Woe betide the prime minister that throws their special advisor or permanent secretary under the bus. This is the lesson that the press does not want the public to know, and those in positions of power most certainly don’t want you to know. The fact that the person in the office with the most power is not actually the boss, but instead the confidant with all the bosses dirty secrets.
In the past 24 hours, Dominic Cummings has continued his scorched earth policy, having been thrown under the bus by the PM. He has published a 7,000-word blog post including a series of claims about the prime minister and Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
As part of that post, he has included screenshots of WhatsApp messages between himself and the prime minister.
These reveal that on two occasions, Mr Johnson described Mr Hancock’s efforts during the government’s initial response to the COVID crisis as “hopeless”.
In one exchange, which Mr Cummings said was part of late-night messages on 26 March 2020, he and Mr Johnson are shown to be discussing actions from “MH” (Matt Hancock) in boosting the UK’s COVID testing capacity.
The screenshot shows a reply from the prime minister stating: “Totally f****** hopeless”.
Other messages, from 27 March, show what Mr Cummings said was him telling the prime minister that the Department for Health had “totally f***** up ventilators”.
The prime minister replied: “It’s Hancock. He has been hopeless.”
The PM suggested removing responsibility for PPE from Hancock
In another WhatsApp exchange, said to be from 27 April last year, Mr Johnson is suggested to have openly wondered about taking responsibility for procuring Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) away from Mr Hancock and giving it to Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove.
The prime minister wrote: “On ppe it’s a disaster. I can’t think of anything except taking Hancock off and putting Gove on.”
Mr Cummings also said Mr Hancock “had to be removed from crucial decisions” with Lord Paul Deighton brought in to oversee PPE, Dame Kate Bingham asked to lead the vaccines taskforce, and Baroness Dido Harding taking charge of NHS Test and Trace.
But it all gets a bit more clear when Boris is shown not to be particularly focused on his job and indicates his intention quit shortly after the next election to ‘make money and have fun’. What’s wrong Mr. Johnson? Running a government isn’t fun? Not being able to pan your workload off to other people who you can blame for your mistakes is not fun?
Mr Cummings claimed Mr Johnson has a “clear plan” to leave Downing Street “at the latest a couple of years after the next election”, which is scheduled for 2024.
The ex-adviser claimed this mattered because a public inquiry into the government’s handling of the COVID crisis had been “designed to punt the tricky parts until after this PM has gone”.
Mr Cummings depicted contrasting styles in the handling of key COVID meetings between Mr Johnson and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who deputised for the prime minister after Mr Johnson fell seriously ill with COVID last year.
The prime minister’s former adviser wrote that meetings under Mr Raab were “less pleasant for everybody but much more productive”.
“Raab can chair meetings properly instead of telling rambling stories and jokes,” Mr Cummings added.
“He let good officials actually question people so we started to get to the truth.
“Unlike the PM who as soon as things get ‘a bit embarrassing’ does the whole ‘let’s take it offline’ shtick before shouting ‘forward to victory’, doing a thumbs-up and pegging it out of the room before anybody can disagree.”
But all of this is just one single story about COVID and the crappy handling of the COVID situation by the UK Government. Another story which is not being reported is the power that special advisors and permenant secretaries have over those in a leadership role. The fact is that to function, a Prime Minister (or even a Cabinet Minister) or First Minister has to trust their special advisors and permanent secretaries with some very intimate information, and if the relationship turns sour and retaliation is on the books, well, point and case Mr. Cummings.
This might perhaps profer an insight into why Lesley Evans is still the permanent secretary to Nicola Sturgeon, despite the monumental cockups over the last parliamentary term. Should we reasonably be asking the question, what would end up on a blog post if Ms Evans were to be fired from her post?