More than two-thirds of voters believe the claims made by Dominic Cummings, the former No 10 adviser, about Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s mishandling of the pandemic, according to exclusive polling conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies for the New Statesman*.
A majority of 52 per cent of respondents that were aware of Cummings’s allegations said that they believed “some” of what Cummings has said about the government’s behind-the-scenes response to Covid-19 crisis, 16 per cent believed all of it, 22 per cent believed none of it and 10 per cent did not know.
During an explosive select committee hearing in May, an in-depth televised interview with Laura Kuenssberg, the BBC political editor, in July, and his own Twitter threads and posts on Substack, Cummings has made damning allegations – and made private messages public – suggesting that there was chaos, complacency and negligence in Downing Street during the pandemic response.
Cummings’s claims included that the Prime Minister regretted the first lockdown, delayed locking down last autumn because those dying were “essentially all over 80” and he did not believe “all this NHS overwhelmed stuff”, favoured letting Covid-19 “wash through the country” rather than destroy the economy, made decisions “like a shopping trolley, smashing from one side of the aisle to the other”, and even had to be talked down from attending his weekly meeting with the Queen as Covid-19 cases were rising.
Downing Street has defended Johnson over these claims, with a No 10 spokesperson stating that the Prime Minister had taken the “necessary action to protect lives and livelihoods, guided by the best scientific advice” throughout the pandemic, and had prevented the NHS “from being overwhelmed through three national lockdowns”.
The polling reveals that Cummings’s claims reached beyond the Westminster bubble, with 86 per cent of those polled saying that they are at least somewhat aware of the recent claims he has made against the government (33 per cent said that they were very aware, 32 per cent said that they were reasonably aware and 20 per cent said that they were somewhat aware. Only 14 per cent say that they were not at all aware).
Although this polling suggests that the majority of the public has heard, and believes, what Cummings has said about Johnson’s conduct during the pandemic, this does not mean that they have forgiven Cummings for his own mistakes. Eighty-eight per cent of people polled said that they remember the controversy surrounding Cummings’s trip to Barnard Castle in 2020 during the first lockdown, and only 12 per cent said that they do not remember it. Eighty-two per cent of those who remember the controversy said they do not think he should be forgiven, while only 18 per cent think that he should.
The key question is whether Cummings’s comments since leaving No 10 will have a lasting impact on Johnson’s reputation and premiership. Downing Street has come out strongly in defence of the Covid-19 response, repeating that the priority is now about “emerging cautiously” from the pandemic and “building back better”.
As Cummings acknowledges, his testimony about the events of the last 18 months will mostly serve as a prelude to the upcoming public inquiry into the UK’s response to the coronavirus crisis, which is due to begin in spring 2022.
*Polling conducted on 29 July 2021, with a sample size of 1,500 eligible voters in Great Britain.