Neither Dominic Cummings nor the Prime Minister is trustworthy – so who should we believe?
If you told me on 26th May 2020, that precisely a year from now Dominic Cummings would spend the best part of a day ripping into the government’s handling of the COVID pandemic, and assessing that Boris Johnson was not fit for the role of Prime Minister, I would’ve stared at you in disbelief. Cummings’ scathing assessment of the government’s actions was full of horrific admissions and confirmation of many people’s worst fears, especially his statement that thousands of lives that were lost could’ve been prevented. These will almost certainly be emphatically denied by Downing Street; but who should we believe? Is it the man who has propelled himself to the highest position in the country through a career of lies, or the man who claimed to go on a car journey to test his eyesight that was at the centre of it all? This is certainly not a case of an honest man’s word against a liar, rather a case of two men known for their lack of integrity accusing each other.
The Tory line in the coming weeks will be very straightforward. Deny and rebuke anything that Cummings said, dismiss it and move on. And it may well work in their favour. Cummings is not a trustworthy figure, and that translates into the views of the public. In a recent poll, just 14% of people said they believed what he had to say over the government’s handling of the pandemic. 75% said they did not. Another poll conducted this week found that 16% believe Cummings over Johnson, 22% Johnson over Cummings and 46% believe neither. However shocking Cummings’ allegations may be, the public does not trust him and it’s likely his words will be dismissed - just as Mr Johnson and the Cabinet would have hoped so.
Obviously, the reason the public doesn’t trust Mr Cummings is because of something that hurt the Prime Minister and the Government so heavily just over a year ago. The Barnard Castle affair was just the beginning of multiple scandals, but it probably remains the one to have hit them the hardest. A study by the University College of London, which had been monitoring the public’s attitude towards the government during the pandemic, saw a sharp decrease in confidence in the government - some of which never came back. YouGov polls demonstrated that 71% of the public thought he had broken lockdown, 62% thought the story was important and 59% thought he should resign. Double-digit leads in the polls quickly fell to as low as two points. The pressure and anger on the Prime Minister were immense. Yet just over a year on, Cummings’ actions have potentially saved him.
However shocking Cummings’ allegations may be, the public does not trust him and it’s likely his words will be dismissed.
Had Barnard Castle never happened, the committee hearing could’ve had a far larger impact. The Prime Minister’s most trusted and closest advisor, revealing that his boss had a shocking disdain and lack of care for any loss of life which likely contributed to thousands of avoidable deaths should be enough to end Boris Johnson’s political career. However, Dominic Cummings’ lack of integrity degrades both the impact that his words will have and how far they ring in people’s ears. Most people still know Mr Cummings as the man who broke lockdown and denied it in the most extraordinary circumstances. Not many will be ready to believe anything that he says. His claim that Matt Hancock should’ve been sacked multiple times over, including for lying to the public, strikes a sense of irony, considering this was the same man who held a TV conference promoting a ludicrous claim that he went on a car journey to test his eyesight, and wasn’t sacked.
Moreover, Cummings repeatedly berated the government’s handling of the pandemic, which instantly leads to the retort: ‘Well you were there, why didn’t you do something and why did you continue working there?’ Cummings defended himself by appearing to strike a contrast between his pro lockdown stance and the Prime Minister’s reckless refusal to do so and stated that he considered leaving in the early autumn (even going as far as to say that the Chancellor wanted him to stay on). But these arguments again lie weak in the face of all his admissions. He may now believe that Boris Johnson is unfit for the role of Prime Minister, yet he played a major role in getting him there and continued working for him long after realising his serial incompetence and idiocy.
However, in response to the government’s denials of Cummings’ allegations, and attempts to portray him as a liar (which as we have seen will most likely work), many are also quick to point out that Boris Johnson cannot accuse Cummings of being untrustworthy, without acknowledging that during the Barnard Castle affair he refused to fire him no matter the costs. Dominic Cummings’ allegations are easy to refute for the government, yet that does not come without the sting that they were all defending him a year ago. If Cummings is a liar and untrustworthy, why wasn’t he fired after breaking lockdown rules? These accusations go both ways, and will mostly just be thrown back and forth.
Cummings is not a man of decency or integrity. He has plenty of reasons for his claims - probably stemming from a dislike for the former boss that spurned him, but he also has no reason to make any of it up. Instead of accusing him of outright lying, everything he claimed should be taken with a pinch of salt. We haven’t heard other accounts of these stories, nor is Cummings a believable man.
So it comes back down to this. A tale of two liars. Both of whom serve no one but themselves. Cummings’ words are a scathing attack on the government’s handling of the pandemic. However, his own past and actions strip away a huge amount of impact and this whole affair may be left to rot in the binbags of history, never to be heard or seen again. Time will tell whether Dominic Cummings has succeeded in hurting the Prime Minister.
Disclaimer: All views expressed in this piece belong solely to the author and do not reflect the views of Demographica Limited as a company.
Cover Photo Credit: "Boris Johnson Covid-19 23/03" by Andrew Parsons/10 Downing Street is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0