ONE of the many takeaways from Dominic Cummings’ incendiary evidence to MPs last week was that Downing Street exists in a state of chaos.

The former assistant to the Prime Minister memorably described the day when the UK Government was dealing with a request from the Trump administration to join a Middle East bombing mission; the decision on placing the UK into lockdown; and a newspaper story claiming that Dilyn, the rescue dog taken in by the PM and his partner, was being eased out of Downing Street because a baby was on the way.

“Part of the building was saying are we going to bomb Iraq,” said Mr Cummings. “Part of the building was arguing whether or not we were going to do quarantine, [and] the Prime Minister has his girlfriend going crackers over something completely trivial.”

One person’s chaos, however, is another person’s opportunity to show how well they can multitask. So it was perhaps fitting that Boris Johnson should end a tumultuous week in which his former aide accused him of being "unfit" to be Prime Minister by pulling off a secret wedding.

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He may be unable to get a grip on the biggest crisis facing the UK since the Second World War, but he is a dab hand at keeping wedding plans under the radar.

It was only on Saturday evening that the media found out a wedding had taken place. That meant a rewrite of the scripts for the Sunday politics shows. A strange mix of tones resulted.

Nadhim Zahawi, the Covid-19 Vaccine Deployment Minister, had the serious task of reassuring the public that, despite the impression given by Mr Cummings, everything was under control. While doing this, he also had to make small talk about the wedding.

Did you get an invitation, asked the host of Sky News’ Trevor Phillips on Sunday?

“No,” said the Minister, going on to congratulate the newly wedded pair.

Mr Zahawi was being interviewed live in central London and it was a struggle to hear above the traffic. Over the course of the last year, it has been possible to gauge the state of lockdown from these Sky interviews. In the early days there was an eerily quiet atmosphere as a lone cyclist or empty bus passed by. Yesterday, despite the relatively early hour of 8.30am, the roads were busy with people going about their bank holiday weekends.

It was a reminder that lockdown restrictions had lifted in most parts of the country – sorry Glasgow, not yet – and the pressure is on, particularly in England, for the so-called “freedom day” of June 21, when all remaining rules are lifted, to go ahead as promised.

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In the past few days, due to the increase in cases caused by the Indian variant of the virus, there has been the distinct sound of “reverse beep” whenever June 21 is mentioned. Besides scientists urging caution, the Prime Minister himself has said: “We may need to wait."

Reports have suggested that the rules on masks and home working may need to stay so that pubs and restaurants can open up fully, and mass outdoor events – including the Euros and the Edinburgh festivals – take place.

Mr Zahawi stuck to the script on unlocking, saying that the UK Government would set out its position on June 14.

Otherwise, the Minister spent his time on Sky News and The Andrew Marr Show being quizzed on Cummings’ allegations about lack of preparedness, and not testing elderly patients before they were discharged to care homes. Both presenters wanted to know if the same problems could arise again.

On testing, Mr Zahawi said that “in the eye of the storm” the system only had the capacity to carry out 2000 tests a day, but now it could do one million.

Several times he used the phrase, “Hindsight is a wonderful thing”, and it was no accident that he did so.

One theory has it that the reason why the Conservatives are not being punished in the polls for their response to Covid is that voters have given them the benefit of the doubt. The thinking goes that the public (largely in England, it should be said) recognise that this was an unprecedented crisis that left governments all over the world floundering, and anyone who says different is doing so with the benefit of 20:20 hindsight. Hence Mr Johnson’s baiting of Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer as “Captain Hindsight”.

Sir Keir, writing in The Observer, was having none of that, arguing that the Government failed to learn from the first wave of deaths.

“In the first wave we faced an unprecedented crisis,” he wrote. “Decision making was undoubtedly difficult. Mistakes were inevitable. And the British public understand that. But by the summer, we knew much more about the virus. The prime minister was warned to prepare for a second wave. He did not do so. And over twice as many people died in the second wave than in the first. That was avoidable and unforgivable.”

He said the “single biggest threat” to unlocking on June 21 was “the government’s incompetence”. Like Mr Cummings, he wants to move the focus on to leadership and the Prime Minister’s fitness for office, just as Scotland’s First Minister did last week.

The election results show the Scottish public side with Nicola Sturgeon on who made the better leader in the crisis, but will England feel the same about the untested in office Sir Keir?



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