30th May 2021
With 128,000 dead, the highest of any country in Europe, and a third wave bubbling up as the Indian variant of the COVID-19 virus becomes the dominant strain, the British political class is indulging in an undignified display of finger pointing in order to pass the blame. The appearance of former Prime Ministerial adviser, Dominic Cummings, before a Commons Select Committee this week has been the source of most of the domestic news generated. More will no doubt emerge as the Inquiry continues.
Cummings has been working hard to lay the blame for the inept handling of the pandemic in the UK at the door of anyone but himself. Boris Johnson is, according to Cummings, unfit for office, hardly a news headline. Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, is a serial liar who should have been sacked on at least 15 or 20 occasions, takes one to know one, is the phrase which springs to mind here.
Cummings’ change of heart is disingenuous to say the least. He was right at the heart of the decision making, at the start of the pandemic and for crucial months into it, before he became the scapegoat Johnson needed to try and cover his own ineptitude.
The joint inquiry of the Health and Social Care Committee and Science and Technology Committee has been established to consider what lessons can be drawn from the Government’s handling of the pandemic that could be applied now and in the future.
MPs are expected to focus on decision-making in the early months of the pandemic; the level of scientific evidence available to the Government; its border policy; and the effectiveness of its public health messaging and communications. The timing of lockdowns and other restrictions, procurement processes, and decisions about community testing and contact tracing are among other issues expected to be addressed.
Cummings’ responses to the Select Committee merely confirm what has been known for some time but the BBC and right wing media are at pains to cover up; that the government’s initial strategy was one of herd immunity, that there was not a functioning system to monitor infection in the early days of the pandemic, that indecision mean the lockdown came too late, that the test and trace arrangements once established were too little, too late.
That Johnson and his cohorts have blood on their hands for the handling of the pandemic is not in doubt but Cummings, in spite of being at the centre of decision making for key periods, is keen to distance himself from any culpability.
There is one point where Cummings touches upon the truth, when he states,
“There is no doubt that the prime minister made some very bad misjudgements and got some very serious things wrong. It’s also the case, there’s no doubt, that he was extremely badly let down by the whole system. And it was a system failure, of which I include myself in that as well. I also failed.”
The system to which Cummings refers is the decision making system within Whitehall, where the realities of the scale of the pandemic were not taken seriously until it was too late. The real systemic failure is however, far greater. The failure is a failure of capitalism itself. The corruption and cronyism, which has characterised much of the handling of the pandemic, is endemic in a system which puts profit before people, which puts the needs of the economy before the interests of public health.
The great tragedy in all of this, apart from the thousands of unnecessary deaths, is that large sections of the public see no alternative. A midweek opinion poll saw the Tories lead rise six points to 44%, over a Labour Party whose performance throughout the pandemic was reflected in its abject showing in the local elections earlier in the month.
The irony is that it is the community driven vaccination programme which may save Johnson and his cronies, as the public seek to put the misery of lockdowns behind them and look to the future. The Select Committee will do its work but how damning its will be of the government’s action remains to be seen.
The Official Opposition on the other hand remains largely supine, pleading that it cannot be too harsh on the government at a time of pandemic, as that may go against the spirit of national unity. The fact is that Kier Starmer and the Labour Front Bench are being taken to the cleaners while Johnson and his cronies are, quite literally, getting away with murder.