You can’t handle the chaos
Gove? Mitchell Gove? Sorry, Michael? No, never heard of him, why?
“You want answers?”
“We think we’re entitled.”
“You want answers?”
“We want the truth.”
“YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH! Son, we live in a world that has governments. Those governments have to be run by geniuses. Who’s going to do it? You? Boris Johnson? Fundamentally I regarded him as unfit for the job.”
“You weep for Matt Hancock, and you curse Rishi Sunak. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know: that Hancock’s sacking, thoroughly deserved, would probably have saved lives. I said sack him almost every week. Sometimes almost every day.”
“All the different Spider-Mans are all pointing at each other.”
On Dominic Cummings went, on and on and on. There were hours and hours of it. It went on so long they had a tea break, like a cricket match. “It is completely crazy that I should have been in such a senior position,” he told us. “Just as it’s completely crackers that Boris Johnson was in there.”
It wasn’t a meltdown, or a rant, it was intended as a measured takedown, though it was clearly offered more in anger than in sorrow. The opening apology was particularly well delivered, wishing he had done more, had pushed harder sooner. It exposed, by contrast, the line that Johnson would trot out yet again at prime minister’s questions: that he takes full responsibility for not having got anything wrong.
Cummings, by contrast, took responsibility for… well, for what, really? For believing Matt Hancock, for not staging a coup against Johnson. It seemed that his main self-criticism was that he hadn’t followed his own instincts. When we had needed Classic Dom, we had instead got a weakened formula. He kept insisting, unconvincingly, that “I’m not a smart person.” But we knew that, in the end, his real failure had been that he just hadn’t Dommed enough.
The picture of the prime minister that emerged was of a man fundamentally unequal to the task, someone who had to be kept out of Cobra meetings for fear that he would sabotage them, lazy, unable to take decisions, pushed around by Carrie Symonds, “a thousand times too obsessed with the media”. He’d refused to take the disease seriously, he’d wanted to be injected with Covid live on TV to show that it was safe, he’d had to be pushed into the first lockdown and had immediately regretted it. It was a mistake to think that nearly dying had changed his attitude to the disease.
“This whole system is chaos,” Cummings said he’d told Johnson. “This building is chaos. You are more frightened of me having the power to stop the chaos than you are of the chaos.”
It occurred to us to wonder how it was that, if Johnson was so clearly unfit for office, he had got there in the first place. Cummings had thought about this, it turned out: it was a symptom of our broken political system. This felt like the man who’d burned your house down was explaining that it was really the fault of whoever it was who’d installed curtains that absorbed petrol so well. The solution turns out, for some reason, to be more Dom. “Ideally,” he said at one point, “you’d have had a dictator.”
Greg Clark and Jeremy Hunt, the committee heads who were jointly chairing the session, were loving it all. Neither has much time for Johnson. Younger, more loyal Tory MPs tried their best to steer the witness back to less controversial waters, but it was like sending a rowing boat out against a supertanker.
The longer he went on, the less his words added up
As Cummings will tell you if you ask – or even if you don’t – Tory MPs are too stupid to be trusted with anything that matters. The job of destroying Dominic Cummings’s credibility would have to be done by Dominic Cummings.
And the longer he went on, the less his words added up. One minute, he was explaining that really he’d had no power at all, the same minute – really, the same minute – he mentioned in passing that he’d chosen the new Cabinet Secretary, the most powerful civil servant in the land. It was a filthy lie to suggest that he’d edited his blogpost, he’d simply added some words to it.
Much of Cummings’s evidence seemed to involve explaining that things which had been furiously denied last March were, pretty much, true. We never got onto who it was who had ordered the long, angry rebuttals and the freezing out of any journalist who was less than fawning. “I’ve never complained about the media,” Cummings, a man who in 2016 issued a press release denouncing ITV for having the temerity to talk to Nigel Farage about Brexit, explained.
On the notorious trip to Durham, well, that had been a disastrous mistake, obviously, which had destroyed trust in the government. He hadn’t told us the whole truth about the situation at the time, although the new details he added didn’t make a whole lot more sense. Again, somehow it seemed to have been someone else’s fault, though whose was not quite clear. Moments later, he was demanding to know what else Downing Street was covering up.
Aside from Johnson, his main target was Hancock, whom he accused of lying repeatedly, most crucially saying that elderly people would be tested for Covid before they were moved to care homes. He didn’t say why no one in Number 10 thought to ask how this would be achieved at a time when the government was only capable of running a few thousand tests a day.
He had praise for others, most notably Rishi Sunak. Even when we turned to the question of the fight for Lockdown Two, where the Health Secretary and Cummings were on the same side against the Chancellor, it turned out that Sunak’s doubts were Hancock’s fault. Subtle, it wasn’t.
One person, though, was not mentioned at all. Even though, early on, Cummings had explained that the Cabinet Office is “terrifyingly shit”, not a single word passed his lips about the minister in charge there. That person, funnily enough, is Cummings’s longest- standing political ally, and the man who might be best-placed to enter Number 10 if Johnson, Hancock and Sunak were to blow up.
His name will come to us, I’m sure.
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