Analysis: Dominic Cummings' evidence could be explosive for PM

25 May 2021, 20:54

Dominic Cummings is set to give evidence to MPs on Wednesday
Dominic Cummings is set to give evidence to MPs on Wednesday. Picture: PA
Theo Usherwood

By Theo Usherwood

Dominic Cummings is set to give evidence to MPs on Wednesday so lessons can be learned from the government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

The title of tomorrow’s joint meeting of both the Science and Technology Select Committee and the Health and Social Care Select Committee is typically anodyne.

It reads simply - 'Coronavirus: lessons learnt'.

But it promises to be one of the most explosive political moments of the year.

Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s former chief adviser, is the only witness listed. He has the stage to himself from 9am sharp, guaranteeing live coverage from all of the broadcasters.

And it could go on all day, casting a long shadow over Prime Minister's Questions where Boris Johnson usually has the attention of Westminster during his weekly sparring session with Sir Keir Starmer.

But for all the bluster, the limbering up that we have seen from Mr Cummings on social media, and what has been previewed in the newspapers, the crux of what he has to say seems to rest on a few key questions.

Read more: Govt backed using 'herd immunity' to combat Covid, Cummings says

Watch: 'Cummings or Johnson - who's telling the truth?', asks James O'Brien

Number one: did the government have a policy of herd immunity right up until days before the PM ordered the first lockdown?

At the moment, it is a “he said, he said” dispute between the man who ran the campaign to leave the European Union and the man who runs Number 10.

But Dominic Cummings claims to have the only “crucial historical document from Covid decision-making”.

The second question will be: is it the smoking gun that proves the point herd immunity was government policy?

And if it is the smoking gun that backs up his assertion that herd immunity was policy - until the scientists pointed out we were facing a death toll of more than half a million - can it be dismissed, given that, ultimately, the prime minister pursued a different policy of lockdown - and suppression of the virus - until a vaccine could be found?

Read more: Cummings threatens to release 'crucial' Covid document in tweet

Watch: Priti Patel denies Cummings' claims herd immunity was considered by Govt

The other part of the former chief adviser's testimony that has the potential to be even more damaging is the claim that Mr Johnson was not focused on fighting the virus during the early part of last year, instead trying to carve out time to write a book about William Shakespeare, the proceeds of which he needed to fund his divorce from his now ex-wife Marina Wheeler.

Nearly, 130,000 people have lost their lives to Covid-19 in the UK. If Mr Cummings can make the accusation stick that lives could have been saved were it not for the fact the PM was more interested in writing a book, that will cause political damage, at least in Westminster.

Of course, whether any of this actually cuts through and causes lasting damage among the electorate is highly questionable, especially given the Tories managed to win a parliamentary seat they had never held before - Hartlepool - despite the UK leader being mired in allegations of sleaze over the refurbishment of his flat, and claims he would rather let the “bodies pile high” than implement a third lockdown.

Having said that, Mr Cummings has a decent track record of ending the careers of Conservative leaders. Just ask Sir Iain Duncan Smith and David Cameron.