Covid crisis: Dominic Cummings may have exposed UK government's failings, but few will clap for him – Christine Jardine MP

I should imagine that there are families across the country who were just beginning to put their lives back together last week.

Dominic Cummings may see himself as a modern-day Robespierre, a catalyst to bring down a government he has now turned against, says Christine Jardine (Picture: Yui Mok)

Children, parents, partners and friends who were coming to terms with losing their loved ones to Covid-19.

Perhaps consoling themselves with the thought that everything possible had been done by everyone in the most astonishingly difficult circumstances we have known.

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And then along came Dominic Cummings.

I am not suggesting for a moment that the failings of this, or any other government, should be overlooked. Exactly the opposite.

But I do feel for those bereaved families whose lives have been thrown back into turmoil by the explosive, perhaps bitter, but undoubtedly calculated revelations of the former chief adviser to the Prime Minister.

And what exactly was the calculation behind Cummings’ assertation: “Tens of thousands of people died, who didn't need to.”

Or his claims that we were lied to and failed by those whom we most needed to succeed.

Having spent last weekend with some of my family and been able to laugh with them for the first time in a year, my heart breaks for those who must now be wondering if they were denied that joy by government incompetence.

It is a question that we all need answered. But we need more than simply a diatribe from a former loyal insider whose every word sounded like a grinding axe.

We need a full and independent public inquiry.

At the height of the crisis last year, there were already doubts about the efficacy of whatever operation was going on in Downing Street.

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Perhaps the most persistent were about the lack of vital PPE for our front-line NHS staff. There were constant concerns about whether there was sufficient protection for the vulnerable in care homes. The test-and-trace operation did not inspire confidence.

So as I watched last week’s events on the TV in my office, two floors above where the committee meeting was taking place, I was aware that what Mr Cummings was saying was astonishing, perhaps it was even a moment of history, but sadly I was not entirely surprised.

Those of us on the opposition benches constantly found ourselves torn between the desire to bind together in a moment of national unity and common support, but dismayed that there were so many inconsistencies, so little clarity and so many failings of government which made that impossible.

One moment seared on my memory was last autumn and the leaked revelation that the government had ignored scientific advice that a ‘circuit-breaker’ was needed to prevent a second wave.

I was with colleagues at Westminster when the news broke and we were of one mind. The condemnation was immediate and the demands for a government re-thinking were universal. It seemed clear it was needed and the ensuing lockdown proved the point.

What on Earth were they doing?

Now we know. Or at least we know one person’s version of it. Throughout the pandemic the Prime Minister has said so much, so often and yet managed to say nothing at all. So many questions in parliament batted away with non-answers

Now the public needs Boris Johnson to respond clearly and categorically. I know that the majority of people have felt that their role in this now 15-month-long health siege has been to stay indoors, stay safe, survive. I hope they have succeeded.

For some of us it was to question, scrutinise and ensure we did everything possible to help our constituents. Others will judge if we have been successful.

But for a specific group, including Dominic Cummings, it was to serve the British public through this crisis and to bear any burden, meet any challenge and overcome any adversity to protect all of us.

If what he says is even partially true, they have failed.

If the allegations that certain ministers did not tell the truth, or that the economic consequences were more important to the government than the human ones have any weight, then the public has a right to know.

But I cannot agree with the dangerous, underlying Trump-like theme that many of us detected in the assertions we heard last Wednesday.

The implication that somehow democracy, our entire system of government, is flawed. No.

There are good people in every party and every government. Unfortunately, if we believe Mr Cummings, there were just not enough of them in control of this one when we needed them.

Dominic Cummings apparently has a degree in ancient and modern history and so is probably acquainted with Cicero’s assertion: “A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within... He rots the soul of a nation; he works secretly and unknown in the night to undermine the pillars of a city; he infects the body politic so that it can no longer resist.”

I do not know him but have read Mr Cummings described as someone determined to change what he thinks does not work.

We certainly know that he succeeded in his determination to destroy our relationship with the European Union.

And there was no denying the strength of his conviction that this government does not work.

Dominic Cummings may well see himself as the Robespierre of our current crisis. A catalyst to bring down a government of which he was an integral and influential part but has now turned against. He may even see himself as the hero of this latest hour.

But I doubt if anyone, any bereaved families or survivors of Covid, will go out and clap for him.

Christine Jardine is the Scottish Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West

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