LONDON — A yr in the past this week, a brusque, defiant determine in shirt sleeves appeared within the sun-dappled backyard behind 10 Downing Street to offer one of the crucial extraordinary news conferences in current British political historical past.
On Wednesday, that very same man — Dominic Cummings, then probably the most highly effective adviser to Prime Minister Boris Johnson; now arguably his most harmful enemy — will testify earlier than two Parliamentary committees on Britain’s dealing with of the coronavirus pandemic. It is being billed as a can’t-miss sequel within the Cummings Chronicles.
Mr. Cummings is anticipated to unload a trove of inside particulars about how Mr. Johnson bungled Britain’s preliminary response, necessitating what he claims have been months of unnecessary and ruinous lockdowns. His account, a few of which he previewed in a dense, didactic Twitter thread over current days, is prone to embarrass a frontrunner who bounced again from that wobbly efficiency, largely on the power of Britain’s swift rollout of vaccines.
“Dominic Cummings has long been known as a man who brings a bazooka to a knife fight,” stated Matthew Goodwin, a professor of politics on the University of Kent. “I suspect he shall not walk quietly into the night.”
Mr. Cummings and Mr. Johnson have traveled a great distance since final May, when the prime minister backed him up in a furor over his violation of Britain’s lockdown guidelines. Emboldened by the boss’s assist, Mr. Cumming was unrepentant about his choice to drive 260 miles to his mother and father’ house, waving away questions on the information convention about why he had been so cavalier in regards to the guidelines.
But Mr. Johnson later fell out with Mr. Cummings, firing him in November. Last month, the aide turned publicly on his ex-boss, accusing him of unethical behavior within the expensive ornament of his flat in Downing Street and of making an attempt to close down a leak investigation as a result of he feared it will antagonize his fiancée, Carrie Symonds.
With its promise of additional juicy particulars about an alliance gone dangerous, the testimony is prone to be political theater of a uncommon classic. The Sunday Times has speculated that Mr. Cummings will say Mr. Johnson missed quite a few early coronavirus conferences as a result of he was busy engaged on his long-delayed e book about Shakespeare.
Public well being specialists say Mr. Cummings may make clear authorities choices which might be nonetheless poorly understood, whether or not as a result of they’ve been cloaked in secrecy, distorted by after-the-fact spin or just misrepresented. That, they stated, would quantity to a helpful step in studying classes from the pandemic.
As Mr. Johnson’s most influential aide, Mr. Cummings sat in on conferences of the federal government’s scientific advisory group, generally known as SAGE, the place epidemiologists and behavioral scientists debated the correct response to the pandemic. He immersed himself in modeling information and shaped sturdy opinions in regards to the want for fast lockdowns, which he says was brushed apart by a authorities that originally determined to permit the virus to tear by the inhabitants till Britain reached “herd immunity.”
Mr. Johnson’s aides have lengthy denied that was their purpose, however Mr. Cummings stated in a Twitter submit that herd immunity was “*literally the official plan in all docs/graphs/meetings* until it was ditched” after new information confirmed that hospitals would collapse, and greater than 250,000 individuals may die, if nothing have been performed to curb the unfold. Even then, Mr. Johnson waited till March 23 to impose a lockdown.
“Why did SAGE fail so badly at the start?” stated Devi Sridhar, head of the worldwide public well being program on the University of Edinburgh. “Who was responsible for those decisions? I am very curious if he is going to point fingers.”
“If Cummings is able to put aside the political and personal side and focus on the planning side,” she stated, “we could avoid making the same mistakes in the future.”
So far, Mr. Cummings has been circumspect in regards to the position performed by the federal government’s chief medical adviser, Chris Whitty, and the chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance. But given how a lot he is aware of — and the way a lot he has already disclosed on his weblog and Twitter — authorities officers are frightened in regards to the fallout, significantly for Mr. Johnson, who Mr. Cummings stated had fallen “so far below the standards of competence and integrity the country deserves.”
Mr. Cummings, 49, performed a key position in Mr. Johnson’s ascent, masterminding the Brexit marketing campaign in 2016 and the prime minister’s election victory in 2019. When the virus struck Britain, Mr. Cummings was on the coronary heart of the Downing Street operation.
He stated he favored the response of East Asian nations like South Korea and Singapore, which imposed instant lockdowns, large test-and-trace operations and bans on international journey. Britain dawdled on lockdowns, failed to prepare a reliable test-and-trace program and solely belatedly imposed journey restrictions — all of which contributed to 127,700 deaths, the highest toll in Europe.
“If mass testing had been developed properly earlier in year as cd/shd have been, wd probably have avoided lockdowns 2&3 while awaiting vaccine,” Mr. Cummings stated in a Twitter submit. In one other, he wrote, “One of the most fundamental & unarguable lessons of Feb-March is that secrecy contributed greatly to the catastrophe.”
The downside with Mr. Cummings’s message is the messenger. His choice to flout the principles — most notoriously in happening a household outing to Castle Barnard that he claimed he undertook to check his eyesight — arguably did extra to break the federal government’s credibility than any single incident through the pandemic.
“He is a tainted source,” stated Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University in London. “But just because he has an ax to grind and a credibility problem, doesn’t mean he’s not telling the truth.”
For Mr. Johnson, the saving grace could also be that Mr. Cummings is testifying at a time when Britain’s vaccination marketing campaign has pushed down circumstances, hospitalizations and deaths. Though there are considerations about flare-ups of a variant first seen in India, the federal government stays on monitor to reopen the English economic system absolutely on June 21.
Nor is it clear how a lot lawmakers will press Mr. Cummings on Mr. Johnson’s private peccadilloes. On Tuesday, there was a recent reminder of his checkered historical past, with the discharge of a report by the Conservative Party that concluded Mr. Johnson’s disparaging references to Muslims throughout his days as a newspaper columnist had fostered the impression that the celebration is “insensitive to Muslim communities.”
For all of the static round Mr. Johnson, nonetheless, his celebration simply scored spectacular victories in regional elections in England.
“Cummings would be able to do severe damage to a prime minister and a government that was in trouble and was unpopular,” Mr. Bale stated. “But this government is not in trouble and the prime minister is very popular.”