Sunday Blog 16: May 24 2020:What A Difference A Week Makes

A week ago the government was rather pleased with itself, in spite of the many missteps littering its progress. But now. Oh dear. It is perhaps inevitable that if you place a box of fireworks like Cummings at the heart of government, sooner or later it will explode.  And it has.

But first let us look at the general picture. Covid 19 remains the driver of everything. Then we will look at Cummings.

Covid 19

The last national emergency which disrupted life on the scale of Covid 19 was WWII. There have been minor, by comparison, upsets. The three day week of 1974, the drought of 1976 and the Winter of Discontent of 1979 were tricky times, but nothing on a scale comparable to what is happening now.

Reflecting back to the war, the beginning was a disaster. An appeasement government had failed to re-arm early enough and was playing catch up. First came defeat in Norway, then France. That brought down Chamberlain, but Churchill could not stem the tide in the ground war. Tobruk, Greece, Crete, Malaya, Burma, Singapore, Hong Kong and that list is not exhaustive, followed, when British forces evacuated, retreated or surrendered. But we won, on our own, the Battle of Britain and with American help, the Battle of the Atlantic. This did not make GB victorious, but it made it too tough a nut for either Germany or Japan, or the two combined, to crack. In the beginning the war was run from Whitehall, but in the end it was a war won by mobilising everybody into a gigantic national effort augmented by support from allies and Empire.

At the start of Covid 19 the government and Whitehall ran the response, working with out of date modelling, selective science to suit the political narrative and a failure to appreciate the strength of the enemy, in this case a new misunderstood virus. The instruments of state management, the public institutions and services, were truncated by nearly a decade of economies and cuts.  Downing Street was dominated by people unqualified and unprepared for the tests to come.

The consequence was failure and confusion at almost every level bar one. The expansion of the NHS to a specialist virus health facility, always having capacity ahead of demand, was by any standard a triumph of planning and execution. But  that victory distracted the government from its critical duties elsewhere. There has thus been a cost in thousands, even tens of thousands, of lives. Because the critical issue was not in reality the capacity of the NHS. It was the ability to test, track and trace.

Fast forward to now and we see a very different picture, involving a national mobilisation of human endeavour, medical science, academic research, pharmaceutical industries, distribution systems, national, regional and local government and personal self-discipline without precedent in peacetime. The government’s aim is to end the pandemic emergency as the world beater in testing and vaccines and their universal delivery, which not only brings Covid 19 under control, but shuts down its destructive and disruptive powers.

So for the Boris Government, itself like no other, the stakes are high. If it fails, it will fall. Meanwhile suddenly a new cloud darkens the political sky. Cummings.


There are two clear issues here. The first is the lockdown rules. These were clearly breeched unless you apply  an elastic interpretation riddled with caveats to suit your actions. The second is about lies. The Cummings family claim it was to safeguard their four year old child. Yet if you go into the Today archives and listen to Mary Wakefield’s slot in late April, she describes with a mum’s pride  how her little boy helped her when she threw up on the bathroom floor and later dressed up in a doctor’s toy kit and fed his father Ribena as he lay in bed panting. So it appears the child was with them throughout, not isolated from the illness. Indeed he was at the epicentre. So why drive 250 miles? Anyway a friend, neighbour or nanny (this is not a destitute family) could easily have taken care of the boy if needed.

Yesterday’s Downing Street Briefing was reduced more or less to farce because every, bar one, press question was about Cummings. He has become the story. Worse, he is now the sensation. It is almost the only story in the Sunday papers. What is so outrageous is that everybody else has to stick to the rules, some in terrible hardship and heart rending situations. Yet the Cummings family are special. I don’t think so. The only questions  are whether he goes voluntarily or is sacked. Or whether Boris bottles out of sacking him. In which case he will go down with Cummings. Not at the same time, but not long after. As I said before, once the shine goes off the Boris brand it will be done for.

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