by Freddie Sayers
Wednesday, 26
May 2021
Reaction
11:40

Dominic Cummings’s fantasy: that he invented lockdown

The truth is sadly less heroic than he makes out
by Freddie Sayers
Dominic Cummings gives evidence at today’s select committee hearing

“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 board on Friday 13th, as tweeted by Dominic Cummings

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.

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LUKE LOZE
LUKE LOZE
1 year ago

His other fantasy of course is that lockdowns have been particularly useful. Every single UK national lockdown has been after peak infections (source Prof Tim Spector, React Study, compare with Sweden, US States, travel reduction by 80% prior to lockdown etc).

This isn’t because avoiding indoor contact doesn’t work, it’s because people adjust their behaviour based on perceived risk. The idiotic modelling that Cummings and co brought into presumed that without government mandates we’d literally step over dead bodies to get into the pub.

Paul Wright
Paul Wright
1 year ago
Reply to  LUKE LOZE

Since Bolton and other areas with the Indian variant aren’t being ordered to lock down, I guess we’ll see whether people in the UK will modify their behaviour sufficiently just by being asked to do so.

kathleen carr
kathleen carr
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul Wright

The only thing he said that was correct was that people obeying lockdown weren’t too happy about the allowing in of millions of people into the country during those months. My analogy is putting draught proofing on your windows to help solve that problem , but then taking off the doors-futile. However we don’t know what the original country really did & whether it might have been a good model. I would imagine its impossible to enforce lockdown except in certain circumstances like prison. Prisoners have other rights taken away because they have offended. What did the rest of us do wrong to be punished?

Nick Wade
Nick Wade
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul Wright

Pretty irrelevant. Covid is spread by symptomatic i.e. ill people. Locking up the healthy population achieves nothing.

Paul Wright
Paul Wright
1 year ago
Reply to  Nick Wade

Covid is spread [only] by symptomatic i.e. ill people.

This probably isn’t true, and you probably know that, Olga. Nice try at “flooding the zone”, though.

Last edited 1 year ago by Paul Wright
Tricia Butler
Tricia Butler
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul Wright

Actually the asymptomatic spread house of cards has started crumbling and is due for imminent collapse soon. Studies suggest it accounts for about .7% of transmissions.
AS with respiratory viruses is just not a thing. Even St. Fauci said as much last April before one of many disingenuous flip flops.

John Chestwig
John Chestwig
1 year ago

Excellent article Freddie.
I particularly like your phrase, “it was becoming a political necessity anyway by that point“. Exactly right – a ‘political’ necessity, caused in large part by most of the press and an appalling opposition, rather than a medical or social necessity.

Neil Turrell
Neil Turrell
1 year ago
Reply to  John Chestwig

Yes, so do I; it becomes clearer by the day that ‘political’ necessity, based on some form of spontaneous emotional reaction, is regarded with greater urgency than cautious reasoning. Notwithstanding the personal qualities, or lack of them, by some of the main actors, this was a failure of the British state and its institutions in general, not least the msm. The civil service is not the Rolls Royce model we once thought, more a clapped out Morris Marina. Cummings’ instinct in this area was surely accurate

daniel Earley
daniel Earley
1 year ago

So Boris was in the unenviable position of having different people in different positions telling him different things and different ways to save the country. No leader of a liberal democracy such as ours should be put in the position where they have to consider such draconian measures as locking down their nation, yet it happened.
Now people are coming out of the woodwork saying ‘if only they had done what I suggested, everyone and everything would be alright’.
The fury from commentators and the press drove lockdown throughout the last 12 months and Boris was damned when he didn’t and damned when he did.
Those people championing Cummings now are the same people who called him the spawn of the devil last year yet here they are, holding him aloft as the ultimate voice of sense and reason. I don’t know what gets me more, the utter hypocrisy on many sides or the determination to blame someone despite this being a situation that we have never been in before. We are coming out of it better than many places and I thank the people in charge for that.

Peter Bradley
Peter Bradley
1 year ago
Reply to  daniel Earley

Hear, hear!

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
1 year ago
Reply to  daniel Earley

If I had been able to summon the wherewithal to pass comment on this particular round of lockdown debate, I think this is what I would have said too. Well said, sir.

rosie mackenzie
rosie mackenzie
1 year ago
Reply to  daniel Earley

I particularly don’t agree with Cummings that we should have an inquiry right now, when it is far too soon to tell, let alone people being too busy to prepare for an inquiry at the moment, as Jonathan Van Tam has passionately said..

Fiona Cordy
Fiona Cordy
1 year ago
Reply to  daniel Earley

To be fair, I haven‘t come across anyone holding him aloft as the voice of sense and reason. Seems to me he is mocked from all quarters.

Warren Alexander
Warren Alexander
1 year ago

Hell hath no fury like a political adviser scorned.

jill dowling
jill dowling
1 year ago

Why is it that we persist on pointing fingers at everyone except the Chinese government?

Andrew Thompson
Andrew Thompson
1 year ago
Reply to  jill dowling

That would be racist. True but racist. They daren’t upset the Chinese and the Chinese know this.

teresa.m.skinner
teresa.m.skinner
1 year ago

Now I know that Boris railed against a lockdown with every fibre of his being has made him go up in my estimation, and not, as the media and Cummings would prefer, in the opposite direction.

Kremlington Swan
Kremlington Swan
1 year ago

I don’t know how knowing that comment is.
Ever since Cummings stepped out of Downing Street carrying that box I knew this so-called rift was pure theatre.
When I say ‘I knew’, I mean. of course, that I knew it was not on the level. The nature of the game remains to be seen, but my best guess is that they orchestrated a rift between themselves so that Cummings could act under the pretence of being hostile to Johnson.
Further evidence to back that up comes with the ludicrous assertion that Johnson was infuriated by Cummings calling Symmonds ‘Princess nut-nuts’.

Does that really ring true to anyone? How can it? It reeks of contrivance.

As it happens, I think that is their Achilles heel – they cannot resist the temptation to play fast and loose with the fabrication.

If I had to describe it I would say it was something like: we are making fools of you, and what is more we are telling you we are making fools of you, but you are such fools that you won’t realise it. For anyone who realises he is being made a fool of, so what, eat my sh)t because loads of people are falling for it and there is nothing you can do about it.

At any rate, I believe it is right and proper for people whose job it is to report on these things to keep in mind, on an ongoing basis, that this whole thing may be a put-up job between the two of them.

Your remark that it has made Johnson go up in your estimation is, for me, evidence of one of two possibilities:

  1. This is an unintended consequence of Cummings’ so-called attack on Johnson.
  2. This is an intended consequence of Cummings’ so-called attack on Johnson.

If the polls show an increase in Johnson’s popularity going forward, I think we can at least lend extra credence to the possibility that this is the result of their strategy bearing fruit.

Last edited 1 year ago by Kremlington Swan
Kremlington Swan
Kremlington Swan
1 year ago

Out of curiosity, are you a new sign-up by any chance? It won’t matter if you reveal it to be so, because everyone is asleep.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
1 year ago

I can’t be the only one who looks at yet another lockdown discussion and highly scripted media confession and thinks – give it a break, will you!?! I’m not even sure this is being done in the interests of democratic hygiene. It seems more like retribution for a bruised ego.
I just want to get my jab and move into the future.

Ian Standingford
Ian Standingford
1 year ago

Why is Cummings being accorded such prominence? He is a mere functionary.

Kremlington Swan
Kremlington Swan
1 year ago

Other people have pointed out that lockdowns have been futile.
I just want to add my support for that. I would bet that any lockdowns that were delayed were delayed so that they would coincide with the peak of he infection curve – and that so that it would look as if they were having an effect.
Will an inquiry ever get to the truth? It will have to fight those who resist truth with every fibre their being to get to the truth.

When the Welsh lockdown was implemented I was commenting elsewhere and I clearly remember expressing the view that this would have no effect whatsoever. I also said that I hoped that it would finally demonstrate, if not prove, that lockdowns were ineffective.
What happened? The lockdown had no effect at all. And then what happened? People simply ignored that fact.

What are you supposed to do when people just ignore facts they don’t like?

What can you do? Shrug? Laugh? Get angry? Nothing can be done with people who won’t engage with reality.

Last edited 1 year ago by Kremlington Swan
Adrian Smith
Adrian Smith
1 year ago

You clearly don’t have the slightest notion of what was happening in the hospitals, which have been on the brink of collapse twice, denying treatment for lots of other perennially deadly diseases to cope with just one. 2 full lockdowns as hospitalisations soared out of control and 2 weeks later hospitalisations peak and then start to fall rapidly. The first time coincided with good weather and there is a clear seasonal effect to this virus. The second came exactly the same but in January – no coincidence: it was the lockdowns which prevented the collapse of the health service, which had it happened, would have had a really serious and long lasting impact on all our lives. The concept of 2 week circuit breaker lockdowns was totally flawed and that is proven now, but you don’t know unless you try these things. What has failed to happen is to find a way to cope with the virus that does not rely on authoritarianism pushing a whole set of complex and ever changing rules that nobody can keep up with and don’t make much difference anyway.
The positive effects of the UK vaccination programme are now clear to see in hospitalisation and death data, if you compare our figures now with France Germany and Italy.
Our testing was awful at the start because we did not have the capacity to do it. It is now amongst the best in the world, indeed the largest country that has done more test per capita than UK is UAE (pop about 10m). PPE again was a major problem because we did not have our own capacity, there were no gripes about it 2nd time round. So 3 key things the government really put its mind to, taking unconventional approaches to and all 3 now the envy of other EU countries.
We need to put this behind us. Learn the real lessons about educating people properly, ie not just coming up with simplistic slogans and complex authoritarian rules, so they can make sensible decisions about their own behaviour. We should take pride in and confidence from what we have achieved for ourselves and use that to rebuild our country as a genuinely fairer society (ie not the phoney fairness the Social Justice movement is demanding) that goes out into the wide world free from the shackles of the EU.

Claire D
Claire D
1 year ago
Reply to  Adrian Smith

I agree with you, except I have my doubts about the potential for “educating properly” such a large and disparate population as we are, and that is the reason for the simplistic slogans and authoritarianism, nearly 70 million people are not easily managed.
If we all had equal understanding and intelligence it would be different, but we have’nt.

Last edited 1 year ago by Claire D
Todd Kreider
Todd Kreider
1 year ago
Reply to  Adrian Smith

The second came exactly the same but in January – no coincidence: it was the lockdowns which prevented the collapse of the health service”
Cases were falling fast then among countries where there were no lockdowns including much of the U.S., Japan and Korea.

Adrian Smith
Adrian Smith
1 year ago

It is all just political revenge of a has been, who was lucky not to be fired for his own breaches of the rules he help to write and that have denied millions of their basic liberties since. If we are to avoid it all happening to us all over again every time there is a new variant, there needs to be a strong counter voice to those who think they can make political capital out of criticising the government and Boris in particular for not damaging our economy and our childrens’ futures enough.

Dave Smith
Dave Smith
1 year ago

A very infectious virus spread by aerosols. And they refused to acknowledge this and kept on about washing our hands. I always maintained this right from the start and that lockdowns would have to be really total ( actually impossible to do) for any effect to be felt. The virus was already everywhere in Europe in January as will be proved. I will put good money on this. It clearly reached a critical mass them exploded . China to Italy and then all over.
Now Cummings is saying he could have stopped all this.This is really about avoiding charges hopefully criminal over who exactly ordered the old and sick out of the hospitals. Then he goes on about September and a late lockdown. Once again self serving.
Knowing the dangers inherent in hospitals with multi floor occupation and no effective means of stopping aerosols rising through the liftshafts and stairwells I saw little merit in any further lockdowns . Now if we had proper fever hospitals things might have been different. It seems all the talk about protecting the old and sick was exactly that. Just talk.
They are like rats fighting in a bucket and all of them are a disgrace. Betting with me is no lifting in June and a panic lockdown in October. When the days shorten and the seasonal virus time comes.

rosie mackenzie
rosie mackenzie
1 year ago
Reply to  Dave Smith

Three mistakes they made that mattered: not understanding aerosols were the chief means by which the virus spread; not understanding about asymptomatic infection; and giving the media essential worker status.

rosie mackenzie
rosie mackenzie
1 year ago

For an aspergic, tunnel-visioned, obsessive, Cummings was surprisingly inconsistent. For example, on borders, which he thought should have been slammed shut in January: he praises up Vallance, Raab, and Sunak, again and again, yet they were all in favour of keeping the borders open. He doesn’t once mention the Home Secretary who wanted them shut. If he had got his way, then 4 million or so British people would have been shut out of the country. How long for? A year? Two years?And the old and frail among them – what would have happened to them? Just imagine the fuss in the media if a whole lot of British Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, and Africans had died of the plague through being shut out of Britain, or died of something else through lack of treatment.
It became clear the PM sees all the ramifications and Cummings does not. No wonder they didn’t agree.
Another inconsistency in Cummings’s evidence was his laceration of Hancock. Cummings told us, correctly, that our system of government is sclerotic; that ministers have full responsibility for their departments but cannot hire and fire their permanent staff, nor bring in anyone new; that there is a culture of risk aversion in the civil service. And then in the next breath Cummings is blaming Hanco ck when he can only be loyal to his department; he cannot reform it or restaff it. So he had to impose the 100,000 target to get them moving.

Kremlington Swan
Kremlington Swan
1 year ago

Oh, for Goodness sake. That c()t is just trying to deflect blame to protect that other c()t in Downing Street.
I will eat my words if at the end of all this Johnson goes down, but my best guess is that he will step out of the wreckage with a spring in his step, and smelling of roses, and it will be in no small part down to the efforts of his mate.

I hope I am wrong. I don’t think I am wrong.

Peter Scott
Peter Scott
1 year ago

I don’t care.
I am so annoyed with Boris Johnson and the ‘Conservatives’, who never conserve anything, that I am grateful to Cummings for coming at them with a wrecking ball.
I hope Cummngs’s blasts counteract the almost entirely undeserved support BoJo is getting from the general public at present, who seem to forget that this government, like all the others since 1997, has allowed (and therefore promoted) mass immigration, political correctness run mad, dotty super-expensive environmentally damaging schemes (e.g. HS2), keeps putting worthless meritocrats into all the top quango jobs; and all the other follies that Blair’s Labour Party launched.
To date the only way they have not imitated that Vandal Blair’s policies is to go in for senseless foreign wars. Yet.
With the military-industrial complex in the Pentagon back in the saddle, post-Trump, I suppose even that maniacal folly will soon be on the menu.

Kremlington Swan
Kremlington Swan
1 year ago
Reply to  Peter Scott

If I wanted to go all worst case scenario based on wildest conspiracy theory, I would guess that the calamity we are headed for is the wholesale purchase by the Chinese government of whatever is left of the wreckage of our economy, followed by establishment of the UK as a satellite of the Chinese Empire. At that point we will realise, when we see Johnson on a balcony with the Chinese dictator, that we have been sold down the river.
As I say, just a conspiracy theory, no more – a fantasy I fervently hope is the product of my deranged imagination.

Peter Scott
Peter Scott
1 year ago

If only your imagination WERE deranged.
Unfortunately your ‘conspiracy theory’ looks highly realistic.
The people really selling this country down the river, however, are not so much Johnson or this, that or other dreadful career politician currently in the House of Commons.
The traitors are essentially the Public. They are too lazy to create new parties full of rational patriots, people of competence, people with courage and grip, and then back those persons to replace the worthless crew currently occupying most of the 650 seats in that national legislative chamber.
Instead, Mr and Mrs Joe Public leave it to everyone else to provide civilization, proper government; keep voting for the worthless legacy parties – all that are currently represented in the HoC – and promoting 4th-rate jobsworths to make the country’s decisions.

rosie mackenzie
rosie mackenzie
1 year ago

For an aspergic, tunnel-visioned, obsessive, Cummings was surprisingly inconsistent. For example, on borders, which he thought should have been slammed shut in January: he praises up Vallance, Raab, and Sunak, again and again, yet they were all in favour of keeping the borders open. He doesn’t once mention the Home Secretary who wanted them shut. If he had got his way, then 4 million or so British people would have been shut out of the country. How long for? A year? Two years?And the old and frail among them – what would have happened to them? Just imagine the fuss in the media if a whole lot of British Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, and Africans had died of the plague through being shut out of Britain, or died of something else through lack of treatment.

It became clear the PM sees all the ramifications and Cummings does not. No wonder they didn’t agree.

Another inconsistency in Cummings’s evidence was his laceration of Hancock. Cummings told us, correctly, that our system of government is sclerotic; that ministers have full responsibility for their departments but cannot hire and fire their permanent staff, nor bring in anyone new; that there is a culture of risk aversion in the civil service. And then in the next breath Cummings is blaming Hancock when he can only be loyal to his department; he cannot reform it or restaff it. So he had to impose the 100,000 target to get them moving.

Eva Rostova
Eva Rostova
1 year ago

Mr Sayers, I’m sorry but your writing on the pandemic is so intellectually lightweight. The term “lockdown” is meaningless unless you define precisely which policies you are referring to.

Having watched Cummings’ evidence today, evidently a key policy at issue was border restrictions. By contrast with SE Asian countries and Australia/New Zealand, there was no consensus in the West in favor of border restrictions.

Last edited 1 year ago by Eva Rostova
William Gladstone
William Gladstone
1 year ago

Such a shame this guy is not still in government, Everything he says rings true to me and the more they try and rubbish and misquote him the truer it all looks.

Fiona Cordy
Fiona Cordy
1 year ago

Funny you should say that. Actually, my understanding is he was never in government.

Johannes Kreisler
Johannes Kreisler
1 year ago

I’m with you on that. Always regarded Cummings as the saving grace of the tories, was really dismayed to see him gone. Would replace Johnson with him in a heartbeat.

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
1 year ago

Fair point, Freddie. But the fact Cummings was as late as everyone else in number 10 shouldn’t distract from the fact they were late – or from the fundamental argument about the herd immunity policy they later lied about.
Is it the fact that he’s openly admitting they got it wrong that worries you and causes you to focus on the man not the message?

Jonathan Ellman
Jonathan Ellman
1 year ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

I assumed it was the fact the man is trying to take credit for it and to discredit others using public resources that would be better used elsewhere.

David Slade
David Slade
1 year ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

Who got what wrong and what’s your definition of wrong? The right thing to do is take a holistic approach to health; weigh uncertain benefits of locking down against well documented costs to health of economic sabotage (recorded by Bristol university at the time and recognised from the fall out of 2008) and making a considered decision based on a full assessment. This may or may not validate the decision of other country to lockdown (in my opinion it didn’t, but that’s not the point).

In any case, copying the policies of China, Italy etc is not being right – it’s a case of ‘monkey see; monkey do’ – or, ‘The science’ as I now believe it’s called.

Last edited 1 year ago by David Slade
Alex Camm
Alex Camm
1 year ago
Reply to  David Slade

I couldn’t agree more. Wether this objective review of what happened will ever take place is sadly in doubt. particularly if accepted wisdom is that the harder and faster we locked down the more deaths we would have prevented. The obsession with dealing with Covid led to the ignoring of other more deadly diseases such as cancer and heart conditions which will have long term effects that will not be so noticeable when spread out over time but nevertheless attributable to the policies pursued. Concentrating on preventing Just covid deaths rather than taking into account collateral damage will condemn us to more of the same in the future.
I think Boris was instinctively right in his initial desire not to Lockdown.
Those who argue that the health service would be overwhelmed are basing that assumption on predictions that have not been tested out and conveniently shoos worst case scenarios.
I would agree that a serious review of how the health service prepares for future events occur must happen in order to prevent future situations where we supposedly have to lockdown vulnerable and non vulnerable in order to prevent ICU’s being overwhelmed. can this be done by the current bureaucracy remains to be seen. ironically it was Cummings determination to reform this that may get lost in the battle.This would be time well spent rather than getting involved in I told you so arguments that may never be proven either way

Paul Wright
Paul Wright
1 year ago
Reply to  Alex Camm

I would agree that a serious review of how the health service prepares for future events occur must happen in order to prevent future situations where we supposedly have to lockdown vulnerable and non vulnerable in order to prevent ICU’s being overwhelmed

The initial growth of the virus is exponential, meaning the amount of new cases produced goes up in proportion to the number you already have active. It doubles within a given time. If it doubles fast enough and a large enough proportion of people with it need to go to hospital, you’re stuffed: either your health service is vastly overresourced for peacetime, or you will run out of hospitals/staff/oxygen.
Have you run the numbers for COVID and checked that was you suggest is feasible?

TIM HUTCHENCE
TIM HUTCHENCE
1 year ago
Reply to  David Slade

Absolutely spot on.

rosie mackenzie
rosie mackenzie
1 year ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

The phrase herd immunity came to be used as shorthand for something else – killing off the old people. That is why the Government disowned it and quite right too. It was grossly irresponsible of the media to mislead the public in that way.