IT’S a good rule of thumb never to believe anonymous quotes, especially when they say just what you want them to.

The Sunday Times launched a storm in March last year when it anonymously quoted Boris Johnson’s then senior adviser, Dominic Cummings, calling for: “herd immunity, protect the economy, and if that means some pensioners die, too bad”.

Gotcha! cried Labour. Mr Cummings confirmed as a heartless, right-wing, libertarian b******. It was just too good to be true and of course it wasn’t. We now know that Mr Cummings was if anything a lockdown fanatic. Far from letting the pandemic rip, the Dom was demanding something closer to the Wuhan lockdown with menaces.

Mr Cummings was further condemned as a reckless and unreliable maverick when he made that trip to Barnard Castle during lockdown. But at 0930 today, in the Wilson Room in Portcullis House, all that will be forgotten. Labour MPs and journalists will listen with eager credulity to his tales of Boris Johnson’s reckless indolence. How the PM missed five Cobra meetings in order to meet a book deadline to pay for his divorce. How he wanted to let bodies pile high to avoid lockdown. Had no plan but to panic, like Basil Fawlty.

No doubt Carrie Symonds had a hand in it too. The PM’s environmentalist fiancée probably told Mr Johnson that people were the disease and Covid the cure. I joke of course. But the accusations in Mr Cummings’s recent blogs are almost as sensational.

It was Mr Cummings’s falling out with Ms Symonds that led to his departure from No 10 last Christmas. Revenge is a dish best served cold, and the Dom’s has been in deep freeze six months. Just don’t expect tears and self-revelations, let alone the slightest hint that he might have been implicated in these decisions as, er, the most influential figure then in the PM’s Kitchen Cabinet.

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He was fighting a losing battle, he’ll say today, against herd immunity madness and civil service complacency. A culture of lackadaisical incompetence that left thousands to die needlessly. This is of course a colossally serious charge and Mr Cummings’s past misdemeanours don’t mean he is lying. He almost certainly is not. It is pretty clear to anyone who looks back over the early weeks and months of this pandemic that Britain was hopelessly unprepared. Track and trace was a £39bn disaster.

The conservative historian, Niall Ferguson, says much the same in his new book Doom. The pandemic wasn’t a black swan event, he says, but a “grey rhino” that everyone saw coming. The Johnson issue is largely above left and right. Max Hastings, the former editor of the Telegraph, insists the PM is a serial liar and cheat.

Many agree – except of course those voters who continued to support his party in the local elections in England. In the latest YouGov poll, the Tories are still 18 points ahead of Labour. That’s really something for Sir Keir Starmer to cry about in his Piers Morgan show.

Why does the public give Mr Johnson the benefit of the doubt? Well vaccines principally, and also a sense that he was doing his best. He caught “the Covid” too, which adds to the sympathy vote. But make no mistake, if Mr Cummings gives convincing evidence today that the PM ignored scientific advice and delayed lockdown without justification, simply to keep the British pint on tap, then that could change in a flash. Britain had one of the worst death rates in the world.

Mr Cummings says this was caused by the PM’s personal failings. That Mr Johnson really was prepared to let bodies “pile up in the thousands” as that other anonymous quote claims. Yet, in this instance Mt Johnson may find support from an unlikely quarter. Nicola Sturgeon may be the PM’s best defence against the Cummings J’accuse.

Was lockdown delayed recklessly?

Was lockdown delayed recklessly?

You see, the Scottish Government made exactly the same mistakes as Mr Johnson. She similarly delayed lockdown in March 2020, halted community testing and failed to protect care homes. Nationalist supporters have tried to write this out of history, but they cannot.

I was in Holyrood on March 12, the day that Ireland closed its schools. I heard the First Minister explain why she was not following suit. This was, she said, because it would put child-care pressure on parents working in essential services. It would also do little to halt the spread, since children would just congregate at home, in the streets, instead of in disinfected surroundings at schools. She repeatedly insisted that she was “following the science”.

And the truth is that she was. I don’t criticise the FM for this. At the time, her scientific advisers, like the National Clinical Director Jason Leitch, were advising against lockdown, saying the disease had to “work its way through the population” until herd immunity kicked in. One of SAGe’s leading epidemiological modellers, Professor Graham Medley, put it more colourfully on Newsnight in March 2020. He advised “sending all the vulnerable people to Scotland ... so we can have a nice big epidemic in Kent and let everyone become immune ... [through] the acquisition of herd immunity”. The pandemic was like flu and we just had to weather it while ensuring that the NHS isn’t overloaded.

This was what Mr Johnson meant by “flattening the sombrero”. It was initially thought that lockdown would just kick the coronavirus can down the road and lead to a worse second wave in winter.

Of course, within 10 days everything had changed. Professor Neil Ferguson came up with a revised model of 250,000 deaths. SAGE scientists stopped talking about herd immunity. Mr Johnson reluctantly closed down. So did Scotland.

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Even with lockdown, the death rate was still appalling last winter. The UK has the highest excess deaths in Europe; Scotland has the third highest. Mr Cummings also castigates Mr Johnson for not imposing a circuit-breaker lockdown in autumn 2020. But again, Ms Sturgeon didn’t either. She relied on her tiered approach to pandemic containment.

There is a definite air of Salmond-Sturgeon about today’s showdown. Mr Cummings is poisoned with animus – perhaps with very good cause. But he will have to produce something truly devastating to blow Mr Johnson out of the water. And not sink Ms Sturgeon in the process.

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