64 Comments
Jun 16, 2021Liked by Dominic Cummings

I’ve subscribed purely to thank you.

I lost both of my shielding parents to Covid. Their names were Cliff & Jean Anderson.

My father, carer to my Mum, sat in his home in 2020, watching the news saying this was a cull of the elderly. We saw the discharge of the elderly first hand. We saw them moved to care homes untested. We saw the lies peddled each night. We saw the lack of testing of non Domiciliary care workers & their exemption from the rules. My father was scared. He never went out. We lost that year entirely, forced to FaceTime daily as we desperately sought to keep Dad’s spirit up, to keep them safe. But we couldn’t.

Dad died first. Likely an asymptomatic carer. They weren’t tested. They had to “self declare”. He had an enormous Covid induced stroke. He was taken away on Jan 11 in an ambulance after 4.5hr wait. I never saw or spoke to him again. I caught Covid giving him first aid. My Mum followed him 36 days later.

Collateral damage. Cannon fodder to the incompetents. Numbers chirped out at 5pm on Hancock’s grim reaper clapometer. His nightly death roster while he lied about how good a job he was doing. They don’t belong on that list, they were my irreplaceable loved ones. They were my children’s everything. A hole has been ripped in our hearts. Life will never be the same. I never understood what bereft meant until this.

I wrote to you in the days before your select committee appearance, telling you a little of their lives & asking that you speak honestly and freely. For those of us who are bereft but have no voice. Against a PM & Hancock who lie, who mislead, who cannot even be bothered to have the respect to attend the memorial opposite Parliament. Lest they be shamed by the reality of a symbol of their abject failure. Those nightly numbers sure have added up quickly.

So thank you. From the bottom of my heart. I hope you continue to divulge what you know, until it cannot be ignored, or swept away, or hidden. You were challenged by that fool to produce the evidence, please continue to do so. I have no wish to wait 5-10 years for a whitewash inquiry. The time is now.

Expand full comment
author

I'm very sorry to hear your story. In a situation like covid every country makes mistakes but we made some that were unforgivably big + unnecessary, and the care homes/shileding failure was particularly terrible. We could and should have had testing & PPE ready to help with shielding. And now the government is just systematically lying about it all. Best wishes to you for the future... D

Expand full comment
author

Ps. Hancock told MPs that we were planning on basis of no asymptomatic transmission. This was more rubbish - SAGE/COBR documents explicitly told us to assume there WAS asymptomatic transmission. I cannot imagine why he said this as it makes no sense and is trivially disproved from many documents. If we'd had asymptomatic testing in place as we should have done, this problem wd have been much smaller...

Expand full comment

Thank you. In honesty, I held you accountable initially as part of the government. I am thankful you are being so transparent & open in your responses. My parents & all those lost deserve that. Take good care.

Expand full comment
author

I will post more on this issue soon...

Expand full comment
Jun 16, 2021Liked by Dominic Cummings

You are now effectively “the opposition”. I hope that you have or are developing a plan for how to construct some form of structure around that, so that we don’t just end up with other incompetents taking over from the ones you have the dirt on.

Expand full comment
author

V good question, yes I am thinking about this. Core problem is the parties... They are both having to change because of Brexit but not fast enough and fundamentally the MPs are much more influenced by daily media and party loyalty / climbing the pole than anything else. So a new regime means new incentives and that's very hard... Ideas welcome...

Expand full comment
founding

Perhaps there needs to be some real consequences for being found to have acted illegally by a Judge as part of a judicial review. At present Parliament is failing in its duty to hold Ministers to account, they can fob off the NAO, and there is no penalty for a Minister having acted illegally. This is a recipe for incompetence, corrupt and negligent practice.

Expand full comment

Party Constitutions, drawn up by aligned legal professionals, aim to preserve power (the status quo) and dissipate embarrassments, rather than promote competence, accountability and leadership.

The Conservatives at least have the power to change their leader whereas Labour cannot - their Constitution is completely FUBAR. The end result is as Flora Page says, "you are now effectively the opposition"!

Our political classes are positively incentivised by popularity but this is not balanced by tangible negative consequences for failure or incompetence. What we need is political hemlock.

Expand full comment

Perhaps representative and party-based democracy should be replaced with performance based democracy. Eg. Each Minister is directly elected by the entire electorate. Minsters come before a jury periodically, and the jury decide whether they have performed well enough to stay in post, or whether they must face re-election. Ministerial candidates first apply to be in an election pool. Recruits to the pool go through an open civil service recruitment process, and if successful they are paid a salary for a specified period. While in the pool, they work on their personal manifesto until a suitable portfolio comes up for them to seek to be elected. If they succeed in getting elected, they have proper leadership powers - can hire and fire officials as they see fit etc. - but of course with that comes full accountability before the jury/electorate. However, there is also the question of how you get from where we are to anywhere else. Maybe that requires a new party that builds into its constitution an auto-destruct when its goals are achieved. A bit like your desire to make yourself redundant... Its pie in the sky of course.

Expand full comment

How to get a half-decent government? Restore decency to parliament – starting with respecting the Ministerial Code. We all have a duty to call out the media when lies are repeated, and invented.

Expand full comment

Well put, Flora. I totally agree. The political classes seem oblivious to the public contempt in which they are held. Dominic has become "Her Majesty's loyal Opposition!"

Expand full comment

Imagine being so bereft of ideas that Michael Gove seems like the answer to anything.

Expand full comment

This is very long meaning a vanishingly small number of people will work through it. Please consider setting up a Kickstarter and finding the kind of documentary team who worked with Navalny on Putin's Palace - 117,252,579 views on YouTube, one in four Russians have watched it. Lay out the story in a 2021 audience-friendly way.

Expand full comment

Agree with most of this (I had a sleepless night on 15th March 2020 over the insane "herd immunity" plans, thinking we were being led by crazy people into an abyss of chaos and ruin.)

I feel like there is a glaring hole in all of it though: Italy locked down on 9th March. It should've been obvious to you and everyone in the UK government that it was just a matter of time before we ended up like Italy, and the logical thing was to lock down immediately then. If we had locked down the day after Italy, we could've probably avoided 80% of the first wave, and reopened a lot quicker.

I think a large part of why this didn't happen was a kind of "British exceptionalism" that is epitomised by Brexit. Somehow what was happening in Italy just didn't apply to us! It would be different here. But why? What is materially different between the UK and Italy that meant that the pandemic couldn't possibly blow up _here_, or overwhelm _our_ health service!? A massive blind spot for you, No.10, the Cabinet Office and government in general. You don't even mention Italy!

Expand full comment

(to be fair, you do mention the modelling showing the NHS being overwhelmed, but the real world evidence was there for all to see on the continent, and all over the news, a week *before* you started to raise the alarm)

Expand full comment

“Matt Hancock is totally fucking hopeless” is hardly revelatory. Your intention in exposing the liars which grace the table at number 10 is admirable – but a tad hypocritical. It is a truth universally acknowledged that the cabinet in situ were selected to Get Brexit Done. Covid outcomes would have been very different under Rory Stewart, Sajid Javid and Phillip Hammond. To what extent do you acknowledge your influence in gathering the current bunch of half wits and charlatans as a force to run the country?

Expand full comment
author

It's a 'truth' that is widespread & repeated by media but false. I played no part in leadership campaign and zero in picking first Cabinet, I arrived AFTER Cabinet had been picked, contra media. If I'd been there the Cabinet wd have looked very different... Ill write soon about this question - why did you install a clown if you knew he was a clown? With respect, a government led by 3 Reminers in 2019 is not a very realistic thought experiment...

Expand full comment

An unrealistic thought experiment, yes. But someone with Rory’s brain, speed and honesty would have helped in those “let’s take it offline” meetings, remainer or not.

Expand full comment

Thanks for clarification, will be interesting to hearing more about the cabinet you had in mind... appreciate and accept that a Remainer govt was not viable, but pandemic highlighted perils of selection based on towing party line rather than good governance. Looking forward to your analysis of current pantomime and the installation of the clown. "Louis XIV was a proud and presumptuous man; he had such-and-such mistresses and such-and-such ministers, and he ruled France badly. Louis's heirs were also weak men and also ruled France badly. They too had such-and-such mistresses and such-and-such ministers. Besides, certain men were writing books at the time....." plus ca change....

Expand full comment

If you remember DC spoke about the lack of ability in Gov. long before covid.

Expand full comment

I don't think there's an intrinsic lack of ability in govt, it's the culture that's preventing very able people reach their potential and get results. DC does acknowledge that current team not best selection of available talent pool; my point was that they are the inevitable result of VL campaign that DC executed so successfully. As DC said, current problem is leadership - optimistic style was required to push through illogical Brexit legislature... but not appropriate for public health crisis where caution, scrutiny and transparency are crucial. Integrity is the missing ingredient, not ability

Expand full comment

Isn't the real problem a lack of integrity AND ability. We have not achieved a meritocracy in the UK yet and 'social mobility' is still pie in the sky.

Expand full comment

Not convinced on ability, needs to have scrutiny and robust system in place. This pandemic has made me realise that our local playgroup committee could have done as good a job - a GP, an accountant, a civil servant with 1st in Maths and education specialist ...... all working mothers..... we work collaboratively and transparently, and pretty efficiently.... all volunteers so want to get decisions done quickly. Main difference - we're all clear on our purpose and values.

Expand full comment

It feels like the media is extremely unwilling to hold our elected representatives to account.

Lying is the easiest way out of difficult questions, and doesn’t seem to bother either the media, or the general population.

Have you any thoughts on how this could change?

Having a political class that just want to be loved, rather than metrics and outcome based policies, is always going to result in slippery weasels at the top.

Expand full comment
author

Journalists' incentives are as terrible as MPs - but if anyone tries to do government differently the media howls and the MPs collapse. This is an old and v big problem. As Charlie Munger says 'his bread I eat, his song I sing' - without different incentives I don't see how behaviour changes... Even doing things totally differently and winning against odds, as Vote Leave did twice, does not change behaviour because politicians don't actually optimise for *winning*, they optimise for *being a viable player in a joke system that you soon can't see as a joke any more*

Expand full comment

Who sets the incentives? The media moguls? Murdoch?

If all of the the tabloid press had disagreed with vote leave, I doubt we would have executed Brexit…

I agree it’s an impossible situation, as it requires a chicken/egg paradox to be solved with the government and the media. Misrepresenting the truth needs significantly higher penalties on both sides. No ones going to be up for that though.

Also, keep on Hancock, it’s the highlight of my week, I was so angry during the earlier phases of covid, someone needs to be accountable.

Expand full comment
author

I'll do a subscriber blog on media soon. Not just moguls. Have to look at individual hack incentives - e.g exclusives etc. And now in world where business models collapsing... Not impossible to solve but hard!

Expand full comment

Exactly the right place to start. Ferocious media resistance to experimenting with new economic structures for journalism and publishing mostly explains media opposition to redesigning government to take advantage of the new digital tools and systems.

The ‘special relationships’ developed through ‘exclusives’ also explain why there are no longer searching investigative profiles of large companies — the kind you used to be able to read in Management Today from the UK or Fortune and Business Week from the US.

This is particularly unfortunate because of the ways in which Big Tech companies have effectively redesigned the way we live. The last fine-grained examination of decision-making by a tech giant I read was in Wired, about two years ago — an account of how Facebook was coming around to paying newspapers for journalism. That was actually about paying newspapers to shut up about tracking and data-gathering, and the evils of social media platforms.

Since the recent announcements of the massive subsidies of selected media by Facebook and Google, their media critics have gone silent. This is going backwards.

Expand full comment

Hi Dom, Finding your insight into the last 18 months fascinating, and pleased to have subscribed, it's certainly easier to get into the detail and digest the discussion over the constraints of twitter.

What's your prediction on whether the Public Inquiry would indeed be brought forward as a result of a campaign? Similarly, do you see a scenario whether the Spring date could indeed be pushed back if we see another wave during Winter '21 whilst a future variant is suppressed.

Thinking ahead to the inquiry, is there a danger that given you're putting evidence and testimony into the public domain ahead of the inquiry (now), whether your appearance would merely be scrutinisation of information you've already put forward, or will you actively hold back on detail / topics ahead of this.

Expand full comment
author

Think timing will depend on whether Starmer can get any sort of act together or not... Unless he can apply pressure the rest of the CON MPs will probably take No10 lead and punt it as far as possible

Expand full comment

Very interesting to read what it looked like from the top. I had a view from the bottom/coalface running a network of private PCR testing labs, initially (March,April) providing free asymptomatic PCR screening to GPs and care homes on a charitable basis, later commissioned by the DHSC (for care homes, LA/hard to reach and later Pillar 2).

Your post helps make explicable some of the bizarre decision making we saw and I can say first hand that the system failings had real impact on quantity, quality, and impact of testing.

I have loads of questions but my first would be:

When was it clear that asymptomatic transmission was a thing? To us it was blindly obvious from the “start” (and could evidence because we were doing regular asymptomatic screening) but were constantly facing hurdles with DHSC/PHE that asymptomatic testing was not necessary. Did DHSC/PHE really believe there was no asymptomatic spread? or was it just because they would rather ration finite test capacity another way?

Expand full comment
author

SAGE docs told us to assume asymptomatic transmission from I think late Jan. So did COBR docs. I dont know why Hancock denied this to MPs. I didn't refer to this above as it was already too long but it's another thing he told MPs fiction... I dont think generally DHSC/PHE did think 'this isn't happening', I think they thought it as and Hancock is either lying or totally confused. But the problem was nobody gripped testing properly Feb-March and even in April only parts were gripped properly - fast tests weren't gripped until September...

Expand full comment

To me then this is one of the most damaging lies - For example we had heart breaking conversations with social care workers who were the only visitors for shielding people who were then "inexplicably" getting covid - "I didn't have symptoms so I thought I couldn't give it to them" was the belief in health/care workers (and general public) at that time.

This is not just Hancock lying to MPs, it was government policy. I have a letter from a CCG dated *1st July* to all their care homes and GPs telling them not to accept free twice weekly asymptomatic PCR screening from "private labs" (commissioned by DHSC) because "Use of a diagnostic test for screening purposes renders the test characteristics (positive and negative predictive values) unreliable. Potential harms may include the business impact and psychological harm from false positives, while negative tests could be erroneously interpreted as “clearance” following exposure to a case."..."Therefore twice weekly asymptomatic screening of staff through other routes is not considered appropriate."

Expand full comment

You mentioned that the app would be a 'trivial cost that just requires brains and data', however it took 6 months from that text to release one and it cost £40mn (based on news articles I've seen, please correct if I'm wrong). Considering the hard bit was built by Google and Apple, why did this take so long/cost so much? Harder to do than expected? Incompetence? Considering it still has issues - you can't check out of a place so you're there till close - I wouldn't be surprised if this contract went to Hancocks mates again.

Expand full comment
author

I was not close to the app. a/ Clearly the management of it broke for reasons I don't know. 2/ Some people I spoke to whose judgement I trust were strongly critical of Apple/Google behaviour. c/ In general NHS-Digital is BAD. d/ Gvt is not used to moving at speed. e/ GDPR and EU data laws caused chaos on this and other projects...

Expand full comment

NHSX and similar struggle to recruit the best and brightest engineers and product managers. They don’t pay anywhere near market rates. It wasn’t exactly surprising that it fell over!

Expand full comment

They contracted the work out to the following companies according to the NHS Covid19 FAQ => [Accenture, Alan Turing Institute, NHS Digital, NHSx, Oxford University, VMware Pivotal Lab and Zuhlke Engineering]. Now it makes more sense - someone went overboard on bringing in 'experts' and too many cooks probably f***ed the broth (and charged for the privilege). The red tape of the NHS and Oxford University combined with separate engineering companies probably managed by Accenture sounds like a nightmare. I'm 90% sure this could have been done by a single decent dev shop in London for < £5mn including QA built on-top of the Apple/Google framework.

Expand full comment

No single point of accountability, so it becomes a mess. Who is the actual 'owner' of the product? Who makes decisions? If it's anything like big companies I've worked in, the answer is "a committee" and that way madness and chaos lies...

Expand full comment

There should be a Royal Commission, ideally an agile one not staffed by the great and the good, but by ordinary people randomly selected for their common-sense and experience of 'getting stuff done'.

Even were our political 'people' or their 'ideas' of the requisite calibre, our COVID response has demonstrated irrevocably (and at terrible cost) that our 'machinery' of state is irredeemably and systemically unfit for purpose. However, when the music stops, there will be the ensuing economic 'pandemic' which is likely to evoke the same, inadequate state response and be as bad if not worse than the biological one. How will we meet that? With the same failing state?

Who else wants to help and be on team Cummings?

Expand full comment
author

Shd defo be a very lean effort to get to the core issues fast. Agree use of juries cd be much wider. Tried, tested, people have confidence - people were much more rational than apex of power in Whitehall March 2020, e.g on borders...

Expand full comment

Look: I’m all for holding Mr Johnson to account.

But there is a time and a place. This evidence should be saved for a forensic inquiry, headed by one of the top minds in government who really knows where the skeletons are buried (Mr Heywood naturally comes to mind).

Posting screenshots of private conversations is not a good look Mr Cummings. Not a good look at all.

Expand full comment

I think this essay displays remarkable restraint given a) the immense platform and apparatus the PM, Hancock, etc. have for both their covid revisionism and their sustained briefings against/attacks on Cummings, and b) the [inevitably toothless] public inquiry coming in 2022, when such claims will have calcified in the public record.

Perhaps you would be capable of sitting on your hands whilst the most powerful public figures in Britain simultaneously slander you and excuse themselves of responsibility for the unnecessary deaths cause by their incompetence, but I'm not sure I would.

Expand full comment

Why? DC was called a liar, he has provided some proof. I am sure there are many many more bodies buried that he could have brought to light. Perhaps in the future he will. This government is grotesquely inept.

Expand full comment

Sharing of private conversations when you’ve been dismissed as a disgruntled liar in the largest catastrophe we’ve seen in a lifetime I’d say is perfectly justified. DC was told to provide proof by Hancock. He has. As someone doubly bereaved by Covid let me make clear I hope this is something the select committee absolutely cannot ignore. Perhaps if you’d been in my shoes you could relate. But I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

Expand full comment

Tour de force. Clearly systemic crisis at heart of decision making. Not really a surprise if we examine H1 2020 decisions made by Downing Street and all others concerned. In the business world many would have been fired. In government and public sector the lack of leadership and accountability is an in-built failure of the system. Latter appears during crises. So no real surprise. Moving on it remains clear the entire system is rotten to the core.

Expand full comment

Please read what I write below based on devil's advocate - you say you welcome that and I believe is important to shed more light on truth.

First thoughts on this:

1. The revelation you make that the PM has a time limit on his time in office will make others less likely to challenge him. Wondering why you would reveal that if you hope he leaves?

2. The PM now needs to defend Hancock - writing this could mean Hancock stays in the job for longer.

3. Why on earth is the Government doing 'Government by WhatsApp'? WhatsApp is the absolute worst place to run projects and communicate. An asynchronous tool like Basecamp could massively help No 10's operations.

4. The question seems to me to be less about the PM and Hancock and more about how we systematically ensure good governance. How do we attract the best candidates to join Parliament instead of staying in the private sector? My concern with your attempts to de-stabilise the people in the system is that, should it succeed, they will be replaced by people who are unlikely to be more competent than them. You say yourself that you see Starmer as useless and no MP noticed the problem with Hancock's testimony about 11th April.

That's all for now as I don't want to make too many points at once.

Expand full comment
author

1. Dont agree with logic. Generally when people think PMs going they lose authority in sw1, hence why no10 are only engaging with this issue today amid everything else I wrote.

2. Perhaps but it's easy to get confused by such calculations - the most important thing is for public to have a chance to know the truth, Boris and Hancock will be gone soon enough but the real problem is how to avoid them being replaced by similar.

3. V true but the centre of govt is LOUSY on tech. When I arrived No10 did not even have a secure cloud system and it took about a year to fix. Will write on this separately.

4. Yes...

Expand full comment
founding

Your point 3 about tech. The mantra data not dates is OK if the data is accurate, timely, complete, consistent and fit for purpose. The public evidence to data is that the Covid data spectacularly fails to achieve any of these criteria. The daily death stats published last year were fiction representing aggregated data over periods of 40+ days. Furthermore clarity of definition of what constitutes a Covid death is essential, the conflation of "death from" v "death with" Covid is highly misleading.

Expand full comment

Point 3. 100% - GDS is part of the problem, not the solution.

Expand full comment

Surely for Hancock, and others, prosecution for misfeasance in a public office must be a real possibility? 1. Public officer acting as such. 2. Willful neglect of duty / willful misconduct. 3. To such an extent as to amount to an abuse of the public's trust in that officeholder. 4. Without reasonable excuse or other justification. In this case causing death, injury (long covid etc) and economic damage. Maximum sentence - life.

Expand full comment

What are your thoughts on the cost - benefit of lockdown now, when most are vaccinated? Why have the goal posts moved so much - is it media induced? The US has moved on, why cant we

Expand full comment