Historians pore over the great events of history for decades, centuries, after they have occurred and often come to different conclusions about what went wrong. Why did the Saxons lose the Battle of Hastings? (Because they did not have stirrups enabling them to fight from horseback). Was Richard Coeur de Lion the greatest king ever, or a bit of a French ruffian? And is Richard II not half as bad as Shakespeare made him out to be? Every battle is capable of close re-analysis. Every shot fired in every battle. “For want of a nail the shoe was lost….for want of a war the Kingdom was lost and all for want of a horse shoe nail.”
Brigadier Hindsight is a regular bore at most dinner parties, always ready to regale us with tales about how he’d have done it differently. ‘Lessons Learned’ enquiries in the Foreign Office and MOD are important, but rarely decisive; the Public Enquiry into Covid will probably produce its mammoth report in many years’ time. It will very probably not tell us anything we do not already know.
The reality is that in any war, in any crisis, in any Pandemic, governments, and officials do what they believe to be for the best at the time; but of course they make mistakes, sometimes disastrous ones; ones for which they sometimes pay a heavy price. Nonetheless, and with a very few exceptions, those in charge of our fates do what they believe to be right and for the best.
So Dominic Cummings’ rambling evidence on Wednesday morning will be minutely analysed. Some will use it to argue that we got it all wrong; some will use it for their own petty political agendas; some (especially Mr Cummings himself) will use it to settle old scores - most notably with the PM who sacked him and with the Health Secretary with whom he seems to have been at loggerheads.
I am sure that he is right that there really was no very coherent plan about how to handle Covid and that all sorts of wrong decisions were taken. (I remember being laughed at for calling for Cheltenham to be cancelled.) But so what? No one is suggesting that anyone was wicked, or bad, or malign, or even incompetent. Lord Cummings of Barnard Castle merely used his minutely detailed memory of the events of early March 2020 to seek to get his revenge against the PM, No. 10, the Civil Service, scientists, Parliament, MPs, the public and more or less anyone else who did not properly realise what a brilliant genius, what a natural ruler of the world Mr Cummings really is.
I fear that as one of these who strongly regretted the appointment of this slight maverick in the first place, who has been consistently embarrassed by this scruffy Herbert strutting the corridors of power; who called for his sacking after the Barnard Castle incident and who warmly welcomed his ignominious dismissal at the end of the year, none of his performance at the Select Committee surprised me. But none of it convinced me either.
It is quite right that lessons need to be learned. Listening to this self-obsessed weirdo is not a very good way of doing it. Hell Hath no fury like a Special Adviser fired……