Last week could have been a pivotal moment in British politics. It should have been. It could still turn out to be hugely important but where were the British public? It’s not entirely clear. After an astounding week in British politics, they seemed to shrug and turn away.
Maybe the Dominic Cummings testimony to the lessons learnt parliamentary select committee on Covid was dismissed because Cummings is such a flawed figure. The public rightly view him in negative terms, following his trip to Barnard Castle under lockdown. Perhaps they respond poorly to the revenge he was clearly seeking.
Whatever the reasons, it risks letting the government off the hook. The lack of anger, the lack of protests on the issue means the public will sit and wait for an official inquiry; one that will, no doubt, find little fault in the decisions taken by the highest people in the land. Also last week we saw an inquiry into Boris Johnson and his flat renovations. It found that he could have done more to know where the money was coming from. In other words, he’s fine, according to the Lord who did the investigating.
What Cummings had to say was fascinating, lucid, detailed and damning. There will be multiple voices in the story of how government handled the early stages of the pandemic, but this first testimony really deserved to get people doing more than rolling their eyes. He came across as a serious witness to events. Mainstream journalists and politicians were quick to emphasise revenge as a motive but this downplayed the seriousness of the allegations.
So much of the evidence just confirmed what many of us thought. Tens of thousands of people have died needlessly, lockdowns came too late to save people, Boris Johnson isn’t fit to be prime minister, Matt Hancock should have been sacked as Health Secretary. To have them stated by a man seen as very powerful at the time was unprecedented. To have a figure from the establishment hurling verbal grenades over the gates of Downing Street was amazing. Whilst I found it immensely entertaining, I feel it should really mean more than that. We owe it to the victims of Tory rule to make it mean more.
The allegations from Cummings weren’t just stated; they were backed up. He could remember key dates and had an archive of information to back up his opinions. As I listened to his evidence, I wondered just how Johnson would fare in a similar, hours long, probing of what he did. I concluded that unless he had his answers written out for him by a professional, chances are he would flail in his testimony, like the shopping trolley Cummings accuses him of being. Johnson doesn’t do detail.
Matt Hancock is before the same committee next week and it now has seven hours’ worth of allegations to question him over. The fact that Cummings got in first means that he has set the scene for all future discussions on Covid handling. Some of his allegations will, no doubt, be opinion rather than fact and others will be disputed. Some will stick though, and whilst he may be a flawed witness, the likelihood is that some of his evidence will be backed up by others. He claimed, for example, to hear the PM say the words “let the bodies pile high”. The PM denies ever using the phrase. Somebody is lying.
It was obvious the government were performing badly last year in terms of protecting the public. Mutual aid groups set up by anarchists were a fantastic response to what should be seen as their criminal negligence. Anarchists can play a role in where this goes from here.
With lockdown easing, further protests will become a little easier to organise. The public have not yet shown a keen interest in holding the politicians accountable for their terrible handling of the pandemic. That could change. It’s just a few weeks since a range of #KillTheBill protests and with the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill due back in the Commons soon, there is the potential for more. With it, comes the potential to combine struggles and issues into a series of protests.
Things can change quickly. We have a government that is responsible for 130,000 austerity deaths and as many have died of Covid. There must be a reckoning on the last 11 years of Tory rule. Whilst the public at large seem disinterested right now, we must remember that this can change and our actions can help turn it. Whether it is caused by apathy or cynicism or a spirit of defeat, our movement can lift things. Perhaps we can start something that ultimately shrugs the weight of this government off for good.