Lions led by donkeys: Cummings uses broad strokes to portray colleagues


There was little subtlety to Dominic Cummings’ testimony before MPs.

In his mind, colleagues were either brilliant or incompetent, with very little in between.

Those he praised included – perhaps unsurprisingly – people he had hired. According to Cummings, Warner should have been given “kingly authority” to handle Covid-19, because his artificial intelligence company was involved in an “unprecedented” data-mining operationthat helped the government’s response.

“If I’d been prime minister I would have said Marc Warner is in charge of this whole thing,” MPs told Cummings, who also praised the other Warner brother in government, Ben.

Likening the government’s delay in locking down and lack of action plan to the 1996 disaster film Independence Day, in which the US is devastated by a surprise alien invasion, Cummings compared his data expert colleague Ben Warner to Jeff Goldblum’s scientist in the film whose warnings were ignored.

Others he approved of included the chancellor Rishi Sunak. He said he had “absolute confidence” in the Treasury’s handling of economic matters. The department had conjured a furlough scheme from a standing start in barely a couple of days.

Perhaps surprisingly, Dominic Raab was also singled out.

Cummings said the foreign secretary had coped admirably when he stepped in after Johnson fell ill with Covid-19 – holding the reins at a time Whitehall was contemplating that the prime minister might die.

Then there were those Cummings clearly disapproved of: the health secretary Matt Hancock was chief among them, with the prime minister not far behind.

Hancock was described as serially incompetent and a man who had hidden behind the scientists.

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Johnson was simply unfit for the office of prime minister, he said.

The former civil service chief Mark Sedwill also came in for criticism.

They were, in Cummings’ world, the “donkeys” who had led the “lions” of the NHS.

The broader civil service – at least parts of it anyway – also drew his ire.

As long as it continued to prioritise “good chaps” who would not rock the boat, he said, the country would find itself unable to respond creatively to crises such as Covid-19.

Helen MacNamara did rock the boat, but it wasn’t entirely clear whether Cummings saw her as hero or villain.

One of the few women to be mentioned throughout the seven hours of testimony, he described how the then deputy cabinet secretary had acknowledged in March last year that the government was on a perilous track and needed to change course.

He claimed she told him. “I think we are absolutely fucked. I think this country is headed for disaster,. I think we’re going to kill thousands of people.”



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