The fact that when the British people go to vote at general elections they are left choosing between candidates as low quality as Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn, and that the government’s emergency preparedness is basically non-existent, are major indicators of a nation facing serious fundamental problems, the coronavirus response inquiry has heard.
While Whitehall and the Westminster-focused mainstream media were obsessing over the former Chief Advisor to the Prime Minister, Dominic Cummings, issuing stinging attacks on his former colleagues on Wednesday, perhaps his greatest fusillade was reserved for the enormous failings of the Civil Service, and the fundamentals of Britain’s political system.
Cummings, who was ousted from Downing Street last year but was a key figure in Brexit and the 2019 general election as well as the early days of the British government’s coronavirus response, was giving oral evidence to the Parliamentary committee investigating Britain’s pandemic programme.
While Cummings was completely happy in dismissing the competence, intelligence, and honesty of his former colleagues, he had more fundamental — and potentially deeply worrying — points to make about the basics of British government and politics. Speaking to the committee, he revealed the utter dumbfoundment he felt in the early days of the pandemic when it was revealed the government’s pandemic plans didn’t actually exist in any meaningful sense, and what did was scattered haphazardly among different departments and had no central coordination — despite a government body existing to do just that.
UK Government Didn’t Listen to Its Own Advice and Failed to Prepare for Coronavirus: Report https://t.co/Js9bBozDc1
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) July 24, 2020
Cummings told the inquiry: “I thought many of the plans seemed, to me, to fall very fall short of what was actually needed. A lot of things are just powerpoints, and they lack detail… This country spends tens of billions of pounds on national security, but we don’t spend anything nearly like the right amount of money or engage the right kind of people who should be involved.”
He quoted top civil servants who expressed their own amazement at their own department’s total lack of preparedness, who said in 2020: “I’ve been told for years there’s a whole plan for this. There is no plan, we are in huge trouble”. Helen McNamara, the deputy cabinet secretary who Cummings described as the “second most powerful official in the country” was said to have told him in the early days of the pandemic: “I think we are absolutely fucked. I think this country is heading for a disaster, I think we are going to kill thousands of people… it seems from the conversations [you are having with the Prime Minister] that’s correct.”
Cummings made clear this failure to prepare for foreseen events — the government has long recognised in its own emergency planning documents that pandemic disease is both the most damaging and most likely threat facing the country — is not limited to coronavirus, but to other potentially devastating events including a solar flare knocking out the earth’s digital infrastructure and even a terrorist biological attack.
I’ll give you a recent example, I was talking to some people who said ‘did you ever read the plan on solar flares’. And I said no. They said ‘if you get some outside advice on that you’ll see the current government plan on that is completely hopeless. If that happens when we’ll all be in a worse situation than Covid… The anthrax plan, what happens if terrorists attack with anthrax. Personally, I would be extremely concerned that this plan isn’t as robust as it should be. I can’t go into any details but there’s no doubt that everything like that needs the most incredible, careful thought.
The radical would-be reformer of government was hitting at themes he has been known for emphasising over the years — including his oft-quoted reflection on the revelation to him, during an earlier stint inside Whitehall under the David Cameron administration, that while there is a pervasive belief that there is a core of truly competent people in government who are hidden from public view, that is simply not the case.
He said in 2014: “Everyone thinks there’s some moment, like in a James Bond movie, where you open the door and that’s where the really good people are, but there is no door.”
UK PM's Ex-Chief Adviser: 'Many' Senior People Wanted 'Lying' Health Secretary Fired for Covid Response https://t.co/EFxqnayfpe
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) May 26, 2021
Cummings’ comments are not the first time serious concern has been raised about the British government’s astonishing level of failure to prepare for emergencies. The Public Accounts Committee’s review as early as July 2020 was raising the alarm on these issues, noting that while the government published advice for businesses and the public to make contingency plans in case things went wrong, it had done nothing of the sort itself.
Indeed, as Breitbart London reported in 2020, government documents from before the coronavirus age clearly state that government planning and preparedness to face off against pandemics was advanced, with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) held ready for an emergency. As the review found — and as Cummings stated on Wednesday — that was simply not true.
Mr Cummings also had high-level concerns about the fundamentals of Britain’s political parties — which he implied were basically broken and unable to deliver good leadership. He asked, rhetorically:
There’s a very profound question about the nature of our political system that means we got at the last election a choice between Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson. I think any system that ends up giving a choice between two people like that… is obviously a system that has gone extremely, extremely badly wrong. There are so many thousands and thousands of wonderful people in this country who could provide better leadership than either of those two, and there is something terribly wrong with the political parties if that is the best they can do.
…You guys in the political parties need to ask yourselves, what is it about your parties that give choices like Johnson versus Corbyn, and what is it about Whitehall that promotes so many senior people who are completely out of your depth.
In words that may strike a chord with many, the former advisor remarked on the unlikely governments the Westminster system produces: “It’s just completely crackers that someone like me should have been in there, just the same that it’s completely crackers that someone like Boris Johnson was in there and that the choice at the last election was Jeremy Corbyn.”
"We are absolutely fucked, thousands of people are going to die."
Dominic Cummings details the moment he found out the government did not have a pandemic response plan. pic.twitter.com/uiwoxOPsca
— PoliticsJOE (@PoliticsJOE_UK) May 26, 2021