26th May 2021
Dominic Cummings, the former assistant to the prime minister excites strong opinions – and it is difficult to escape those strong opinions when you write or think about him.
But the attempt should be made – as what he had to say at today’s remarkable parliamentary committee hearing may or may not be important.
The approach I would recommend is as follows:-
First – avoid confirmation bias – especially when it is from an unexpected source.
Many of the things he said confirm the prejudices of those critical of the current government generally and the prime minister in particular – and there was glee to hear him, of all people, say these things.
You should be especially wary of things which affirm what you think must be true.
Second – be aware of the selective nature of the evidence.
For example – some ministers were damned, but other ministers – such as the chancellor responsible for ‘eat out to help out’ and uncertainty over furlough payments – were not criticised
Nor was the cabinet office minister blamed for any difficulty in his department.
If this was a general critique of ministerial competence then it was lopsided – and almost vindictive.
Third – be aware also of motivation.
The former assistant to the prime minister wants, of course, to be vindicated – not least because of the Barnard Castle tarnish.
He has an understandable desire to have been right all along – and his failures only being that he did not do more sooner.
And fourth – there is the issue of honesty.
The former assistant to the prime minister once admitted that the £350million-a-week promise for the NHS was a convenient lie.
He was also one of those ministers and advisers who could not and did not sign the statement of truth (under pain of perjury) about the true reason for the prorogation – and it was the lack of such a witness statement that meant the government lost the case in the supreme court.
Indeed, the fact that if he said something untrue today may have been a contempt of parliament holds no fear for him – as he already has been held in contempt of parliament and with no consequences.
It was a win-win situation today from his perspective – he could take the benefit of absolute parliamentary privilege to make serious allegations, but with none of the sanctions for that benefit being misused.
Nonetheless, a lot of what he said ‘rang true’ – and it may be that there will be evidence that substantiates his many general and detailed claims of wrongdoing by others – some of which are highly serious.
And nothing he said should be dismissed out-of-hand just because he was the one who said it.
Everything he said may be true.
But everything he said, for the four reasons above, needs to be corroborated.
Today was great political theatre – but more is needed before any reliance can be placed upon this great political performance.
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