Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and the For the Many podcast with Jacqui Smith.
Thousands of people died needlessly. That’s the main allegation Dominic Cummings made in his seven hours of evidence to the health and science select committees.
But boy oh boy did he go further than that. So far Downing Street has remained relatively calm and rejected most of what Cummings has said, as indeed did Matt Hancock in the Commons yesterday morning. Many people may think Cummings is behaving like a woman or man scorned, and they’d probably be right.
But you can’t dismiss all that he says and wave it away as the ranting of a bitter former employee. There can surely be no doubt that there are serious questions for many people to answer, not least the Prime Minister, Health Secretary and former Cabinet Secretary.
The picture Cummings painted was one of chaos at the centre of government. He said neither he nor the PM were qualified to do their respective jobs and it was a miracle they were both in Downing Street.
I do have a question though. Given Cummings was regarded as Deputy Prime Minister by most people – the most influential man in Number 10, the man with the ear of the Prime Minister, how credible is his “nothing to do with me guv” line?
He was there. He was present. Boris Johnson relied on him, yet he maintains that his warnings were ignored. Yes, he did admit failures on his own part, he apologised again for his visit to Barnard Castle, but the vitriol poured on Hancock in particular had to be seen to be believed. He accused him of lying to the Cabinet, lying to parliament and said he and Sir Mark Sedwill, the Cabinet Secretary, had tried to persuade the PM to sack his health secretary.
Do I think this is all very damaging to the Government? Yes I do. Do I think it damages Johnson? Yes I do. Do I think it will have any effect on his or his party’s opinion poll ratings? I’m not sure I do. Does the Cummings evidence mean we’re more informed about what happened over care homes, PPE, and lockdowns? Yes, it does. And it also argues for the inquiry to start maybe earlier than is currently intended.
Sometimes these set piece evidence sessions get a huge build up in advance and then on the day it’s a bit of a let-down. Not on Wednesday. This was the most extraordinary select committee evidence session I have witnessed in 40 years of watching them. And that’s saying something.
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How times change. Twelve months ago most journalists and commentators were labelling Cummings a complete liar over his trip to Barnard Castle. They were calling on Johnson to sack him. Now they are hanging on Cummings’ every word, as if his truth is the gospel truth. And it’s clear why. Because they see his evidence to the select committee as a way to initiate the process of bringing down a Prime Minister.
Now it may well be that history will record yesterday as the day which marked the beginning of the end for Johnson, but I doubt it. My suspicion is that when the next batch of opinion polls are published, the Teflon reputation which the PM enjoys won’t have been dented too much, if at all.
I may be wrong, but that’s how it feels to me. Why do I think this? Well, I call it the LBC listener test. When Britain is angry about something, people tend to call into LBC in their droves to get it off their chests.
That didn’t really happen on Wednesday night. Apart from the usual suspects, who phone in every day no matter what we are talking about, the phone lines didn’t really hum. Yes, we had quite enough callers to fill the show, and then some, but were my colleagues in the gallery rushed off their feet? No. They were on the night of Barnard Castle, though…
Having said that, Gaby Hinsliff of The Observer Tweeted yesterday that she’d got the builders in and when they arrived, they were talking about Cummings. She didn’t say whether it was in a good way, or whether they were saying how dare he attack Johnson!
Builders have arrived for the day & they’re talking about Dominic Cummings, if you were wondering about cut through.
— gabyhinsliff (@gabyhinsliff) May 27, 2021
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One thing is sure – that any reshuffle is unlikely to come before the summer recess. If anything, Hancock’s position has been shored up after Wednesday’s events. Even if he is moved, it would have to be to an equivalently ranked position, like education, for example.
If there is a reshuffle it will surely either be held in late July or early September. There were rumours last week that the reshuffle was to be held this Wednesday to deflect attention away from the Cummings evidence. I can’t really believe that was ever a serious suggestion, because it would have undoubtedly backfired. It would have deserved to.
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I first met David Amess back in the mid 1980s when I was working in Parliament and he had just been elected as MP for Basildon in the 1983 landslide. It was a different time. A couple of weeks ago I spent an hour talking to him about his life and career in politics. I think ConHome readers will enjoy it.