Dominic Cummings' portrait of Government chaos may have been revenge driven - but it had ring of truth: Bill Carmichael

Imagine the scene: It is March 2020 and urgent and tense meetings are taking place in Downing Street to consider a strict national lockdown, as the data shows Covid-19 infection figures surging amid real fears hospitals could be overwhelmed with cases.

Dominic Cummings on his way to give evidence to MPs on Wednesday. Picture: PA

If that is not enough on their plate at some point during the day national security advisers arrive with the news that the then US President, Donald Trump, wants the UK’s armed forces to join in a bombing mission on Iraq that very night.

To add to the already fraught atmosphere, the Prime Minister’s girlfriend, Carrie Symonds, is going “completely crackers” over a newspaper report that her rescue dog, Dilyn, was about to be “reshuffled” because he had made a mess of their Downing Street flat.

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This is the tumultuous picture painted by Dominic Cummings the Prime Minister’s former adviser, of one “insane” day 14 months ago when the scale and threat posed by the pandemic was just becoming apparent.

Cummings spent more than seven hours giving evidence. Picture: PA

It is a scene of almost unbelievable chaos as senior politicians, advisers and civil servants proved entirely inadequate to the task ahead of them.

In devastating evidence to a House of Commons Select Committee this week, Mr Cummings said the Government had failed and that Boris Johnson was unfit to be Prime Minister adding: “It is just completely crackers that someone like me should have been in there, just the same as it’s crackers that Boris Johnson was in there, and that the choice at the last election was (him or) Jeremy Corbyn.”

Mr Cummings went on to claim that the Prime Minister initially dismissed Covid as a “scare story” and offered to be injected with the virus live on TV to show there was nothing to be scared of.

He told MPs that the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, should have been sacked “for at least 15 to 20 things” including lying about testing people before they were discharged from hospitals into care homes – allegations which have been robustly denied by Mr Hancock’s spokesman.

It really was a most remarkable performance and I suspect how much of it you believe depends on your view of Mr Cummings as well as your political stance.

I note for example that those who dismissed Cummings as an inveterate liar who could not be trusted a few months ago, are this week trumpeting him as a paragon of truth-telling whose every word can be relied upon to be 100 per cent accurate. Precisely the same people.

For me the crazy conjunction of events including the deadly serious (the pandemic and bombing Iraq) with the domestically trivial (Dilyn’s alleged misbehaviour) has something of the ring of truth, although if you wrote this as a script for a satirical TV show it would be dismissed as far-fetched.

And maybe I am an old cynic with a generally sceptical view of the abilities of politicians and senior civil servants, but chaos at the head of government doesn’t entirely surprise me, especially given the unprecedented nature of the threat posed by Covid-19.

Mr Cummings’ mistakes, in my view, is that his over-the-top attacks on former colleagues appear motivated in part by bitterness and personal animosity, particularly against Mr Johnson and Mr Hancock. A more subtle and measured critique would have been far more damaging, but Mr Cummings doesn’t do subtle and measured.

And one bonkers conspiracy theory – that the government wanted Covid to “let rip”, thereby deliberately killing tens of thousands to achieve “herd immunity” – is finally comprehensively debunked. Cummings made it clear the strategy was instead to flatten the peak of infections to prevent the collapse of the health system and minimise loss of life.

In the wider scheme of things does this matter? Summer is on the way, the vaccination programme has gone brilliantly, we are opening up out of lockdown and Mr Johnson is riding high in the polls. True, but the government is far from being off the hook.

Cummings has made many serious allegations, not least over whether people discharged from hospitals into care homes were properly tested for the disease.

Mr Johnson has promised that a full public inquiry into the Covid pandemic will begin within the current session of Parliament. That inquiry needs to find the truth over these allegations. Grieving relatives who lost loved ones deserve nothing less.

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