Dominic Cummings is the story of the week. There is little doubt about that, but what have we really learned apart from the fact that Cummings is not the sort of person you should have as a friend. His revelations that Number 10 was a mess and had no plan for how to deal with the pandemic seem to have come as a massive shock to journalists, who whilst enjoying the spectacle of Cummings ripping into his, now, political enemies do completely miss the point.

The British people have been let down

Back in March 2020 I wrote a poorly read blog post which started: “The British people have been seriously let down during the current pandemic by the dithering of the Government and its reluctance to take decisive action earlier. This indecisiveness will undoubtedly cost lives. And, whilst it may seem that this was more a consequence of the speed with which the crisis developed than any malignant intent on the part of the Tory Government, that is a very generous interpretation of events.

Whilst this article acknowledged that the pandemic was an extraordinary event, I also made clear that at the heart of our problem was successive governments who had failed to properly prepare for a pandemic experts had been warning them of for years. As I wrote then: “Let’s be clear this crisis has occurred relatively quickly, but nonetheless, it was first identified as a potential pandemic by the World Health Organisation, on January 10th 2020. In other words, the UK Government have had over 3 months to prepare. Moreover, they have had access to both the gene sequence and the good practice provided by Chinese researchers since January 12th. At that stage, the disease was clearly viewed as something happening overseas. In short, they did very little because they didn’t expect it to get here.”

This much was clear even to an observer without any access to government scientists and the array of information, much of which was not in the public domain. “If by early March the Government was preparing to take fairly drastic action it had already wasted as Richard Horton, Editor of The Lancet, has pointed out the whole of February. On February 27th The WHO issued a list of 9 questions for Governments. They included questions about dealing with the first case, having vital equipment (including ventilators), ensuring health workers had protective equipment and the training to use it, and the knowledge and capacity to deal with the number of cases that were likely to occur.

Needless deaths

All that Dominic Cummings has done with his appearance this week is confirm that which we already knew. As he said: “Tens of thousands of people died who didn’t need to die.” But, why was that? Was it simply incompetence at the heart of government? Obviously that didn’t help. But two other things didn’t help either. First, was that the opposition failed to oppose. Starmer, far from holding the government to account offered them his support as incompetent misjudgement after incompetent misjudgement piled high. What is galling now is that some 14 months too late Labour frontbenchers have started to question the Government’s whole strategy. It is as if they had to wait for a Tory to open the criticism before they felt safe to do so. When the architect of the disastrous strategy that led to so many deaths appears more left-wing than the opposition it really is time people woke up to the fact that there is not just a policy black hole at the heart of Labour but a moral one too.
The second key omission, and one which allowed Labour to get away with their lack of opposition was the total failure of Britain’s National media to hold the Government to account. I stand by what I wrote at the time: “It really is incredible that so-called journalists some three months into a pandemic seem to have developed so little actual knowledge of either the disease or the way in which it is being dealt with elsewhere. I would have thought that it was the job of any self-respecting journalist to prepare for briefings. That might be expected to consist of rather more than having a coffee with a minister to get the inside track, and actually doing a little bit of independent reading. The public are certainly being let down in a major way by the politicians who are supposed to protect their interests but they are also being let down by a press corps who are failing in their duty to hold those politicians to account.
Are we expected to believe that a Whitehall as full of dissent as Cummings suggests, managed to keep the conflicts under wraps so that not one journalist on the national media had access to it? Are we really gullible enough to believe that journalists being briefed on a daily basis by politicians and their aides had heard no whispers of dissenting voices? Or, is it more plausible to think that a mass media and opposition who had spent the best part of four years ensuring that we should not elect a left-wing Prime Minister were completely in awe of the politicians they had put in place? One of Cummings lines, reported without a single opposition or journalistic voice was that the country should not have had to choose between Johnson and Corbyn. As if Jeremy Corbyn, a man who has spent a lifetime championing the oppressed is actually comparable to a lying, philandering, racist, Eton posh boy who has had privilege granted to him by dint of his good fortune in being born wealthy. But, of course, the national media do not like Jeremy Corbyn so continuing their smear campaign against him to deflect from their role in Britain’s worst peacetime disaster is considered fair game.

Poor journalism

In March 2020 I wrote: “As one minor example of how poor these “award winning” journalists are, when the UK Government committed its U-turn on March 16th Laura Kuenssberg justified it on the main BBC News by saying that “the science had changed”. That was simply untrue. There had been no change at all in either the science or the advice coming from the WHO about what needed to be done. What had happened was that Imperial College had modelled the science and come up with a figure. Something that they could have done weeks before, and something, in fact, that may or may not turn out to be either an over or under-estimate of the actual death rate. For the BBC to keep repeating the lie that “the science has changed” is not just misleading it turns them into government propagandists not independent journalists capable of holding the government to account.
It really is no surprise that Johnson was too busy to deal with the pandemic, that he treated it as a joke or that to Carrie Symonds some nonsense about a puppy was far more important. It’s also no surprise that Matt Hancock is unfit for public office. What is a surprise is that it seems to be a surprise to the mass media. How have these highly trained and multiple award winning so-called journalists managed to miss all of this shambles taking place under their very noses?
Let’s just pause for a second though and reflect that it was the entire establishment letting down the people of the U.K. In my article I noted the following: “Jenny Harries, one of the Government’s advisers and Deputy Chief Medical Officer, said on Thursday evening in relation to the WHO’s urging to ‘test, test, test’ that the UK was not the same as other countries. Her claim that “They are addressing every country, including low and middle income countries” seems absurd and it is also untrue. The claim is that the UK does not have the same public health systems as other countries. That is true, the majority of developed countries have better health systems than we do.I have studied the World Health Organisation advice very carefully. They do not distinguish between countries based on wealth or income. Indeed, they have been urging a rigorous testing regime since February. To  claim that the WHO advice does not apply to the UK based on the spurious claim that our health system is better prepared is not only wrong it is dangerous. And, it shows how the scientists flanking the PM see, at least part of their role, as justifying the inactivity of the government rather than protecting the citizens of this country.”

Holy triumvirate

So here we have the holy triumvirate completing the job of obscuring the truth whilst thousands of people were sacrificed on the alter of government incompetence. An opposition too scared of its own shadow to ask questions even under cover of parliamentary privilege, a mass media too in love with Johnson and his corrupt cronies to do even basic homework and a scientific community prepared to sell its soul for the illusion of their own self-importance. Meanwhile people were dying in their thousands needlessly. If only the government, opposition, media or scientists had paid attention to what had happened in Italy or how effectively New Zealand had coped with the virus. Neither of these countries are that far removed from the U.K., but instead if a comparison was sought it was with anti-lockdown Sweden fuelling the most outrageous conspiracy theorists about the motivations of government.
In September last year I spent some time investigating the Sweden success story, and this is what I found: “Fast forward to June 2020. The British Medical Journal had an article by Heba Habib, which claimed that “Sweden’s public was supportive of the strategy but is now paying a heavy price.” The Swedish strategy was not one of pretending that the virus does not exist, nor of seeing it as an invented disease by some shadowy organisation as conspiracy theorists would have you believe, but rather was to develop a ‘herd immunity’, the same strategy which the British government were pursuing until they lost their nerve.As Habib notes the early success of the strategy was quickly overtaken by events. “Sweden has the largest number of cases and fatalities in Scandinavia—around 37,000 confirmed cases at the time of writing, compared with its neighbours Denmark, Norway, and Finland which have 12,000, 8,000, and 7,000 cases, respectively. All three neighbouring countries adopted a lockdown approach early in the pandemic, which they are now slowly lifting. All three have since re-opened their borders, but not to Sweden.”
But, let’s not dwell on the past when the present is so much more fun. Cummings account rather than precipitating a period of national mourning for the thousands who died needlessly, the death of effective political opposition, the death of anything resembling a campaigning press or the death of trust in science, has led to a routine and rather predictable further round of lies and obfuscation from the main players. The right wing press, that is to say most of it, have aided the government to go into damage limitation mode by describing Cummings testimony as an ‘act of revenge’.  Let’s just explore one contestant for the ‘should give up that job title as completely untrue’ award. Laura Kuenssberg, the BBC’s award winning Political Editor, writes: “The hours of testimony gave a disturbing sense of an administration simply overwhelmed by the scale of the Covid crisis at the start of last year – scrambling, and failing to keep up on many fronts.” That’s paragraph 2, by paragraph 3 the tone shifts somewhat: “In one sense, given that the situation was unlike any other event in recent history, that was not surprising. With the success of the vaccination programme, there is little sign that much of the public right now is in a strong mood to punish the prime minister for those early mistakes.” Is this just honest exposition? Or, is this Laura preparing to do the unimaginable: criticise the Prime Minister? If she has to criticise the Government, and even somebody as prone to covering for them as she appears could not really ignore the weight of evidence, then first soften the blow. It was an unprecedented time, and besides the public love Johnson not least because of ‘his’ successful roll out of the vaccine. Of course that is not exactly what she says, but it is easy to see that is precisely what she is inferring.

Plausible deniability

The point here is not to dismiss the plausible evidence that the government was incompetent but to remind readers and viewers that anybody would have struggled (don’t mention Jacinda Ardern). And, then, when the evidence is overwhelming turn on the witness. “But the testimony also showed that Mr Cummings himself had only told the partial truth about his own journey out of lockdown. His bizarre press conference all those months ago in the Rose Garden was not “the truth, and nothing but the truth”, as today he cited security concerns about his family, rather than just his wife falling ill” Strangely at the time Kuenssberg was very quick to jump to Cummings defence, answering the Mirror’s Pippa Crerar who tweeted that he had broken the rules with these words: “Source says his trip was within guidelines as Cummings went to stay with his parents so they could help with childcare while he and his wife were ill – they insist no breach of lockdown” That, my friends, is impartiality in action. And, just in case, you didn’t get the point, towards the end of the current piece we are reminded: “And remember, Mr Cummings’ own reputation is not stain free.” Interestingly enough, not only Kuenssberg, but most mainstream journalists, let the fact that he almost certainly broke the lockdown law (not just guidance) something they could quickly move on from.
I’ve cited my own previous articles here not to say ‘I told you so’, though I did, but more to show how easy it was to reach what have turned out to be the correct version of events. Of course, when privately educated ministerial aides are briefing there will always be much that they keep from the public. But, if Kuenssberg, Peston and the rest of the dross we rely on for news had an ounce of journalistic integrity it would not need somebody like me, existing on the margins, to document the truth. If, the scientists advising the government, had an ounce of scientific integrity they would not have covered for this shambles because they were rather too enamoured of their self-importance and if the opposition had an ounce of political integrity it would not have turned its back as tens of thousands died merely to appear “governmental”. This pandemic has shown starkly, and not just in Britain, that the whole system is rotten to its core. Frankly, whether Johnson and Hancock resign is irrelevant. Cummings is right they are not fit to hold office, but the fact is that what we now know is that virtually none of the establishment are fit to hold office. They do so based on a system of privilege and patronage. We can only grieve for the 127,748  dead and commiserate with their families. But, to avoid the same outcome we must not forget that the vast majority of them could have been saved if only the establishment cared as much for our lives as they do theirs. I don’t want to change a few faces at the top table, I want to see the top table completely demolished. That is my lesson from this shameful debacle.

Another great site by the Dangerous Globe

Another great site by the Dangerous Globe

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Dave Middleton
I'm Dave Middleton. I am a member of the Labour Party (until they catch up with me) and like to think of myself as left-wing. My Twitter account is @DavMidd Please do feel free to email me about this blog at
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