Dominic Cummings’ appearance in Parliament was fascinating, and real car crash stuff. From the Government using the analogy of ‘chicken pox parties’ to explain herd immunity, to a the sidelining of a meeting to discuss isolation because US President Donald Trump wanted the UK to join ‘a bombing campaign in the Middle East’ and Boris Johnson’s partner Carrie Symonds was going ‘crackers’ over a ‘trivial’ Times report about her dog.
But I really believe that the kicking the Government is getting over the herd immunity strategy as a result of Mr Cummings’ revenge mission against Prime Minister Boris Johnson is an unwelcome distraction and is missing the point.
The Covid death toll alone is enough evidence to damn the Government’s response from day one. And I believe that – barring the vaccination programme led by the NHS and GPs specifically – this Government’s response to the pandemic has been horrific.
But on the herd immunity strategy, I feel there is a lot of 2020 hindsight happening. Take yourself back to the beginning of March 2020. This was a novel virus. There were plenty of experts arguing against a herd immunity strategy. But equally, there were plenty arguing in favour – including, crucially, Professor Chris Whitty. Forgetting all the ‘Thick of It’ style idiocy behind the scenes detailed today, the main accusation against the Government of ignoring the scientific consensus ignores the fact there was no scientific consensus at the time.
The circus following any public appearance by Cummings means this will dominate coverage for a while. But the first weeks of March isn’t when the Government made its crucial mistakes (though even with a herd immunity strategy, they should have been more cautious about allowing events like Cheltenham, the Stereophonics concerts and Athletico Madrid playing a Champions League game in Liverpool when Madrid was particularly affected. And let’s not forget the Prime Minister shaking hands with hospitalised Covid patients).
These are nothing on the number and size of mistakes made after those two weeks: constantly being weeks behind in declaring new lockdowns at a time we understood the virus better, PPE, shielding (which, to be fair, Cummings discussed), Christmas, eat out to help out, commute into work, allowing flights from badly hit countries etc.
Or the mistakes made before the pandemic, including the decimation of the NHS budget and the destruction of pandemic planning – led by the very person questioning Mr Cummings, Jeremy Hunt.
These are mistakes that should be scrutinised, with ministers made accountable for, and learnt from. So let’s not be led by a petty squabble between two narcissists.
Jaimie Kaffash is editor of Pulse. Follow him on Twitter @jkaffash or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.