ANDREW NEIL: Bullet after vengeful bullet… but the Boris Boom will leave Dominic Cummings baying at the wind
This was Westminster’s version of Cambodia’s Killing Fields, only more brutal. One by one, those who had dared thwart Dominic Cummings or failed to come up to his exacting if quixotic standards when he was the Prime Minister’s main man in Downing Street were taken out into the paddy fields of Whitehall and shot.
The victims weren’t even allowed the alternative of a spell in re-education camp to mend their ways.
Boris Johnson led the Cummings death march. He was unfit to be PM, no better than an erratic ‘shopping trolley’. The Cabinet Office was useless in a crisis. Cobra, the official emergency committee, just as bad — and it leaked like a sieve. Even the PM’s partner, Carrie, and their dog Dilyn, didn’t escape the carnage. The future Mrs Johnson was even accused of ‘illegal’ moves to get jobs for pals.
The more his testimony went on the nastier and more brutal it turned.
Pictured: Dominic Cummings, former Special Advisor to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, leaving the Houses of Parliament after giving evidence in central London
But when it came to Health Secretary Matt Hancock, one deadly bullet was not enough. Hancock was shot, then hung, drawn and quartered, then shot again. Every now and then Cummings would walk over to the corpse and pump another metaphorical bullet into it, just because he could.
There was a serious point to all this score-settling, though we’ve known the broad outlines for ages. When the pandemic struck early last spring, this was a Government seriously out of its depth, from the Prime Minister down.
Drawn almost wholly from the limited ranks of Johnson’s Brexiteers, it lacked the collective brain power, the experience and the confidence to deal with the worst peacetime crisis in modern British history.
So mistakes — often egregious mistakes — were made and Cummings was right to spell them out.
There was no plan — not just a poor plan, no plan — to deal with the pandemic. The procurement of protective equipment for health workers was a shambles. As were early efforts at test and trace. We went into lockdowns too late and came out too soon.
All this cost lives. Nowhere more so than in our care homes, scene of the biggest scandal of all.
ANDREW NEIL: Boris Johnson led the Cummings death march. He was unfit to be PM, no better than an erratic ‘shopping trolley’
Of course, all governments made mistakes, even ones, like Germany, we thought were doing much better than us at the time. It was an unprecedented crisis and bungles were inevitable. But ours made more than most and was often a culpably slow learner (it still is — look at the mess over guidance for those in the current Indian variant hotspots). The result is a death toll higher than most comparable countries.
Cummings clearly wants to destroy his former boss.
He corroborated some of the most damaging quotes attributed to Johnson (including letting bodies ‘pile high’ rather than imposing a lockdown) and accords sole responsibility to the PM for the delay in locking down last autumn.
As his attacks escalated, however, he undermined his case by coming across as a man on a single-minded mission to exact revenge. And, for all the litany of error, muddle, potential scandal and downright incompetence he detailed in his testimony, I sense he’s unlikely to get his way.
For a start, it’s not clear the public is that interested in what he has to say, however incendiary.
The Westminster bubble is obsessed with him and in its collective eye he’s gone from duplicitous weirdo to courageous whistleblower in a matter of months. But a recent poll suggested only 16 per cent of people trust what he has to say. It’s not a strong base from which to overthrow the Government.
Pictured: Dominic Cummings facing questions from lawmakers over the government’s Covid-19 response
For most folks, Cummings is still that guy who drove to Barnard Castle during lockdown with wife and family to ‘test’ his eyesight. They think that a man who pushed for lockdowns harder than most, then broke his own lockdown, is not someone they necessarily want to listen to.
His fresh efforts to explain it all away yesterday were met with derision.
But more important than what people think of Cummings, are the stark politics of the pandemic. Rightly or wrongly, people are likely to give more weight to the successful rollout of the vaccines, which is allowing us to come out of the pandemic, than the mess and muddle going into the pandemic, which already seems like another age.
Vaccines are not just a health policy, they’re an economic policy, allowing a return to normality. They are the one unadulterated success story of the Government’s patchy pandemic record and the political dividend has been rich.
Normally, at this time in a parliament, the opposition could expect to be ahead in the polls by double figures.
But it is the Johnson Government which is ahead by double figures, with Labour dead in the water and its leader, Keir Starmer, struggling to make much of an impact on his own party, never mind the wider public.
Of course, the political halo effect of the vaccine will wear off, threatening the Government’s popularity. But by the time that happens the British economy will be booming. It is not yet widely appreciated just how big this boom will be.
The recent forecasts of the leading lights of the global economic establishment, such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Organisation For Economic Cooperation And Development (OECD), are already looking silly.
All were unanimous that Britain’s economic recovery from the pandemic would be lacklustre. The OECD even predicted we’d be the worst performer of any major economy in 2021. That already looks ridiculous.
The British economy is springing back with a vengeance. Growth in the current quarter is likely to be around 5 per cent — which is equivalent to annual growth of 20 per cent!
Naturally we won’t grow that fast because much of the recovery is already in hand but every major international forecaster is now rushing to upgrade their British economic forecasts.
Even mighty Goldman Sachs, which has been down on Britain ever since we voted for Brexit in 2016, now predicts over 8 per cent growth this year, which would still put Britain in the fast lane with America and well ahead of any other major European economy and the Eurozone.
If the Chinese economy continues to slow we could even grow faster than China next year.
The reason is encouraging. Much of our growth this year will be propelled by consumers. British households have accumulated extra savings in the past year of around £130 billion. They will start to spend a fair chunk of that as lockdown ends.
The British economy should be back to its pre-Covid size by the autumn. Of course, previous consumer booms have ended in tears. But this time could be different.
British businesses have accumulated an extra £100 billion on their balance sheets during lockdown. They will spend that next year before Chancellor Rushi Sunak’s ‘super deduction’, which gives huge tax breaks for investment, comes to an end.
A consumer boom followed by an investment bonanza. That is the stuff of economic dreams. No wonder the Bank of America’s UK ‘optimism index’ is at its highest level ever.
A successful vaccine rollout followed by an economic boom will not necessarily guarantee a Johnson victory at the next election (likely in 2023). Nothing can do that. And the PM has it within himself to screw things up.
But together they must make him favourite, as things currently stand, for re-election, leaving Cummings baying into the wind and all these arguments about Brexit so yesterday.
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