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Dominic Cummings branded ‘Mr Malevolent’ by Bernard Ingham

Boris Johnson’s controversial adviser Dominic Cummings has been branded ‘malevolent’ by Margaret Thatcher’s former press secretary.

Sir Bernard Ingham said ministers’ handling of coronavirus was a ‘confused mess and incoherent’ because they were ‘all over the show’.

They had pretended to know more than they did about the pandemic when it started.

Sir Bernard, Mrs Thatcher’s Downing Street spokesman for most of her 11 years in office, claimed that Mr Johnson’s plan to appoint a White House style spokesman to give daily briefings on live television was ‘a constitutional outrage’.

‘It is a further ill-considered undermining of our parliamentary democracy. Parliament will be for ever damned if it permits this further step down the road to US-style presidential government,’ he said.

Sir Bernard, 88, said Mr Johnson’s intention to recruit a £100,000 No 10 official to brief the media in public on his behalf was ‘the last thing the Government needs’.

It would fail, he argued, partly because of the way Mr Johnson’s chief adviser Mr Cummings had treated the civil service. 

Sir Bernard said Whitehall was ‘demoralised’ by the way senior mandarins had been removed at Mr Cummings’s behest, because he regarded them as either ‘not up to it’ or not sufficiently pro-Brexit.

‘At its [the Government’s] heart is the malevolent presence of Dominic Cummings, the PM’s principal adviser, who thinks the Civil Service is pretty useless and the machine would be better in the hands of weirdos like himself,’ Sir Bernard said. 

The idea of ‘daily televised White House-style media briefings’ was ‘a constitutional outrage – even if we have been subjected to televised briefings since the onset of coronavirus’. 

Criticising the Government’s approach to the pandemic, Sir Bernard said: ‘Attitudes are all wrong. It is not hindsight to say that a certain humility was required at the outset of a pandemic caused by a new virus with still no antidote.

‘Yet, while the uncertainties have been implicit in the “following the science” mantra, ministers have tended to convey a certain command instead of admitting they are learning as they go along.

‘The result has been a confused mess as the anomalies thrown up by measures such as social distancing and masks have demonstrated that government, national, regional or local, cannot cope with the infinite variety of personal circumstances.’

Writing in the Yorkshire Post newspaper, Sir Bernard said Mr Johnson should focus on more important matters. 

He noted: ‘Brexit is still unresolved, Europe and the USA in a mess, China and Putin’s Russia are a serious threat to the world’s well-being. 

‘And what about all those economic, social and infrastructural problems lying around?’ 

He said the danger of one of Mr Johnson’s aides giving daily briefings on television was that ‘however fast on their feet’ they would ‘regularly reveal their ignorance to the nation’, adding: ‘It is bad enough ministers being occasionally all over the show.’

Such an appointment would only ‘advertise and underline the inconsistencies’ of the Government’s approach to Covid-19. It was ‘not short of official spokesmen… what it lacks is a coherent approach’.

A source close to Mr Cummings said: ‘Government communications has changed since the secrecy of Sir Bernard’s day. Voters want and deserve more accountability.’

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