On Wednesday, May 26, 2021, Dominic Cummings, former special adviser to Prime Minister Boris Johnson appeared before the Science and Technology Select Committee for an inquiry that lasted over seven hours.

The full session is on Parliamentlive.tv.

As one might expect from someone the media portrayed as the power behind the throne between July 2019 and November 2020, this was a highly gripping interview conducted by a number of MPs.

Cummings discussed Boris, Health Secretary Matt Hancock and the coronavirus situation. With regard to the pandemic, he said that the Government, including himself, let the nation down at a time when Britons needed them the most. He apologised for not having insisted on urgent action sooner early in 2020.

Highlights follow.

Boris

Cummings’s opinion of Boris is not the highest at the moment. Cummings wondered whether to tender his resignation several times but decided to stay on to implement the reforms he thought would make No. 10 work better.

One of their big bones of contention was the way No. 10 — especially Boris — liaised with the media, especially during the coronavirus crisis.

According to Cummings, Boris wanted to please the media only to end up contradicting coronavirus policy.

At one point, Boris opposed parts of Cummings’s plan to reform the way No. 10 worked, admitting that he preferred the ‘chaos’ (his word) to giving Cummings the power to resolve said chaos and make it run more efficiently.

Cummings said that he does not think that Boris Johnson is a good Prime Minister.

The media

The media outlets, Cummings said, gave him a hard time because he wanted to manage — and perfect — the way that No. 10 interacted with them.

Cummings’s reforms would have distanced the media contact with the Prime Minister, something that they clearly do not want.

Cummings’s trip to Barnard Castle

Last Spring, Cummings and his family went to Barnard Castle (a town and a castle) in County Durham. It was a huge deal. Boris even made him hold a press conference to explain his actions around a year ago at this time.

Naturally, MPs wanted to find out why Cummings went so far from London when people were told to stay at home.

Cummings confessed that there was something he did not mention during last year’s press conference. He said that staying in his home in north London had become untenable for him, his wife Mary Wakefield (a Spectator journalist) and their little boy. People were outside their home threatening Cummings’s life.

He said that he had spoken to Boris about decamping to Barnard Castle, where his father lives. Boris said that he could either go there or to a Government-owned property in London. Boris then went into hospital with coronavirus and Cummings himself also had the illness.

Cummings and his wife spent a few weeks deciding what to do. Then a newspaper article alleged that Cummings said something about coronavirus deaths that was patently false. Once again, people appeared outside his home.

The couple decided to go to Barnard Castle by car. Cummings wanted to get back to work, even though he had not recovered from the virus. Cummings’s wife did not want him to go back alone, so the family left Barnard Castle to return to London.

The story ran and ran in the news, agitating an already distressed general public cooped up at home. Cummings said that, once Boris returned to Downing Street, he said, ‘This cannot stand’ and told his adviser to hold a press conference, which one MP at the inquiry described as a ‘witch hunt’.

Carrie Symonds

Cummings was also frustrated with Boris’s fiancée, Carrie Symonds, who, on one occasion when coronavirus was critical, wanted Boris to have someone complain to a newspaper about a story involving the couple’s dog.

He also said that Symonds had too much say in hiring No. 10 staff.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock

On more than one occasion during the session, Cummings called Health Secretary Matt Hancock a liar for his lack of coronavirus plan.

Cummings said that Hancock should have been fired early last year for claiming that patients leaving hospital for care homes last year would be tested before discharge and for saying that a ‘protective’ (Hancock’s word) ring was placed around care homes.

Cummings said that neither claim was true. The Select Committee have asked Cummings to provide them with specific evidence for such serious allegations.

Barbara Keeley (Labour) was one of the MPs asking Cummings about the care home debacle:

The Science and Technology Select Committee will be interviewing Matt Hancock in a fortnight.

Afterwards, they will file their report from their many sessions on coronavirus. This can be used as evidence in a general inquiry into the Government’s handling of coronavirus, scheduled to begin sometime in 2022.

Coronavirus

Cummings answered a lot of questions about the 2020 coronavirus policy.

He said that a plan for lockdown should have been developed in January 2020. The general consensus in No. 10 was that it was a new type of SARS and that everything would blow over soon.

Cummings thought that air travel should be stopped, but that No. 10 and a number of Conservative MPs thought that would be seen as a ‘racist’ policy, therefore, nothing happened.

The idea of doing nothing was mooted and let people have ‘chicken pox parties’ so that there would be a natural herd immunity by September 2020.

By February, Cummings became increasingly concerned and wanted a southeast Asian style lockdown. In early March, he began consulting academics who had strong quantitative (number-crunching algorithmic) skills to project what would actually occur if there were no lockdown. Cummings referred to this as Plan B:

A specialist in the NHS who was also good with numbers advised Cummings that ‘chicken pox parties’ were out of the question. Coronavirus was too deadly.

Cummings said that he was reluctant to press for a lockdown at the end of January or in February because he was worried that his assumptions might have been wrong.

In any event, the scenario given to him in March helped him persuade No. 10 that a lockdown was necessary. Yet, even then, he said that SAGE members disagreed among themselves as to whether lockdown was a good idea.

After the first lockdown, he said, Boris had deep regrets as to whether it was the right thing to have done. He was worried about the economic impact on people’s lives at the same time he regretted the loss of so many Britons to the disease.

When autumn rolled around, Sir Patrick Vallance and Prof Chris Whitty alerted Cummings that a second lockdown was needed. Boris disagreed, because he did not want any more distress inflicted on the public or the economy. In the end, we had a very lengthy lockdown from Christmas 2020 through to April 2021.

Conclusion

Cummings said that many things need to change in No. 10 and Whitehall (civil servants).

Too few people want emergency processes that would streamline procurement, for example. Cummings managed to get some reforms in that area in times of crisis. He also managed to get a special situation room set up at No. 10, which he said that Downing Street officials like because electronic equipment can be taken in for meetings. The COBR room does not allow that option.

Cummings is also frustrated that civil servants cannot be fired easily. Some, he said, clearly need to go.

He also says that our political system needs a rethink. He said that the 2019 choice between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn was not good.

Although I do not agree — even now — about Cummings’s views on lockdown and masks, I am sorry that he will not be able to implement his changes in Downing Street and Whitehall.

Those interested can read detailed live coverage from The Guardian.