Number 10 special advisor Dominic Cummings leaves his residence in north London on May 29, 2020. (Photo by Tolga AKMEN / AFP) (Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)
Dominic Cummings leaves his residence in north London on Friday © Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty

Be the first to know about every new Coronavirus story

At least 1m people in Britain are estimated to have lost their jobs since March. Dominic Cummings is not one of them. That’s all you need to know about this week in British politics.

Or maybe it’s not. Maybe this week is one of those events that merit meticulous repeat viewing. We have seen Boris Johnson, the man who craved to lead the country, revealing that he can’t do the job without a chaperone. We have seen that chaperone, his chief adviser Mr Cummings, who has insulted the foresight of almost everyone else in politics, grubbily exaggerating his own superiority. Because the most amazing part of the Cummings saga is not his attempt to bankrupt opticians and car insurers with a new system of on-road eye tests. No, it is his attempt to mislead us all about his handling of coronavirus.

At Monday’s press conference, Mr Cummings played the Nostradamus of north London: “Only last year I wrote explicitly about the danger of coronaviruses.” Turns out it was a bit more complicated than that. Instead, last month, on Mr Cummings’ first day back at work after his Durham trip, one of his blogs from March 2019 was edited to add an express reference to coronavirus. History will be kind to Mr Cummings, for he intends to rewrite it.

I don’t like calling politicians liars, because it’s hard to know what’s going on inside their heads. You’re only lying if you say something you know to be untrue. Yet Mr Cummings has a track record in calculated misleading statements, such as, “We send the EU £350m a week” and, “Turkey (population 76m) Is Joining the EU”. I don’t want to call him a liar. But I also can’t say that he isn’t a liar. Because then I would be a liar.

I suppose Mr Cummings sees the truth as a civilian casualty in his offensive against the establishment. A non-exhaustive list of his targets includes: teaching unions, the civil service, anti-Brexit MPs, pro-Brexit MPs, the UK Statistics Authority, the CBI, the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, a number of print publications, except the one his wife works for. Perhaps everybody else in Britain has to change so that Mr Cummings can stay the same, but it does seem like changing a lightbulb by screwing the whole world. There may be an easier solution.

Apparently Mr Cummings doesn’t respect any cabinet ministers. Then again, neither can anyone else, after seeing how they spinelessly defended him on national television.

The government now wants us all to move on, so that Mr Cummings doesn’t have to. But it’s not clear where it wants us to move on to. Downing Street’s mantra on the pandemic was once, “We took the right decisions at the right time”. It has since mutated to something more like, “We couldn’t take the right decisions because we were unprepared. Then we kept shaking hands, contracted the virus ourselves and were incapacitated”.

One of the best arguments against Brexit was the opportunity cost: leaving the EU would distract the government from more important tasks. Mr Johnson now admits we hadn’t learnt the lessons of the 2012 and 2015 Mers outbreaks. Who could have foreseen that?

Not Mr Cummings apparently. For all his love of super-forecasting, he couldn’t even predict that after driving 260 miles from London, across the length of the country, he might be recognised. Maybe when he championed blue skies ideas, he just meant the view at Barnard Castle.

“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it,” one of his idols, Warren Buffett, once said. Mr Cummings has been in politics for 21 years. “People like me who make the rules should be held accountable for their actions,” he said on Monday.

It bears repeating. At least 1m people in Britain are estimated to have lost their jobs since the start of lockdown, and Mr Cummings is not among them.

Follow Henry Mance myFT and on Twitter

Get alerts on Dominic Cummings when a new story is published

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2020. All rights reserved.
Reuse this content (opens in new window)

Follow the topics in this article