During evidence to the Health and Social Care Committee, Dominic Cummings was asked by Conservative MP Luke Evans how he rated the Government’s communications at the height of the pandemic.
Cummings replied that some of those working in communications for Downing Street were the “best in people in the world” and that one of the “great myths” was that bad comms was to blame for the Government’s mishandling of the pandemic.
He said: “Fundamentally, the reason for all these problems was bad policy, bad decisions, bad planning, and bad operational capability.
“It doesn’t matter if you have great people doing communications if the Prime Minister changes his mind 10 times a day and then calls up the media and contradicts his own policy – day after day, after day – you’re going to have a communications disaster zone.”
‘Don’t pick a fight with Rashford,’ PM told
The former top adviser admitted there were comms mistakes, but said that all the big things that went wrong were policy, rather than comms failures.
Cummings claimed that Boris Johnson’s decision to reject star footballer Marcus Rashford’s campaign to continue support for children receiving free school meals during the holidays was an example of policy failure.
He said: “[Lee Cain], the director of communications, said to the Prime Minister, twice: ‘Do not pick a fight with Rashford.’ The Prime Minister decided to pick a fight, and then surrendered. Twice.”
The reaction to the U-turn was that No. 10’s comms were to blame, which Cummings said was an incorrect analysis.
He added: “What is stupid is picking a fight with Rashford over school meals when what should have happened was just getting the school meals policy right – so it’s easy to blame communications for bad policy and bad decision-making.”
Evans asked Cummings whether comms lessons from the first lockdown had been learned going into the second one, in September.
But Cummings refuted the idea that problems in the autumn – which included the introduction of the tiered system of local lockdowns – were comms mistakes, and instead attributed them to the Prime Minister.
He said: “[The problem was] that the Prime Minister made some terrible decisions and got things wrong and then constantly U-turned on everything… The autumn disasters were not communications problems; the communications problems were a consequence of bad decisions and bad management.”
‘Nothing to communicate’
Evans asked Cummings to cast his mind back to the first lockdown and how the Government communicated its COVID-19 messages.
He replied: “I had all the communications people screaming: ‘We haven’t got anything to explain to the public properly, or what we have got is all contradictory because we haven’t got an actual plan.’ The problem wasn’t in the communications team. The problem was what they were being given [to communicate].”
Click here to subscribe to the FREE public sector bulletin to receive dedicated public sector news, features and comment straight to your inbox.
Make sure you register for the site to access more than one story per month.
To submit a news, comment, case study or analysis idea for the public sector bulletin, email Ian.Griggs@haymarket.com