The much-trailed appearance before the ‘Lessons learned’ hearings at Westminster was as explosive and vindictive as was expected. But will it make a difference politically?
I report my notes without editing to capture the immediate impact of the seven hour marathon.
The proceedings start.
Long preamble, by Chair Gregg Clark, setting the context amounting to an invitation to DC to make opening remarks starting at the time of the first lockdown. Later, other members of the committee some via distance communication ask questions. Chairman changes. These were not captured, but if needed for study purposes, will be found in the official HoC records.
DC hesitant, nervous even at first. Admits serious shortcomings of Western institutions at time of lockdown. Earliest concerns dated and documented in his carefully recorded documentation as 25 January, 2020. Regrets and apologises for ‘not following through’ with his concerns.
Clark: Was it the most important issue [for the Cabinet] ?
DC: Not at the time. Until mid Feb when it was taking ‘.. over 90% of my time. By the end of February were we on war footing [Concentrates on his own shortcomings, but mentions how PM and others ‘went on holiday’].
Clark: Attendance at Cobra meetings? DC sent others to Cobra meeting in February. Can’t remember if he attended [curious?]. Didn’t advise PM to attend. DC was advised outside the meetings by Chris and Patrick [Whitty and Vallance].
Clark: Turns to SAGE meetings which began 22 January. Again DC chose technical advisors to attend.
Is asked about revising the record in his blog. Denies altering a single word, but extended a quote from scientific article about Wuhan lab.
Herd immunity. DC Invited to set out key meetings.
DC. Confusion about term. Assumed no vaccines, then a peak might emerge that would be disastrous. Suppressing peak would only postpone it. Herd immunity believed inevitable. No one wanted it. [Rather rambling reply]
Official view to mid March, was that no lockdown was needed. The logic was flawed. DC was hearing concerns from experts. Texts to PM et al on March 11 a warning against postponing action. Now differences of opinion were emerging. DC wanted action.
Jeremy Hunt: Lessons learned?
DC: Too much secrecy. By 11 March already too late. Assumptions wrong about British public’s willingness to follow kinds of lockdown steps imposed in China.
Process ‘derailed on 12 March, by Trump’s Middle East military action’ which started to dominate Cobra. PM distracted by ‘girlfriend going crackers over a trivial matter’. DC advisors insisted to him that a plan B was needed.
On 14 March, PM told ‘we have to lockdown, we were told we have a plan but there is no plan … it became like a movie with everything going wrong’.
[IMHO An authentic account. At times self contradictory. Dismissive of behavioural science but then uses one such popular behavioural theory group-think to explain what happened.] Wuhan experience was ignored … testing was stopped … more groupthink.
Secretary of State [Matt Hancock] should have been fired for lying on several dozen occasion. I said this to the PM, so did other people. [Questioner, Rosie Cooper, ‘Oh dear!’]
Asked to justify his assertion of lying by MH. Gives specific examples, claiming they were corroborated by the Cabinet Secretary.
The hearing continues. The timeline has reached mid March. PM believed the big danger was the economy. DC insisted it was not the Chancellor.
‘There’s something seriously wrong with an election system which offers a choice between Jeremy Corbin and Boris Johnson’
DC describes the basic difficulty was lack of clear accountability. This taught as inevitable as soon as roles are differentiated, in all business courses. DC Seems unaware of that. [Too trusting in views of the cleverest people and dismissing others, IMHO].
Meanwhile also in Westminster, PMQs. For once, a sideshow. First exchanges as expected. KS draws on the enquiry taking place in a committee room nearby. The PM stock insult to KS is that he voted to stay in the EU Medical Agency.
Back to the committee room…
Test, trace and trace needed and would have to be built from scratch.
JH. Why did it take Sage so long?
DC. Unexpected complications, illness of PM, but particularly interference during April from Matt Hancock who wanted to meet his totally unnecessary100,000 target and big it up on TV.
Proper discussion only took place in middle of May.
JH. Delays made infection late too high for effective test and trace?
DC agrees. Now says key was failure to fire Matt Hancock. Repeats lying allegations.
Graham Stringer. Why didn’t PM take the advice to fire MH?
DC. Can’t say. Only speculation.
GS. Patients returned to care homes without testing.
DC. PM returns from illness, angry. MH assured him they were pre-tested [MH repeatedly the prime target of DC’s anger. PM imply to be more guilty of poor judgement in difficult times].
The Barnard Castle affair. More revelations. DC regrets undermining public confidence by not being open enough. Press handling was disastrous. Lesson, coverups are bad. [Again taught on business courses, and in practice they present fierce dilemmas].
[Immediate reaction. DC has provided an important personal account. Absences: Dido Harding. Michael Gove. Agenda: Apologise humbly, but forgets as he deals with his targets. Prime target: Hancock. Johnson is a secondary target: Tarnish not attempt to destroy him.]