10 key lockdown questions that Dominic Cummings must answer today – Bernard Ingham

YESTERDAY’S man, Dominic Cummings, former chief adviser to the Prime Minister, comes to town today with his box of tricks.

His mission, it seems, is to clothe himself in white raiment and bring down Boris Johnson.

He is to give evidence to a joint investigation by the Health and Science Select Committees of the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

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He starts with a problem: credibility.

This was Dominic Cummings last May during his Downing Street press conference over his trip to Barnard Castle during the first lockdown.

His judgment took a knock, not so much by going to his home in Durham to isolate during the lockdown, but by having a family trip to Barnard Castle to test if his eyesight was up to the drive back to London.

The reaction of most people was “Pull the other leg. It’s got bells on it”. During his short stint in No 10 he also demonstrated his contempt for the Government machine – i.e. the Civil Service – and, according to the sacked Defence Minister, Johnny Mercer, for MPs, too. His solution was to import more weirdos like himself.

In my book he stands charged with undermining the Government machine at the very time it needed to pull together to handle Brexit and the Covid pandemic.

He compounded that by trying to centralise the Government information machine with singularly unimpressive results for the credibility of policy.

Boris Johnson's former aide Dominic Cummings is due to face a Parliamentary inquisition today over the handling of the Covid pandemic.

His genius behind the Brexit referendum and Boris Johnson’s 2019 election victory are also exaggerated. The majority did not need telling to “Get Brexit Done” and Jeremy Corbyn was unelectable.

By now you will have got the message. While, I confess, I have never met the man, I know I would detest him if I had to try to work with his intellectual arrogance that his tramp’s uniform advertises.

I shall doubt the judgment of the 
joint chairmen of the inquiry – Jeremy Hunt, a former Health and Foreign Secretary, and Greg Clark, ex-Trade Secretary – if they fail to give him a hard time.

Of course, Labour members probably regard him as manna from heaven, given the party’s straits, and will inevitably try to extract all the dirt they can from the box that Cummings walked out of No 10 with on his departure.

Sir Bernard Ingham - Margaret Thatcher's former press secretary - has suggested 10 questions that MPs put to Dominic Cummings today.

But in legal terms Cummings is a hostile witness – hostile to the existing Government machine as well as the PM – and must be treated as such before they wade through the slow response to the pandemic, the shortage of PPE equipment, the failures of test and trace, the often anomalous or contradictory advice to the public and the mystery why vaccination has been a roaring success.

I have therefore compiled 10 short questions for MPs to put to him as the circus proceeds:

1 – Why should we take you seriously when you have advertised your prejudices on the web?

2 – What is your prime concern: revenge or a UK better equipped to handle future pandemics?

3 – What were the terms on which you were engaged to work in No 10 – purely as an advisor or somehow empowered to hire and fire? If the latter, please explain the process by which you acquired such authority.

4 – Is your apparent willingness to produce documents for the committee permitted by your obligations under the Official Secrets Act? While we want to get at the facts, we don’t want you to land yourself in trouble.

5 – Do you accept any responsibility for any delays, problems or failures in the Government’s pandemic performance? After all, you were the chief adviser in No 10.

6 - In particular, you sought to centralise Government communications on your apparatus in the Cabinet Office yet anomalies and contradictions in public advice persisted. Did you have any machinery for ironing them out? If not, why not?

7 – Is it fair to say that, given your manifest belief in your own abilities, you are a difficult if not impossible man to work with? Is that one reason why you were fired?

8 – In your time with it the Government spent £400bn on combatting Covid and ran up a record budget deficit of around £300bn. Did this – and its effect on the economy – ever concern you? After all, our grandchildren will still be paying the bill.

9 – What, with the benefit of hindsight, do you most regret in the handling of the pandemic?

10 – What single action or change would be of most benefit to the 
people?

Mr Cummings may well be right that the Government machine could be improved. But his example suggests it needs more of his kind of weirdos like a hole in the head.

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