Sky News also had to interrupt and apologise. Their voiceover lady was clearly told to keep her finger on the button after Cummings got away with a “sh*t” and a “f*ck” earlier…
If there can be one definitive summary of Cummings’ select committee appearance, it’s that he really does not like Matt Hancock. He may have thrown other key government officials under the bus – he’s reversed it over Hancock for good measure. Not only did he claim he and the Cabinet Secretary told the PM Matt Hancock should have been fired for “10 or 15 things”, he has also accused the Health Secretary of telling falsehoods about testing in care homes. Cummings claims the PM came close to sacking him last April…
Boris’s desire to remove Matt Hancock in the next reshuffle is widely-rumoured in SW1. Last week Sky News speculated we could have faced a reshuffle today, which would likely have spelt the end for the Health Secretary; the claims were immediately quashed by numerous sources, however, including to Guido directly when he made inquiries. He now hears from allies of the PM that a reshuffle should absolutely not be expected before July 21st. Given Parliament’s summer recess begins the day after and runs through to September 6th, it would seem rational to suspect the obvious date for a reshuffle will be between September 6th and the start of Tory conference on October 3rd. Hancock may inadvertently end up being the 8th longest-serving Health Secretary since the war…
Follow all the top quotes and clips below:
09:34: Opens with quite a mea culpa “The truth is senior ministers officials and advisers like me fell short of the standards the public has a right to expect. When the public needed us most we failed, I would like to say to all the families how sorry I am for the mistakes we made”
9:42: On Whitehall’s unpreparedness, Cummings says lots of “people were literally skiing” in February. The PM went on holiday for two weeks. Only in the last week of February did people start giving it the attention it deserved.
9:48: Cummings did not advise the PM to attend COBR at the start of the year. He did not attend either.
9:50: Cummings complains about things leaking from the government to the media.
9:55: As trailed in the Mail, Cummings claims Boris wanted to be injected by Covid live on TV by Chris Whitty to show it was nothing to be concerned about.
9:56: Cummings claims he is not a smart man.
10:00: Cummings denies he changed his blog to explicitly mention Coronavirus. He denies wasting time during the pandemic updating it.
10:08: Herd immunity – Cummings says Hancock was “completely wrong” to say on March 15 last year that herd immunity wasn’t part of the plan. “It was regarded as an unavoidable fact”.
10:11: Cummings didn’t disagree with official SAGE advice at the start of the pandemic, including calling for a cancellation of various live events including Cheltenham races.
10:13: Cummings claims on the evening of March 11, he told the PM the scientific consensus was wrong, texting the top team that social distancing has to be introduced “tomorrow”. He wanted to announce on March 12 the ‘stay at home’ message – 11 days before Boris eventually did.
10:28: Cummings sent a text to PM saying “We’ve got big problems coming. The Cabinet Office is terrifyingly sh*t – no plans, totally behind pace”.
10:29: Cummings says Covid planning was derailed on March 12 by both Trump’s bombing campaign and Carrie distracting the press office after a Times story about Dilyn the dog: “Part of the building was saying are we going to bomb Iraq, part was arguing about whether we’re going to do quarantine… and the prime minister has his girlfriend going crackers about a story on the dog”.
10:30: Cummings claims the then deputy cabinet secretary Helen MacNamara said “We are absolutely f*cked“ because there was no lockdown plan.
10:50: Cummings says he thought Hancock should have been fired for 15/20 various different things throughout the pandemic. He says the Cabinet Secretary also said Hancock should be fired.
10:52: Cummings dodges question from Rosie Cooper MP about whether ministers should face corporate manslaughter charges over Covid – says “I don’t know what the rules are”.
10:56: Cummings claims “at this point Trump had the CIA flying around trying gazump” UK on PPE in China.
11:04: Cummings finally defends someone – Rishi. Denies he lobbied against lockdown because of economic fears. “I knew that Rishi and his team were extremely competent”.
11:11: Cummings sticks the knife into Boris: “Any system that ends up with a choice between Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson to lead the country has gone terribly terribly wrong.” “It’s completely crazy that I should have been in such a senior position.”
11:14: Cummings says the person he spoke to most in the media in 2020 was Laura Kuenssberg, though he spent less than an hour a week dealing with the media. Greg Clark points out a lot of information could be conveyed to the media in an hour.
11.15: Cummings says “The Prime Minister is 1,000 times more obsessed with the media than he should be.”
11.20: Cummings squirming when questioned whether he’ll release messages between him and the media.
11.46: Cummings compares senior government management at the start of the pandemic to ‘that Spider-Man meme”, with everyone pointing fingers at each other.
12.32: Scathing on Hancock (again): “If we don’t fire the secretary of state and […] get testing into someone else’s hands, we are going to kill people and it’s going to be a catastrophe.”
12.35: Cummings says the government failed to understand the significance of asymptomatic transmission and the way the virus spreads. Claims that “even now” there’s an over-emphasis on hand-washing.
12.49: Boris “came close” to removing Hancock in April 2020. Cummings saying he could only speculate on why Hancock stayed put – adding there there was “no good reason” to keep him.
12.53: Cummings claims the “only reason” he stayed at Downing Street beyond the summer was because he was warned of an even greater wave of the virus in the winter.
13.03: The government “putting a shield around care homes [was] complete nonsense”. Cummings says virtually no-one was tested upon returning to their care home.
13.10: Cummings insists “we should have shut the borders in January.”
13.13: On whether the leaders of the devolved administrations were listened to during COBRA meetings: “to be honest, I don’t remember what they were saying.”
13.15: On the government’s handling of the pandemic: “Overall system total failure“.
13.49: Cummings says the Barnard Castle drama was “a complete disaster” that undermined trust in the entire pandemic response. Also claims he had to leave London over security concerns for his family – not just because of his illness. He says it was a “terrible, terrible mistake” not to be honest about this.
13.54: Cummings stresses his limited influence over Covid policy. Says if he could have clicked his fingers, the borders would have closed earlier, masks would have been mandated immediately, and Matt Hancock would have been sacked.
13.57: Cummings again saying he persistently disagreed with Boris over Covid strategy, claiming Boris was always more concerned about the economy.
14.00: On whether he lied about testing his eyesight during the Barnard Castle trip: “If I was going to make up a story, I’d have come up with a hell of a lot better story than that one, right?”
14.01: Cummings attributing the success of the vaccine programme to Kate Bingham’s leadership.
14.07: Again hammering the government over their denial of the initial ‘Plan A‘ strategy: “I’m completely baffled”.
14.11: Cummings encouraging MPs to seize control of the legislative agenda (as with Brexit) and force the Covid inquiry to be opened sooner. Says “there’s absolutely no excuse for delaying”.
14.20: Effusive praise for Sir Patrick Vallance over his role in the vaccine drive, saying he played a “massive part”.
14.27: Cummings reckons the briefings against Bingham likely came from within the Health Department. Speculates that insiders didn’t like an outsider coming in and doing a better job.
14.32: Cummings describes the bizarro system of diffused responsibility at the Civil Service, which prevents Ministers from reorganising / firing their own teams. Vaccine task-force not beholden to the same rules, making it more nimble and effective.
14.42: Session adjourned until 15.05.
15.05: We’re back.
15.15: Cummings says on the week of 15th September, Vallance and Whitty both advised at least a two-week lockdown. Boris ignored them. “The Prime Minister was listening to people who said we had already reached herd immunity.”
15.20: Hancock apparently agreed with Cummings on implementing a second lockdown in September.
15.26: Cummings says he heard the PM say the “let the bodies pile high” quote. Claims it was said after Boris agreed to the 31st October lockdown.
15.30: Cummings says he “wasn’t surprised” by the delay in adding India to the red list; it was “totally in-character” for Number 10.
15.31: On Eat Out to Help Out, Cummings says he opposed the PM’s overall strategy, though he “can’t remember” what he said about that scheme specifically. He says he “didn’t may much attention” to it.
15.35: Describing how difficult it was to create a mass testing infrastructure for several months.
15.39: Scathing attack on Carrie Symonds – claims she repeatedly attempted to appoint her friends into senior jobs, and that she “wanted him out“. Cummings saying he only stayed because he wanted to help prevent as many deaths as possible heading into winter.
15.40: “I thought the whole process about how the PM was behaving at that point was appalling and that was all part of why I went.”
15.45: Paul Bristow is admonished for swearing on-camera as he quotes a text from a Downing Street staffer: “Disingenuous little f*cker”.
15.50: Cummings claims Matt Hancock used Vallance and Whitty as shields for his own mistakes.
15.52: Cummings says Raab didn’t get enough credit for taking over when Boris was hospitalised. “Nobody had dealt with the situation Dominic Raab faced since Churchill in World War 2.”
15.53: Cummings thinks Raab and Rishi did “an outstanding job“.
15.53: Cummings saying he told Boris to sack Hancock “almost every day“. Others said to only sack him later as a scapegoat during the inevitable inquiry.
15.54: The division bell is distracting everyone. Cummings struggling to hear the questions.
16:01: On tiering: “The whole point was to try and shift from a world in which you’ve got no real data and no real understanding…to a world where you can be hyper-targeted…I think that was the right approach”. Adds that despite being right in principle, “it was not done well“.
16:04: Again emphasising his diminished influence after the 2019 election.
16:10: Claims Cabinet government is ‘just for show‘ – Boris takes all the major decisions.
16:15: Cummings stresses that Rishi ‘never‘ threatened to quit if the government implemented a September lockdown: “He was just desperate for a plan that we might stick to”.
16:20: Sarah Owen MP: “do you think Boris Johnson is a fit and proper person to get us through this pandemic?” Cummings: “no”. What a surprise…
16:30: Again railing on the insularity of the Civil Service. Says almost all job applications should be open to ensure the best people are recruited. Too many internal appointments. “Everyone has stupid things like ‘strategy’ in their job titles”.
16:34: Back on Hancock again: “Not attending some of the COBRA meetings chaired by Hancock is not a sign of not taking things seriously.
16:37: It’s finally over.
Up until perhaps the 1990s, parliament’s benches were filled on the Labour side with union veterans, people who had previous professional careers in the public sector or law. Likewise on the Tory benches you would find pin-striped captains of industry, City grandees, retired colonels, country squires and plenty of lawyers. There were exceptions, and even some women, on the whole though members of parliament tended to have some life experience, which comes with ups and downs, knocks and triumphs. That changed as political careers vectored from Oxford University, a job at party HQ learning about the cynical machinery of politics, or at a campaign or a think tank, followed by a spell as a special adviser before being parachuted into a constituency. Cameron becoming Tory leader aged 40 exemplified the potential youthful path to power…
This is not a good thing; Guido always advises young people intent on a career in politics to go and do something else for a decade, something productive. Guido has no insight into what ails the youngest MP in parliament, Nadia Whittome, such that she needs to take a break from parliament due to PTSD. Parliament may be daunting though nothing akin to the trenches of the First World War. The shells lobbed on social media may ruin your day, they don’t kill. The human mind however can be fragile and politics is a contact sport, which social media makes feel like a 24/7 activity. Taking a break may help one gain more perspective. Having more years of life experience outside the political crucible might just give aspiring politicians more much-needed perspective.