Rishi Sunak at a Covid press conference in May 2020 (Picture: Andrew Parsons)

Four junior leaders of Britain’s biggest criminal gang were due to take the stand at the UK Covid-19 Inquiry this week. Tory boys Matt Hancock, Michael Gove, Dominic Raab and Sajid Javid were all set to give evidence about their role in the government’s woeful response to the pandemic.

In the weeks before the Christmas break, they are to be followed by their leaders—then and now—Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak. The result is likely to be an explosion of infighting and attempts to damage rival party factions. But the inquiry will also hear first-hand evidence of their collective, callous disregard for life.

Covid has killed some 230,000 people in Britain—a proportion of the population far higher than in many comparable countries. Vulnerable Old people and those most vulnerable to the disease were abandoned because, as the then prime minister Johnson said, “They’ve had a good innings”. As infections soared, current prime minister Sunak agreed.

He announced his notorious “Eat out to help out” scheme to protect profits, despite scientific advisers insisting this would cause more death. Former health secretary Hancock is today remembered for his incompetence. But it was his instructions to release untested patients from hospitals that led to the mass cull of people in care homes in 2020 and 2021.

Along with Johnson and Sunak, he has much blood on his hands. Lord Sedwill, Britain’s most senior civil servant, said he wanted Hancock sacked to “save lives and protect the NHS”. Deputy cabinet secretary Helen MacNamara told the inquiry that Hancock displayed “nuclear levels” of overconfidence. He had a pattern of reassuring colleagues the pandemic was being dealt with in ways that were not true, she said.

Hancock and Gove spent last weekend with top cops from the National Crime Agency investigating the PPE Medpro scandal. Investigators wanted to know how a Tory lord’s firm had shifted £200 million worth of defective surgical gowns onto the NHS. While Tory ministers’ friends were busy making a quick few million pounds out of the crisis, the policies of the top tier made sure Covid infections surged.

The government’s chief scientist Sir Patrick Vallance last week told the inquiry that Johnson’s tactics led to more deaths. Johnson first refused and then delayed a second lockdown in the autumn of 2020, saying he’d rather “let the bodies pile high”. Data showed “there were many more cases, it was far more widespread and was accelerating faster than anyone had expected,” Vallance said.

He added, “This was an occasion when I think it’s clear that we should have gone earlier.” Vallance’s diary at the time said Johnson began a meeting on possible restrictions by arguing for “letting it all rip. Saying yes, there will be more casualties, but so be it”.

The same entry also quoted Johnson as saying, “Most people who die have reached their time anyway.” Sunak is today eager to distance himself from his former boss. But back then they sang the same tune. Secret Vallance sent a secret message calling Sunak “Dr Death the Chancellor” during a meeting they both attended during the crisis.

Chris Whitty, the chief health officer, told the inquiry that he had to repeatedly intervene to stop the Tories letting Covid run wild. He explained how herd immunity—letting a virus run unchecked through a population—would have caused “an extraordinarily high loss of life”. 

Whitty said he urged people in government to stop publicly discussing a subject that they “half understood” at best. In the spotlight in the weeks ahead, we will see our so-called leaders trying desperately to cover themselves. All the while they will desperately sling mud at their predecessors and successors.

In millions of households across Britain, there will be people who watch the reporting while holding back tears. For them, the inquiry will have told them who is responsible for lost friends, family, and loved ones.

Meanwhile the Tories are also ripping themselves apart over immigration and tax. And the party right is also after their leaders’ heads because it wants more tax cuts. But this would lead to spending cuts even greater than chancellor Jeremy Hunt is already planning. That would only increase the likelihood of a wipeout at the coming general election.

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