light on the futility of going down the herd immunity route before most others – and that Johnson was wrong not to immediately pick up on his proposed ‘Plan B’ once he was told about it on around March 14.
He seems to believe that thousands of people needlessly died, because government did not act quickly enough.
“The problem in this crisis was very much lions led by donkeys over and over again” – where presumably he was a lion — although not a very smart one — and the Prime Minister was a donkey.
“Senior ministers, senior officials, senior advisers like me fell disastrously
Government failed when the “public needed us most” he said, and apologised for his own mistakes.
Cummings said that the power he had over influencing the Prime Minister was exaggerated “If I could have clicked my fingers” things would have been different, he said, adding Hancock would have been fired, masks would have been compulsory and borders would have been locked down. “I had very little influence on Covid stuff” he said.
He also highlighted that the Prime Ministers girlfriend hated him, which didn’t really help his position either.
“The Prime Minister was like a shopping trolley, crashing from one side to another,” Cummings said. Later he said that he thought Johnson was completely “unfit” for the job of Prime Minister.
“Do you think the Prime minister is a fit and proper person to get us through this pandemic?” Cummings was asked.
“No,” he answered.
In contrast to the Prime Minister and Matt Hancock, Chancellor Rishi Sunak came in for a lot of praise from Cummings for his performance during the period. Whether or not the Chancellor will relish getting praise from Cummings remains to be seen.
The question was asked that if he was hedging his bets for a role under a future Sunak administration, but his reply was that the general consensus from many people, including most people in government and his wife, was that the less that is heard of him from this point forward, the better.
“I think everyone from my wife to everybody in Westminster and Whitehall will agree that the less people hear from me in future the better,” he said.
Cummings also apologised for the “whole debacle” over his trip with his wife and child to Durham and then to Barnard Castle – during a nationwide lockdown — which he’d previously tried to explain away in a meeting in the Rose Garden at Number 10 back in March.
Meanwhile, the response from Downing Street has so far been minimal. “We won’t engage with every allegation made by Dominic Cummings” – said a Downing Street spokesman. But it appeared that Boris Johsnon was taking the testimony seriously, as he had combed his hair for PMQs.
What benefit there is to questioning Cummings – who appears to have it in for both the Prime Minister and some of his former colleagues — during the pandemic seems to be questionable.
But, it does make interesting television for those who love politics – and it gives the BBC a welcome break from its navel gazing and having to continue to explore how its reporter Martin Bashir may have tricked Princess Diana into having an interview with him 25 years ago.