The Dominic Cummings Chronicles: Boris Johnson’s Ex-Adviser to Testify
LONDON — A 12 months in the past this week, a brusque, defiant determine in shirt sleeves appeared within the sun-dappled backyard behind 10 Downing Road to give probably the most extraordinary information conferences in current British political historical past.
On Wednesday, that very same man — Dominic Cummings, then essentially the most highly effective adviser to Prime Minister Boris Johnson; now arguably his most harmful enemy — will testify earlier than two Parliamentary committees on Britain’s dealing with of the coronavirus pandemic. It’s being billed as a can’t-miss sequel within the Cummings Chronicles.
Mr. Cummings is anticipated to unload a trove of inside particulars about how Mr. Johnson bungled Britain’s preliminary response, necessitating what he claims had been months of pointless and ruinous lockdowns. His account, a few of which he previewed in a dense, didactic Twitter thread over current days, is probably going to embarrass a frontrunner who bounced again from that wobbly efficiency, largely on the power of Britain’s swift rollout of vaccines.
“Dominic Cummings has lengthy been often called a person who brings a bazooka to a knife combat,” mentioned Matthew Goodwin, a professor of politics on the College of Kent. “I think he shall not stroll quietly into the night time.”
Mr. Cummings and Mr. Johnson have traveled a good distance since final Might, when the prime minister backed him up in a furor over his violation of Britain’s lockdown guidelines. Emboldened by the boss’s assist, Mr. Cumming was unrepentant about his determination to drive 260 miles to his mother and father’ residence, waving away questions on the information convention about why he had been so cavalier concerning the guidelines.
However Mr. Johnson later fell out with Mr. Cummings, firing him in November. Final month, the aide turned publicly on his ex-boss, accusing him of unethical conduct within the expensive ornament of his flat in Downing Road and of attempting to shut down a leak investigation as a result of he feared it could antagonize his fiancée, Carrie Symonds.
With its promise of additional juicy particulars about an alliance gone dangerous, the testimony is probably going to be political theater of a uncommon classic. The Sunday Instances has speculated that Mr. Cummings will say Mr. Johnson missed quite a few early coronavirus conferences as a result of he was busy engaged on his long-delayed e book about Shakespeare.
Public well being specialists say Mr. Cummings may make clear authorities choices which might be nonetheless poorly understood, whether or not as a result of they’ve been cloaked in secrecy, distorted by after-the-fact spin or just misrepresented. That, they mentioned, would quantity to a beneficial step in studying classes from the pandemic.
As Mr. Johnson’s most influential aide, Mr. Cummings sat in on conferences of the federal government’s scientific advisory group, often called SAGE, the place epidemiologists and behavioral scientists debated the proper response to the pandemic. He immersed himself in modeling knowledge and shaped robust opinions concerning the want for fast lockdowns, which he says was brushed apart by a authorities that originally determined to enable the virus to rip by the inhabitants till Britain reached “herd immunity.”
Mr. Johnson’s aides have lengthy denied that was their purpose, however Mr. Cummings mentioned in a Twitter submit that herd immunity was “*actually the official plan in all docs/graphs/conferences* till it was ditched” after new knowledge confirmed that hospitals would collapse, and greater than 250,000 individuals may die, if nothing had been accomplished to curb the unfold. Even then, Mr. Johnson waited till March 23 to impose a lockdown.
“Why did SAGE fail so badly at the beginning?” mentioned Devi Sridhar, head of the worldwide public well being program on the College of Edinburgh. “Who was liable for these choices? I’m very curious if he’s going to level fingers.”
“If Cummings is ready to put apart the political and private facet and give attention to the planning facet,” she mentioned, “we may keep away from making the identical errors sooner or later.”
To this point, Mr. Cummings has been circumspect concerning the position performed by the federal government’s chief medical adviser, Chris Whitty, and the chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance. However given how a lot he is aware of — and the way a lot he has already disclosed on his weblog and Twitter — authorities officers are nervous concerning the fallout, significantly for Mr. Johnson, who Mr. Cummings mentioned had fallen “thus far beneath the requirements of competence and integrity the nation deserves.”
Mr. Cummings, 49, performed a key position in Mr. Johnson’s ascent, masterminding the Brexit marketing campaign in 2016 and the prime minister’s election victory in 2019. When the virus struck Britain, Mr. Cummings was on the coronary heart of the Downing Road operation.
He mentioned he favored the response of East Asian nations like South Korea and Singapore, which imposed fast lockdowns, huge test-and-trace operations and bans on international journey. Britain dawdled on lockdowns, failed to arrange a reliable test-and-trace program and solely belatedly imposed journey restrictions — all of which contributed to 127,700 deaths, the best toll in Europe.
“If mass testing had been developed correctly earlier in 12 months as cd/shd have been, wd in all probability have prevented lockdowns 2&3 whereas awaiting vaccine,” Mr. Cummings mentioned in a Twitter submit. In one other, he wrote, “Some of the basic & unarguable classes of Feb-March is that secrecy contributed enormously to the disaster.”
The downside with Mr. Cummings’s message is the messenger. His determination to flout the foundations — most notoriously in happening a household outing to Citadel Barnard that he claimed he undertook to take a look at his eyesight — arguably did extra to injury the federal government’s credibility than any single incident through the pandemic.
“He’s a tainted supply,” mentioned Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary College in London. “However simply because he has an ax to grind and a credibility downside, doesn’t imply he’s not telling the reality.”
For Mr. Johnson, the saving grace could also be that Mr. Cummings is testifying at a time when Britain’s vaccination marketing campaign has pushed down instances, hospitalizations and deaths. Although there are considerations about flare-ups of a variant first seen in India, the federal government stays on observe to reopen the English financial system absolutely on June 21.
Neither is it clear how a lot lawmakers will press Mr. Cummings on Mr. Johnson’s private peccadilloes. On Tuesday, there was a recent reminder of his checkered historical past, with the discharge of a report by the Conservative Occasion that concluded Mr. Johnson’s disparaging references to Muslims throughout his days as a newspaper columnist had fostered the impression that the occasion is “insensitive to Muslim communities.”
For all of the static round Mr. Johnson, nevertheless, his occasion simply scored spectacular victories in regional elections in England.
“Cummings would have the option to do extreme injury to a chief minister and a authorities that was in bother and was unpopular,” Mr. Bale mentioned. “However this authorities is just not in bother and the prime minister could be very well-liked.”
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