After deploying a lengthy and sustained attack on the government on Twitter over the last few days, the former special adviser attended a select committee in which he – over the course of seven hours – painted a picture of a government and civil service more akin to a losing team on the Apprentice than any competent system, while also showing he was more than up to date with the latest memes...
But, with so much to sieve through – and after what could have huge ramifications for individuals within the government and the Conservative party itself - what should you have paid attention to?
Here are the main takeaways from Cummings’ testimony:
Beginning of the crisis: “Lots of key people were literally skiing in the middle of February”
Cummings alleged he was concerned about the potential of a pandemic as early as January. He said he texted Health Secretary Matt Hancock to ask if pandemic planning structures were in place and that Hancock reassured him. He said these plans turned out to be “completely hollow” and that he regretted not following up on the issue.
He said there was a lack of urgency from people in the government when the crisis started to unfold, with people even “skiing” in February. “In no way shape or form did the government act like it was the most important thing. It didn’t act like it was the most important thing in February, let alone January,” he said.
Cummings argued that a lot of the government’s logic was based on “duff studies” from behavioural scientists assuming that the public would not accept restrictions.
He said he tried to persuade Johnson to impose lockdown earlier by presenting a different plan and said that his fears were echoed by others in Downing Street, including the Cabinet Office’s Helen McNamara, who allegedly told Cummings “We’re absolutely f*cked” in March.
“This is like a scene from Independence Day with Jeff Goldblum saying the aliens are here and your whole plan is broken,” Cummings told the committee (much to the delight of Twitter).
Boris Johnson: “Like a shopping trolley slamming from one side of the aisle to the other.”
It was expected that Cummings would unleash hell in Boris Johnson’s direction and indeed he did. He alleged the Prime Minister made a number of controversial comments regarding coronavirus, including that he saw it as “the new swine flu” and “a scare story”. Cummings also said it was suggested chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty should inject Johnson with the virus on live TV to show it was nothing to be scared of.
He also alleged Johnson was more concerned about the measures against Covid causing harm than the disease itself, and that it was “crackers” that the public had to put up with Johnson leading the fight against the virus. “The problem in this crisis was very much lions led by donkeys over and over again,” he said.
During the summer, when cases were low, the Prime Minister apparently regretted lockdown and said he wished he had acted like the mayor from the film Jaws who kept the beaches open during a crisis, comments that have been reported in the past, according to Cummings. Cummings also said there was a general notion by the summer that the crisis was over, which turned out to be a “terrible, terrible mistake”. Johnson was “more concerned about the economy” by that point, he said.
Cummings also spoke about the PM’s relationship with the media, which he said “about a thousand times too obsessed with”, to the point that it stopped him from being able to do his job. He said Johnson was completely led by headlines when planning his day and that Cummings “fundamentally disagreed” with him on “pretty much everything with communications”. “If the Prime Minister changes his mind 10 times a day, and then calls up media and contradicts own policy day after day, you’re going to have a communications disaster,” he said.
Something that everyone was keen to find out about was Johnson’s most controversial alleged comment. Cummings confirmed that Johnson did make a comment about letting “bodies pile high” in anger, on 31 October. He even said Johnson preferred there to be chaos in the country so that people could look to him “to see who is in charge”.
“I regarded him as unfit for the job”, he said, and added that by the end of October their relationship was “pretty much finished”. Overall, he said, Johnson was “like a shopping trolley slamming from one side of the aisle to the other.” Ouch.
Quizzed about the claims at PMQs, Johnson said it would be a matter for the public inquiry to look into but “I am absolutely confident that we took the decisions in the best interests of the British people,”
Sarah Owen MP: "Do you think the PM is a fit and proper person to get us through this pandemic?"
Dominic Cummings: "No".
Matt Hancock: “He should’ve been fired for at least 15, 20 things”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock bore perhaps most of the brunt of Cummings’ wrath. He said Hancock “should have been fired for about 15 to 20 different things… including lying to everybody on multiple occasions in meeting after meeting in the Cabinet room and publicly”. He claimed that many senior officials agreed with him.
Damningly, he accused Hancock of “criminal, disgraceful behaviour” over his public pledge to do 100,000 tests a day by the end of April. He said it caused huge problems for the government because it meant Whitehall was caught between rushing to hit this “stupid target” and building “medium term” infrastructure to make more tests. He said Hancock “wanted to go on TV and say ‘look at me and my 100,000 test’” and that “he should have been fired for that thing alone”.
Testing had to be moved out of Hancock’s department a new body for it to work and by the time test and trace was set up there were too many cases for it to function, Cummings said.
He also said Hancock lied about people being able to get treatment for other illnesses over the summer (“he knew that was a lie”) and said he was responsible for people not being tested before entering care homes and “seeding” coronavirus.
Hancock blamed scientists for various issues and used Patrick Vallance and Chris Whitty “as a shield for himself,” Cummings also alleged.
A spokesman for Mr Hancock said: “We absolutely reject Mr Cummings’ claims about the Health Secretary,”
Herd immunity: “It’s like the old chicken pox parties”
Cummings appeared most aggravated when talking about herd immunity and said he had no idea why the government was “lying” about pursuing it as a strategy. He said there was an assumption in government that there could either be one sharp peak of the virus, followed by herd immunity by September, or a moderate curbing of cases, followed by an even worse second peak in the winter, which would have been worse for the NHS.
On 12 March, he said Johnson was told by the then Cabinet Secretary Mark Sedwill to go on TV and explain the herd immunity plan by saying “it’s like the old chicken pox parties, we need people to get this disease because that’s how we get herd immunity by September.” At the time, Cummings allegedly said: “Mark, you’ve got to stop this chicken pox analogy”.
Rishi Sunak and Dominic Raab
Cummings described Sunak as highly “competent”, praised him for the furlough scheme and made no criticism of Eat out to Help Out. “He did an outstanding job”. He also praised Dominic Raab who stepped in while Johnson was in hospital with coronavirus and doesn’t get “nearly enough credit for it”. We wonder why…
Cummings is asked if he's angling for a job in a future Sunak-led administration:
"I think everyone from my wife t… https://t.co/DR3TCYr2ML
Cummings had an apologetic tone throughout the committee meeting. At the start, he apologised to the families of people who died and said that he included himself as one of a group of “senior officials” who “fell disastrously short of the standards” that the public have a right to expect from government.
“I’m not a smart person,” he said while justifying why he did not attend SAGE meetings and said he sent physicists instead and, speaking about the nexus of power in government, said it was: “Completely crazy that I should be in such a position. I’m not smart.”
He should have resigned “by September” he said but decided to stay to mitigate against the weaknesses of other people in the government.
Borders: “No proper border policy”
Cummings said the government were held back by an idea that it was “racist” to close the borders. “It’s madness,” he said. He said there was “fundamentally no proper border policy because the prime minister didn’t want a proper border policy”.
Durham trip: “The whole thing was a complete disaster”
In the afternoon, Cummings revealed that he had “left out a crucial part” of the reason he drove to Durham from London while his wife had coronavirus symptoms. He said he had been receiving death threats to him and his family during the early days of the crisis and felt that it was important to move out of London for security reasons. He claimed officials in the government knew about it and he chose to keep it a secret to avoid future threats.
“The whole thing was a complete disaster and... the truth is, if I just when the Prime Minister said on a Monday, ‘we can’t hold this line, we’re going to have to explain things’, if I just basically sent my family back out of London and said here’s the truth to the public, I think people would have understood the situation,” he said.
With regards to driving to Barnard Castle to test his eyesight before returning to London, as he said at the time, he stood by his explanation but admitted it was “such a weird story” and that it “didn’t seem crazy at the time”. “If I was going to make up a story I would have come up with a hell of a lot better one than that one right?” he said.
Carrie Symonds: “She was going crackers about something completely trivial”
Cummings had harsh words about Johnson’s fiancée as well. He said that one of the reasons lockdown was delayed is because the government was distracted by Symonds “going completely crackers” about a “trivial” story about her dog’s behaviour that was reported in The Times. He also said she was “desperate” to remove him and his team from Number 10 and tried to appoint “her friends” to positions in Number 10 in a “completely unethical” and “clearly illegal” manner.
“My resignation was definitely connected to the fact that the Prime Minister’s girlfriend was trying to change a whole bunch of different appointments at Number 10 and appoint her friends to particular jobs... I thought the whole process about how the Prime Minister was behaving at that point was appalling and all that was definitely part of why I went,” he said.
Vaccines: “It could have been faster”
Cummings said the vaccination policy worked but said it could have been rolled out faster if healthy people had been injected with coronavirus to provide research, and said that families should have been offered money if those involved in the testing died. We could have had vaccines by September if this had taken place, he said.
Shielding: “Completely hopeless”
The procurement system was “completely hopeless,” Cummings said. The government was “turning down ventilators because the price had been marked up.”
“It completely beggars belief that that kind of thing was happening,” he said.
The shielding policy was “hacked together in two all-nighters”, Cummings said. He said senior members of the government didn’t want to put out a helpline for people shielding because they thought it would be too difficult to organise. There was a lot of “shrugging” when it came to helping shielding people, he said.
Whitehall system: “Failures programmed by the failings of the system”
Cummings said the functionality of government had a role in the crisis due to bureaucracy making it difficult to fire incompetent people and let competent people reach senior levels in the government. This is where his Spider-Man moment came.
“What is it about Whitehall that promotes so many senior people who are out of their depth?” he said.
“These failures are programmed by the failings of the system,” he added, and said it was not just individuals like Johnson and Hancock who were to blame for the pandemic.
“In a well run entity, what would have happened here, in my opinion, you would have had a kind of dictator in charge of this,” he said, for it to have been dealt with successfully.
Autumn and Winter lockdowns: “Hit and hope”
Johnson did not listen to any advice about having a circuit break lockdown in September, instead opting to “hit and hope”, according to Cummings. Even his foe Hancock apparently supported Cummings on it, he said, and criticised Johnson for not “learning from mistakes”.
He said he was not surprised that the government wasn’t acting quickly to deal with the Indian variant and said he had “deja vu”.
Inquiry: “Tens of thousands of people died who didn’t need to die”
Cummings pushed for a public inquiry into the pandemic. Johnson has committed to an inquiry which will start in spring 2022, but Cummings said: “When you have a crisis this bad, you’ve got to face reality.”
“Tens of thousands of people died who didn’t need to die,” he told MPs. “There is absolutely no excuse for delaying that because a lot of the reasons for why that happened are still in place now.”