Sometimes you do need to look over the hedge to see how the neighbours are doing to get some perspective on how things are going within your own little fiefdom.
As it happens there was the opportunity to do exactly that if you listened to the compelling account given by the former chief adviser to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on how the British Government handled much of the Covid pandemic.
The appearance of Dominic Cummings before a cross-party health committee had been much anticipated and those expecting a blood bath did not have long to wait. Larry, the Number 10 Downing St cat was one of the few that escaped Cummings' scatter gun approach.
He made aim not just for Johnson’s competence for the top political job, but also his character. He described Boris as being obsessed with what was said about him in the media and that he was “like a shopping trolley smashing from one side of the aisle to the other”.
Withering hardly describes it. Boris had dismissed Covid as a 'scare story' and compared it to swine flu. Only in mid-March 2020 was a plan to go with “herd immunity” abandoned. He said his boss was strongly resistant to lockdowns.
Long before Dominic Cummings appeared before that Committee on Wednesday the “state” of British politics has been a source of bewilderment as you look in at it. There is an amount of evidence already in existence that Boris Johnson suffers from an incapability to tell the truth.
If you met Boris Johnson and he told you it was raining outside only a fool would not look out the window and check the veracity of that statement. Oh the niceties are still observed by other Governments and at EU level but his duplicitousness is factored in at every turn.
The Brexit vote and its fallout have been well rehearsed, as well as the mentality that exists throughout so much of the UK public. We’re adapting, albeit reluctantly, to the ever increasing evidence of British exceptionalism.
Success with the British vaccine rollout didn’t just significantly boost UK Government popularity. It seems to have delivered upon Boris Johnson and his Government an extraordinary immunity from evidence of rampant Tory sleaze that has regularly featured in headlines in the last few months.
Much attention was recently paid to the redecorating of the flat in No 10 Downing St with the project being allegedly paid for by a Tory donor. Boris couldn’t afford it, because he had to pay for his divorce. The ‘cash for curtains row’ as it’s known.
Three investigations were launched into how Boris’ fiancée Carried Symonds turned the apartment from a “John Lewis furniture nightmare”, into an interiors paradise inspired by designer-to-the-stars Lulu Lyttle, a woman who, unsurprisingly, likes to use her own wallpaper that costs £800 a roll.
It’s believed the excess cost, over and above what new occupants of No 10 are allowed, was £58,000. Boris has said he paid the excess amount, but not said who paid it in the first place.
On Wednesday, Dominic Cummings also gave Health Secretary Matt Hancock an absolute hammering accusing him of “criminal, disgraceful behaviour", repeatedly lying at meetings and to the public. But this was not the Health Secretary’s first brush with controversy. He’s already been in the headlines for a story involving his former neighbour getting a contract for supplying Covid test equipment worth millions.
A former publican and neighbour of Hancock’s, who used to run a pub near the health secretary’s old constituency home, won a contract of around £30m. His company used to make cups and boxes for the catering industry and did not have prior experience in the area of medical devices. It was revealed that he WhatsApped Hancock offering his services for the Covid response and the two subsequently exchanged texts and emails over a significant period of time.
Hancock has denied any wrongdoing. It’s interesting to note that during TV interviews carried out from his study at home a photo of the Health Secretary’s former local pub used to be clearly in view, but in February this year he took it down.
But that’s not all when it comes to Hancock. It was also revealed that he got shares in a company part owned by his sister that subsequently won a lucrative contract for confidential waste destruction for the NHS.
Widening the lens on Tory sleaze there’s been the incredible tale of the former British Prime Minister David Cameron and his lobbying of Government on behalf of failed finance firm Grensill who employed him as an adviser. Cameron sent almost 50 emails, text messages and WhatsApp messages over a period of four months including 9 WhatsApps to UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak and 12 texts to Sir Tom Scholar, the most senior civil servant in the Treasury.
When he was questioned by MPs Cameron said the company had paid him more than his salary as Prime minister for a part-time job.
“This Greensill scandal is the tip of the iceberg,” Labour leader Keir Starmer said in the House of Commons last month. “Dodgy contracts, privileged access, jobs for their mates. This is the return of Tory sleaze.”
Despite all of this and far more when it comes to evidence of shoddy practice and low standards, the Conservative Party won a thumping victory in the Hartlepool by election last month, the former “Red Wall” stronghold, leaving the Labour Party and it’s leader Keir Starmer on the backfoot. An inflatable 30ft Boris Johnson blimp floated in the sky in the days ahead of that vote.
In mid May an Opinium opinion poll found Boris’ popularity climb by eight points to 40% while Starmer dropped six points to just 23% support as the preferred prime minister.
Musing on his own incredible Teflon-type qualities a comment former US President Donald Trump made during the 2016 election campaign comes to mind. “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters,” he said.
There were certainly times during his subsequent crazy presidency when you could quite easily have imagined that to be true. Obnoxious and all as he is, Boris seems more a Trump-lite than being a monster ruler of his own creation.
But the Cummings evidence stating that tens of thousands of people died of Covid who didn’t need to die, as a result of the wilful decisions taken by Boris Johnson, will be an extraordinary political epitaph. Although he went to great lengths to present himself as highly virtuous, Cummings is recognised as a man with many axes to grind.
He previously drew the significant ire of the British public owing to his ill-fated trip to Durham during lockdown. But nevertheless he was a man who was there when the important decisions were made, a man who heard and partook in those key decisions.
But even as you listened to his former adviser make those extraordinarily damaging revelations you wondered how much, if anything, all of this will move the political dial in the UK.
They may be right next door, speak the same language and have some really good television channels, but I’m truly glad I did not spend my pandemic with the neighbours.