Opinion

The myth that the UK’s governing elite know best has been blown out of the water by this pandemic

26 May 2021 4 minutes Read
Dominic Cummings gives evidence to the House of Commons’ health committee

Ifan Morgan Jones

Wow. If nothing else, Dominic Cummings didn’t hold back during his more than five hours (so far) of testimony to the House of Commons’ Health committee.

Now, Dominic Cummings isn’t exactly the most reliable narrator. For all his apparent contrition this was, ultimately, testimony that presented him as a lone and overruled voice of reason at the centre of a catastrophically incompetent government.

But the evidence he gave ultimately tallies with much of what we know of Downing Street’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic – just that things were in reality much, much more shambolic.

The sense of complacency in the run-up to the first lockdown is well documented, and perhaps semi-excusable.

OK, pretty much everyone down to my local Eisteddfod had come to the conclusion that restrictions needed to be in place by around 12 March. Boris Johnson did not impose lockdown until 23 March, over a week later.

But shutting down an entire country is a difficult decision, and best avoided if you can. One could at least sympathise with someone in that position.

But the most shocking revelation of all was that the Prime Minister’s complacency continued after the first lockdown and that by the summer the general view in the UK Government was that the pandemic was essentially over.

This was a “terrible mistake” according to Dominic Cummings. Worse than that, it reveals that those running the UK Government are idiots. Actual idiots.

This isn’t hindsight talking – it was obvious to anyone paying attention to the scientific evidence in the summer of 2020 that the pandemic would be back with a vengeance – including me.

If I and most other casual political observers could spot this, why is it that people at the heart of the UK Government – with direct access to the greatest scientific minds in the country – could not?

Chilling

Prime Minister Boris Johnson in particular comes out of Dominic Cummings’ testimony remarkably badly. Apparently, he was not invited to early key early meetings because he could not be relied upon to take the pandemic seriously.

Once lockdown was in place he is described as “changing his mind ten times a day, calling up the media and contradicting his own policy day after day after day”.

Furthermore, the Prime Minister’s lockdown scepticism continued even after the first lockdown – a lockdown he regretted in hindsight.

There goes the idea that Boris Johnson’s ‘bumbling fool’ persona is all an act and that he is in reality super-intelligent.

128,000 people have died in the United Kingdom from coronavirus, and one has to question whether most of them needed to.

But the chilling thing is of course that this is not an inquiry looking back in hindsight at mistakes made in the past. This is an ongoing pandemic and the same people remain in charge.

With new variants of Covid spreading quickly and the Prime Minister promising “irreversible” unlocking in June, do we really, really trust them not to make all the same mistakes again?

‘Dysfunctional’

Today was a bad day for British exceptionalism – the idea that there are an elite group of people at the heart of power in the UK that simply know better than everyone else.

This is the delusion on which the entirety of the UK’s political system has been built. The central argument for the UK’s over-centralised state is that there exists at the centre of it a level of knowlege and competence that just doesn’t exist elsewhere.

And that whatever kind of job the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Ireland government do it will be inherently inferior.

This had already been undermined by the Welsh and Scottish governments’ more prudent handling of the pandemic. But in reality, it looks like this was a very low bar to cross.

But now we find now that not only did this Westminster elite not know best, they were collectively incompetent. Most governments, and most people, could have, in their position, done a better job.

“The British state is set up almost by design to create a dysfunctional system,” Cummings said in his testimony.

And it very hard to disagree with him on that. So why do so many pretend otherwise?

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Nigel A Robins
Nigel A Robins
17 days ago

Excellent article. Nicely written. Thanks for posting.

Quornby
Quornby
17 days ago

It has but only for those who were previously blind to this reality

Hannergylch
Hannergylch
17 days ago

Covid-19 was/is not some kind of static event, and nowhere does the author suggest it was. However, its dynamics were predictable from previous outbreaks. For instance, the difference between the 2014 Ebola and earlier Ebola outbreaks affords us a striking analogy for the difference between SARS and Covid-19. Earlier Ebola outbreaks limited themselves by quickly killing most of their victims, whereas the 2014 Ebola was slower to kill and hence more able to spread — a lesson that will not have been lost on public health official & academics who reviewed SARS during 2014–20. Given these predictable dynamics, the UK… Read more »

Mandi A
Mandi A
16 days ago
Reply to  Hannergylch

I have never understood, Chris Whitty is supposed to be expert in highly infectious diseases. He was the great star of the London School of Tropical Medicine and UK lead on Ebola, got £40m out of Bill Gates to study malaria. I always have a feeling that one day he is going to be outed as not being quite who he claims to be.

Steve Duggan
Steve Duggan
17 days ago

They pretend otherwise because the UK’s had years if not centuries of practise.Believing what is basically crap, that the upper class know best. Time for this fooshness to stop and here in Cymru we can make it stop.

Bruce
Bruce
16 days ago

This was in the Guardian yesterday, reporting on Prime Ministers Questions:“Johnson refuses to deny claim he said Covid was ‘only killing 80-year-olds’ when he resisted second lockdownStarmer says there is a pattern of behaviour here: lack of planning, poor decision-making and a lack of planning. He says it is alleged Johnson said Covid was only killing 80-year-olds when he resisted the second lockdown. Did the PM use those words, or words to that effect? He says not having a lockdown last autumn was one of the government’s biggest errors. Johnson says this will be a matter for the inquiry. There was a circuit breaker… Read more »

Mr Mark Rhydderch-Roberts
Mr Mark Rhydderch-Roberts
15 days ago

Yes thank God we have the Welsh governing elite to lift us out of poverty and dismal low aspiration – er…..I’ve just noticed we are the poorest country in Western Europe with the lowest social mobility.

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
14 days ago

Are you any relation to Ann Rhydderch by chance?

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