Monday, May 27, 2024
HomeCOVID-19How Dominic Cummings pushed us into lockdown – Part 3

How Dominic Cummings pushed us into lockdown – Part 3


In Part 1 on Tuesday I examined Dominic Cummings’s project for government reform and his operational plan for improving government decision-making in uncertain situations. Yesterday I looked at how his operational plan worked in early 2020, resulting in his Red Team advisers persuading him to support lockdown. In this third and final part I describe how he walked into a trap, but retained his high opinion of himself.

Warning: some bad language.

DOMINIC Cummings is not a man to let a crisis go to waste. Covid was an unrivalled opportunity to get his Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) off the ground. His inspiration for it came from the American DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) and 20th century American mega-projects such as the WWII Manhattan Project to build an atomic weapon and the Apollo moon landings. He is an ardent and uncritical admirer. 

Cummings envisioned ARPA as a vehicle stimulating a renaissance in British science, based primarily around the fourth industrial revolution including artificial intelligence and life sciences research. (Forget physics, chemistry, engineering, maths, astronomy and so on.) When Boris Johnson became Prime Minister, Cummings was rewarded with an £800million budget allocation to get his pet project started. He had a vision for how ARPA should fund projects in ‘highly innovative and fast moving ways’. In 2018, Cummings wrote, ‘Speed. You can move very fast if you avoid bureaucratic cancers. No forms. No budget. No ‘roadmap’. No committee. No lawyers.’ It presaged his extra-judicial, extra-regulatory and extra-parliamentary response to the ‘pandemic’.

If ARPA achieved nothing, it would be because ‘the system’ held it back: ‘For it to work, it would have to operate outside all existing Whitehall HR rules, EU procurement rules and so on – otherwise it would be as dysfunctional as the rest of the system.’ This attitude coloured his response to ‘public health experts’ who, he revealed to the Covid-19 Inquiry, ‘were overwhelmingly hostile to lockdown’ in February and March 2020, ‘thinking it should not be tried, and if it was tried it would not work’.

Cummings’s judgment was also clouded by his animosity towards Matt Hancock. If COBRA was presented with data that conflicted with data coming from his personal ‘red team’ advisers – brothers Dr Ben Warner, the digital and data adviser at No 10, and Dr Marc Warner, the founder of the Faculty AI – it was the Health Department data that must be wrong. Informed by these data oracles, Cummings said his view in March 2020 was that without a vaccine, a binary choice existed between wrecking the economy or overwhelming the NHS.  

Yet in March 2020, the Office of National Statistics had recorded only 3,912 deaths with covid on the certificate in England and Wales, of which the majority, 91 per cent (3,559), had underlying conditions, coronary artery disease being the most common. The NHS statistical webpage shows that until March 17, most people being diagnosed with covid were already inpatients, suggesting that just like the first recorded death from covid on March 5, most were in hospital for unrelated reasons and were classified as covid cases following PCR testing. Cummings, however, histrionically texted Boris Johnson saying the NHS would be overwhelmed and there would be a zombie apocalypse.    

Pitching a Manhattan Project for Biodefense to one of its fanboys was not hard. Marc Warner told Cummings that a Manhattan Project for vaccines was needed. So did Bill Gates and Sir Patrick Vallance. Cummings said: ‘What Bill Gates and people and Patrick Vallance and his team were saying was that the actual expected return on this is so high that even if it does turn out to be all wasted billions, it is still a good gamble in the end. All the conventional Whitehall accountancy systems for that cannot basically cope with it, and you have to throw them all down the toilet. That is, essentially, what we did.’

The expected return for who exactly? The pharma companies in which Gates and his foundation were already heavily invested? The tech companies lobbying Cummings?  It is now abundantly clear that the Manhattan Project for Biodefense privatised profits and socialised costs. The accepted estimate for the burden on the UK economy resulting from lockdown is £500billion. 

On the day lockdown began, Vallance approached Cummings about the Vaccine Taskforce which Sir Jeremy Farrar had been working on behind the scenes since January 27 (well before the WHO declared the pandemic on March 11). Vallance didn’t want the Department of Health running the task force. Cummings agreed: ‘I had to insist that the Vaccine Taskforce be ripped out of these normal processes so it could learn from Apollo and build concurrently, contra the normal Whitehall approach. If I had not done this, if I and others had let vaccines be run the same way almost everything else was run, the results would have been the same — no vaccine programme kicking in at the end of 2020.’

‘It’s an emergency’ was the excuse that let him do what he’d always wanted to do – unchain his ambitions from the constraints of Whitehall hiring and procurement rules and processes.  When Kate Bingham was appointed chair of the Vaccine Taskforce, Cummings said he told her: ‘Treat this like a wartime thing. Ignore rules. If lawyers get in your way, come to us and we’ll find ways of bulldozing them out of your way.’ 

The rules he was telling her to ignore were the procurement rules. There remains zero transparency on how much was spent on the Vaccine Taskforce. The government contract finder website shows only £1 nominal values for the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccine contracts.

On March 26 Cummings texted Johnson, ‘After we get through the peak – we must take a chainsaw to Whitehall – this fucked up system has nearly killed huge numbers of people and cost millions a job etc. Our DUTY to purge and rebuild the country out of this wreck.’

In March 2020, it wasn’t the system that was killing people and jobs – but Cummings’s response was about to. 

Having imprisoned the entire population, waiting for an experimental mRNA vaccine to arrive, Cummings’s next initiative for managing the pandemic was to build Big Brother, a test and trace system ostensibly to map the spread of an invisible menace. 

Tussell, a UK market intelligence company, tracked and analysed UK government covid spending. It found that £47.8billion worth of contracts were awarded between March 2020 and March 2023. Of these, PPE accountedfor £14.7billion, £4billion-worth of which was unusable. Test and trace accounted for £22.8billion, a little less than a quarter of what was initially proposed for Operation Moonshot. This money went to the ‘tech bros’, amongst them companies including Microsoft, Palantir and, of course, Google DeepMind, another AI company run by Cummings’s chum and Red Teamer Demis Hassabis, and also Marc Warner’s company Faculty AI. 

Cummings dismissed all civil liberties and data protection concerns. ‘My argument, and that of Patrick Vallance and other people, said, “Actually, in the same way that everyone was wrong about the country accepting lockdown, we think that everyone in Whitehall who is arguing against the track and trace thing is wrong; people will accept this kind of infringement on civil liberties, because what is the alternative?”’

Cummings texted the Prime Minister on March 26 saying ‘the smartphone app we need is trivial cost, just needs some brains and data, which we can definitely do and have ready before testing comes on stream. BUT until we can do mass testing we cannot get ECON going again. The value of being able to switch the econ back on therefore means we shd pay what otherwise would seem crazy prices for fast progress on testing.’

The first attempt at producing the app was an effort by NHSX, the AI project Marc Warner’s company was contracted to run. It cost £10.8million and was abandoned after a failed test run before Google and Microsoft were brought in. 

In May 2021 the Public Accounts Committee reported to Parliament on Test and Trace, saying that despite the ‘unimaginable cost’ it had failed to deliver on its central promise which was to avert a second lockdown. Spending on Test and Trace actually continued to increase after the vaccine rollout. It was a Trojan horse for the expansion of the surveillance state that one suspects would in ordinary times have run up against the same civil liberties barriers it did in the Tony Blair era. 

Cummings walked right into that trap. Like the Death Star, you can bet your bottom dollar it’s still out there somewhere, ready for digital ID and digital currency to be imposed so that the all-seeing-eye can be operated to full effect. Did Cummings never see the risks of his beloved data science? It is ironic that one of the reasons he claimed his government data reforms were necessary was to stop the NHS killing people: 

‘The world of healthcare unnecessarily kills and injures people on a vast scale . . . most medical experts do not understand statistics properly and their routine misjudgements cause vast suffering, plus warped incentives encourage widespread lies about statistics and irrational management. Eg people are constantly told things like ‘you’ve tested positive for X therefore you have X’ and they then kill themselves.’ 

Yet when Plan B called for mass testing, with all its well reported problems with false positives, Cummings failed to see the same problem, blaming bureaucracy for stymying him. ‘Between sleeping,’ he texted the PM, ‘I’ve been trying to get cash to a UK company with great academics, NHS links etc who could get us 100s of 1000s of tests in weeks. And Whitehall has fought, delayed and blocked every step of the way.’  

Cummings’s Covid Inquiry testimony shows he remains a firm believer in one of the most pernicious of covid lies – that the virus was uniquely dangerous because it could be spread asymptomatically. Not only had Sage debunked this in January 2020 but in December 2020 Allyson Pollock, a Professor of Public Health, warned that the absence of evidence was ‘another good reason for pausing the rollout of mass testing’. 

The man who saw no problem running the government as a chumocracy later complained to the Prime Minister and the Cabinet Secretary about the ‘vetocracy problem hobbling so many efforts – twenty people could say no, but no one could say yes’.

In Cummings’s emergency cloud cuckoo land, government spending like a drunken sailor was not a problem. On March 27 Cummings says he texted the Prime Minister saying, ‘they’ve [DHSC] totally fucked up ventilators. I just heard officials admit we have been turning down ventilator offers because the price has been marked up’. He told the Covid Inquiry, ‘We’d given instructions to ignore normal rules on “value for money”.’  Once again the mad rush to ventilators was to prove a disastrous and inappropriate response which killed covid patients. 

Yet even with this benefit of hindsight, Cummings retains a perversely inflated opinion of his success. Before he was sacked as senior adviser, he established a private analytical office in No 10. He says, ‘All sensible people realised that this was a huge gap in Whitehall capabilities . . . I think [it] will become a permanent part of how every subsequent Prime Minister works. I think no one in their right mind would possibly get rid of it, and everybody involved with it knows it’s been a great success.” 

Cummings’s hubris and misguided certainty went unchecked. Susceptible to and manipulated by big business/life science/gain of function/vaccine development interests, Cummings proved to be a useful and dangerous fool. He cranked up and exploited an emergency to catalyse his data-led government dream, the consequences of which could not have proved more disastrous for the country. 

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Paula Jardine
Paula Jardine
Paula Jardine is a writer/researcher who has just completed the graduate diploma in law at ULaw. She has a history degree from the University of Toronto and a journalism degree from the University of King’s College in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

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