On Wednesday Dominic Cummings, the former senior advisor to the non-performance artiste whose stage name is Boris Johnson and one time motoring auto-optician, gave evidence to MPs sitting on the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee about the British government’s (mis)handling of the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic last year. He painted a picture of a chaotic and dysfunctional government which was not only utterly unprepared for the gravity and magnitude of the situation, but which was headed by a deeply unserious Prime Minister who refused to accept that the virus represented a grave threat and that the lives of thousands were at risk. Worse than that, he described a Prime Minister who enjoyed and thrived on the chaos he created, because that chaos meant that his own power and importance could not be threatened. Johnson not only refused to accept that the pandemic was a serious threat, but according to Cummings even wanted to get injected with the virus on live TV to show that it wasn’t such a big deal.
Cummings made the worst allegation that it’s possible to make about a government, claiming that due to the incompetence, negligence and inaction of Boris Johnson and other senior cabinet members, tens of thousands of people died who might otherwise still be alive. The primary duty of any government is to keep people safe, Dominic Cummings, who was at the centre of British government decision making during a crucial period of the pandemic, tells us that it failed to do so. He said that Johnson is unfit for office, which is possibly the most obvious observation since the Judaean child protection service noted that King Herod might not have had the interests of the first born at heart. It does however beg the question of how the self-proclaimed “super- predictor” Dominic Cummings wasn’t able to predict what a disaster Johnson was going to be when he was plotting to get him into Number 10.
Of course Dominic Cummings shares with Boris Johnson and that Michael Gove who was mysteriously absent from Cummings’ account of governmental dysfunction the title of least trustworthy man in British politics, but nevertheless what he said rang true. It is not at all difficult to believe that Johnson behaved in a manner that was all bravado and show but which lacked any understanding or care for the wider consequences on the public because that is exactly how Cummings and Johnson tackled Brexit as well. It’s how this Conservative administration has behaved at every turn.
Cummings tried to call out Nicola Sturgeon for giving public briefings after Cobra meetings like that was a bad thing. Meanwhile, the Tories at Westminster were selectively briefing papers to their friends in the right wing press with the result that vital public health information was left behind paywalls.
Cummings was very careful not to throw any mud at his pal Michael Gove, in fact from his evidence you’d almost believe that one of the most powerful and influential figures in the Conservative government was actually working as a county councillor in one of the more remote regions of Mongolia during the entire period of time in question. You’d almost imagine that Dominic wasn’t so much interested in getting to the truth but in score settling and making sure that he didn’t damage his mate Mikey’s chances of sliding into the top seat one day, an eventuality which would be very convenient for Dominic’s career prospects.
It was health secretary Matt Hancock who received the full blast of his ire. Matt Hancock always gives the air of a man who would be over-promoted as the deputy manager of a Little Chef off the A1 somewhere near Barnard Castle where he had served Dominic a burnt and greasy all-English breakfast. Cummings accused Hancock of repeatedly lying and said that he should have been sacked on numerous occasions. His fury about Hancock was so intense that you almost expected the committee to ask Cummings to show them on the dolly where Hancock had hurt him. That fury was as intense as any mention of Michael Gove was absent.
In the Commons today Matt Hancock faced questions from opposition MPs about the devastating allegations made against him the previous day. He didn’t just fail to answer the question, he simply refused to acknowledge that the question had even been asked.
The UK is a state whose parliamentary arrangements allow an urgent question from the opposition about serious allegations about the behaviour of a secretary of state, which the secretary of state can simply fail to recognise, let alone address, never mind answer. Hancock’s performance was the perfect illustration of how the British government cannot be held to account. Hancock, Johnson, Gove and Cummings all know that too, which is why they could behave the way that they did. Conservative MPs, whose contempt and hatred for Dominic Cummings is equal only to his contempt and hatred for them, were perfectly happy for Hancock to pretend there were no questions to answer.
Today Johnson also brushed off the accusations Cummings had made, and like his minion Hancock refused to respond to any of the details of the allegations.
The UK has no functioning mechanisms which enable those in power to be effectively held to account. It has a partisan and heavily right wing media which won’t ask the obvious questions. According to Cummings,just ten days before England finally went into lockdown far too late to prevent many thousands of deaths, a senior government official waltzed into No 10 to declare: “I think we are absolutely f****d. I think this country is heading for a disaster, I think we’re going to kill thousands of people.”
If the UK was a properly functioning democracy you might have expected those well paid journalists who let us know what their “sources in government” tell them to have questioned the danger that was so obvious. Instead we got the BBC and others amplifying and broadcasting the self-serving lies and propaganda of of government of chancers and opportunists who were hopelessly out of their depth – but who at least went to the “right” schools and had the “right” contacts. Meanwhile the media in Scotland eagerly sought to use the failings of Johnson and the Tories as a means to manufacture another attack on the Scottish government. The very same press which slated the Scottish government for “undermining the four nation response is now demanding to know why the Scottish Government didn’t undermine it earlier.
Today Labour leader Keir Starmer repeated calls for an immediate public inquiry, calls which the government with the aid of Tory backbenchers will continue to resist. Yet when that enquiry finally does take place, it will only report back long after those responsible for the failings have moved on. It will make some anodyne recommendations, blame some minor civil servants and advisors, and the entire corrupt and chaotic British governmental performance piece will sail on regardless. If no one can ever be held to account there can never be reform. Scotland certainly can’t reform the UK. You can’t reform a car wreck write-off, you can only abandon it and find a new vehicle.
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