The truth is sadly less heroic than he makes out
“The evening of Friday 13th, I’m sitting with Ben Warner and the Prime Minister’s Private Secretary in the Prime Minister’s study. And we’re basically saying we’re going to have to sit down with the Prime Minister tomorrow and explain to him that we think we’re going to have to ditch the whole official plan, and that we’re headed for the biggest disaster this country’s seen since 1940.”
Don’t let anyone say that Dominic Cummings doesn’t have a flair for drama. The scene he has been depicting all morning in his evidence to the select committee feels like something straight out of a movie: a few brave, doughty aides, led by the maths not the politics, suddenly realise the gravity of the situation while burning the midnight oil in the office of the Prime Minister himself. Who’s going to tell him? The rest of the world hasn’t realised it — how will they ever persuade him to consider their crazy ‘Plan B’, sketched on a whiteboard like the wall of John Nash’s study in A Beautiful Mind. It would involve actually locking down the country… it’s radical but it might just be the only way.
The trouble is, it’s a fantasy. Cummings didn’t invent lockdown with a couple of brainiacs in Number Ten — China invented lockdown when they put the entire city of Wuhan under house arrest on January 23rd. Italy had broken the taboo within the Western world already on March 8th, placing several Northern provinces under lockdown, quickly extending it nationwide on March 9th when people began fleeing en masse towards the South.
By the time of Cummings’s Eureka meeting on Friday 13th, Finland, Ireland, Denmark, Estonia and Poland had all entered full national lockdowns on the continent; countries as far flung as Iran, El Salvador and Mongolia had locked down too. Politicians like Rory Stewart and Jeremy Hunt were on the airwaves calling for Britain to lock down, joining a rapidly growing phalanx of commentators. Fellow galaxy brains like Piers Morgan were already leading the charge on the morning shows. It was the mid-point of an unstoppable global drum-beat, which the UK was neither remarkably early nor remarkably late to give in to.
By that time, the UK was starting to seem like an outlier — going against the consensus by refusing to rush into a national lockdown. Whatever the results of Cummings’s midnight calculations, it was becoming a political necessity anyway by that point.
So his realisation was not remotely counter-consensual: by his logic he realised, somewhat late, that the rest of the world and the mainstream commentariat were right, and that Britain ought to follow the trend and lock down too. The truth is sadly less glamorous than the version Mr Cummings is so keen to have recorded in the history books.