On Wednesday 26th May, the Prime Minister’s former close ally and Chief Adviser, Dominic Cummings, appeared before a joint inquiry on the Government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and spent over seven hours giving evidence. What he painted was a stark picture of chaos, confusion, dishonesty, and incompetence at the highest level, particularly in the early days of the pandemic.
Mr Cumming’s main targets appeared to be the Prime Minister himself, as well as the Secretary of State for Health, Matt Hancock. By far his most shocking allegation was that “tens of thousands of people died, who didn’t need to die” due to the government’s allegedly incompetent handling of the outbreak in this country. Mr Cummings’ allegations have understandably been extremely upsetting to those who have lost loved ones during the pandemic.
But what are we to make of his claims? The Prime Minister’s former aide cannot exactly be said to hold the public’s trust. He has long been a controversial figure, particularly since his involvement in a Brexit campaign that has since been revealed to have been built on incorrect and false statistics. Mr Cummings was of course entirely disgraced by his now-infamous trip to Barnard Castle in the midst of the first lockdown, which led to his fall from Downing Street.
But Mr Cumming’s problematic history is nothing short of irrelevant to this matter. Regardless of what we make of him and his prior involvement in British politics, his allegations are serious, and they cannot and should not be swept under the rug. This is very notably the first time that a senior political figure has opened up about the government’s handling of the pandemic, and the picture of sheer incompetence he has painted is gravely concerning.
One of the most serious claims made was regarding Mr Hancock’s handling of Covid-19 testing for care home residents. Mr Cummings alleged that he was shocked, in April 2020, to discover that care home residents were not being tested before being discharged from hospitals and returning to their care homes. This, combined with an acute lack of PPE for care home staff, led to excessively high death tolls in care homes. Mr Hancock allegedly lied to senior cabinet members about the testing provisions for care home residents.
Matt Hancock has since given a statement to the House of Commons, claiming that “these unsubstantiated allegations around honesty are not true”. Boris Johnson also brushed off all criticisms in a brief interview, claiming that they “didn’t bear any relation to reality”. The cabinet’s tactic currently seems to be to simply maintain that the Government did the best it could with the cards they were dealt during a time of unprecedented national crisis.
Fortunately for Mr Johnson and his government, this tactic seems to be working. The overall public mood is currently forgiving. Though the allegations have caused distress for many who have lost loved ones, with the vaccine rollout steaming ahead at an excellent pace and promises of a summer of freedom hanging in the air, the majority of the public seems keen to put the past year behind them. There is also a debate to be had about whether we have come to expect scandals from our politicians, and that this is why these allegations have not been met with as much shock as might perhaps have been expected.
However, despite the overall lack of public indignity and any reasons that might be behind this, Mr Cummings’ claims are unprecedented in nature and extremely serious. The cabinet’s current tactic of simply brushing off the criticisms is, quite frankly, appalling. As pointed out by Angela Rayner, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, the UK has the highest Covid-19 death toll of any country in Europe.
The government owes it to the people of this country to tell the full truth about what was happening at the highest levels of authority, particularly in the early days of the pandemic. Regardless of Mr Cummings’ personal motivations or politics, all of his claims must be thoroughly followed up. Labour’s calls for the public inquiry into Covid-19 to begin this summer, rather than next year as previously suggested, are more relevant than ever.
Image: Bradford Timeline via Flickr