Well, that was explosive. After six hours of swearing, back-stabbing and scorched earth, Westminster is reeling. It’s safe to say that Dominic Cummings put the cat among the pigeons yesterday – if by cat, you mean T-Rex and if by pigeons, you mean the Conservative Party.
Besides Boris Johnson, the man most prominently in Dom’s crosshairs yesterday was Matt Hancock. Having been accused of lying to his colleagues and the public repeatedly throughout the pandemic, the health secretary has today been enveloped in a protective shield by ministerial colleagues taking to the airwaves to defend him. He will surely be hoping that this particular shield is less porous than that which he claimed to have built around care homes last spring.
Lines of Tory MPs lined up to condemn Cummings yesterday, leaping to the prime minister’s defence and dismissing the ex-Vote Leave supremo’s testimony as the chuntering of a disaffected employee. But eagle-eyed observers pointed out that, a little over twelve months ago, those same Tory MPs were falling over themselves to stress Cummings’ honesty and integrity after the Barnard Castle debacle.
Among the most vociferous of his defenders were senior members of Johnson’s Cabinet. “Caring for your wife and child is not a crime,” said Michael Gove. “Those now seeking to politicise [Barnard Castle] should take a long hard look in the mirror,” pontificated Dominic Raab. “Taking care of your wife and young child is justifiable and reasonable, trying to score political points over it isn’t,” ruled Rishi Sunak.
Even Hancock – who Cummings said should have resigned a dozen times over across the last year – leapt to the defence of the prime minister’s embittered former aide. “I know how ill coronavirus makes you,” the health secretary said. “It was entirely right for Dom Cummings to find childcare for his toddler when both he and his wife were getting ill.”
Dominic Cummings has spent the day declaring most ministers are not fit to do their jobs.— PoliticsJOE (@PoliticsJOE_UK) May 26, 2021
Cynics might argue he’s got ulterior motives.
But don’t worry, a few people have already given him a character reference. pic.twitter.com/TDz0fksoAo
How times change. This morning, a source described as sympathetic to the health secretary told The Times that Cummings is a “psychopath” and a “complete snake”.
Sources sympathetic to Hancock dismissed Cummings as a “psychopath” and a “complete snake” who had never challenged the health secretary directly about his claims.
But it wasn’t just top table Tories who took a bullet for Cummings. Scores of backbenchers piled onto social media to defend the embattled aide after the Barnard Castle fiasco – as one Twitter user helpfully pointed out, in an exhaustive list worth bookmarking.
So here’s a thing… all the Tory MPs who have publicly come out for Dominic Cummings on social media, either over the weekend, after today’s press conference, or both. It’s quite a list, let me tell you! pic.twitter.com/oxnTcafJjZ— Edwin Hayward 🦄 🗡 (@uk_domain_names) May 25, 2020
What happens next? Well, Hancock will face MPs and the media to respond to Cummings’ claims. He did comment on the explosive allegations on Thursday morning when stopped by press outside his home, saying he was “just off to drive forward the vaccine programme”.
The health secretary will answer a Commons urgent question and is due to lead a government coronavirus press conference this evening.