“Sacked man complains that his boss was a wrong ’un.” Put like that, the Dominic Cummings saga seems pretty unremarkable, says Stephen Bush in the I newspaper. But while it’s easy to caricature Boris Johnson’s former top adviser as – in the words of one Tory MP – “a git with a grudge”, we should take his testimony to MPs on Wednesday seriously. Sure, we knew most of it already, in particular that the government should have locked down earlier. But the PM and his ministers have repeatedly shown that they’re keener to focus on vaccination success than to learn, or even examine, the lessons of last year. Given the depressing likelihood of more pandemics in the future, Cummings’s points “are very much worth answering”.
Sadly the “explosive” details, not the bigger picture, are sucking up all the attention, says The Daily Telegraph. Cummings accused Matt Hancock of “criminal failings”, derided Carrie Symonds as “crackers” and even claimed that early in the pandemic Johnson wanted a doctor to inject him with Covid on live TV. The “intellectual narcissist” did accept some responsibility for these failures – but only on the basis that he’d failed to “follow through on his instincts”. The suggestion was that “he would have done everything so much better had he been given half the chance or been surrounded by clever people like himself”.
Cummings is right that “egregious mistakes” were made, says Andrew Neil in The Daily Mail. But the government’s vaccination success will see it through. Now the end of lockdown is near, the public has little interest in last year’s scandal and incompetence – especially when the man describing it is trusted by only 16% of voters. And by the time the vaccine’s “political halo effect” wears off, our economy will be booming. Goldman Sachs predicts growth of more than 8% this year, putting Britain well ahead of Europe and “in the fast lane with America”. Johnson is more than capable of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, but as things stand, Cummings is merely “baying into the wind”.
Some Tories still “smell danger”, says Steven Swinford in The Times. Cummings’s “demolition” of Johnson and his government might not cut through now, but it will set the tone for next year’s public inquiry into the Covid response. And if, as promised, the PM’s former special adviser hands over emails and messages that support his claims, voters may pay rather more attention. Cummings has asserted that Johnson said “let the bodies pile high” before the second lockdown – something the PM has flat-out denied in Parliament. If the comment is proved to be accurate, everything points to Johnson’s resignation.
Hancock feels the heat over care homes
Cummings’s “mauling” of Matt Hancock has put the health secretary in a tight spot, says Henry Deedes in The Daily Mail. The claim is that Hancock promised the PM early in the crisis that everyone discharged from hospital into care homes would be tested. “This turned out not to be true. Result: thousands died.” Hancock just about made it through a press conference on Thursday – and denied making the promise – but, that evening, ITV’s Robert Peston revealed he had documents showing Hancock was summoned to the PM’s office last May to discuss whether he had misled Downing Street about the issue.
A spokesman for Johnson said the PM had “full confidence” in Hancock. And who can blame him, says Isabel Hardman in the I newspaper. Sacking the health secretary would essentially be admitting that Cummings – a man who says Johnson isn’t “fit to lead the country” – was right all along.