Former No10 Spin Doctor Lee Cain has hit back at Rishi Sunak’s claims the Covid lockdown compromises were never discussed
Rishi Sunak has been accused of being a Covid revisionist in a scathing attack by Boris Johnson’s ex-spin doctor Lee Cain today.
The hopeful ex-Chancellor and Tory leadership last week claimed it had been a mistake to “empower” scientists in the pandemic and has been banned from discussing the “compromises” of lockdown.
Mr Sunak’s comments drew condemnation from both academics and former No10 insiders like Mr Cain, a former journalist who once disguised himself as a chicken to chase David Cameron around the country.
Even former aide-turned-harsh critic Dominic Cummings rose in defense of the outgoing Mr Johnson, accusing Mr Sunak of spreading “dangerous nonsense”.
Now Mr Cain has written a letter to The Spectator to stop what he called “Covid revisionism” by critics who wanted to “rewrite history”.
Contrary to what the self-proclaimed “underdog” in the prime ministerial race has claimed, Mr Cain said ministers and scientists had been “agonizing” over the lockdown and it had not been an “easy decision”.
“None of this is true – it’s Covid revisionism,” he said.
In fact, the former insider claims the government’s biggest mistake was not locking down sooner.
“As the pandemic fades from our collective memory – and critics seek to rewrite history – it is clear that the biggest mistake we made was not to lock down, but to do so too late,” he wrote .
Former Chancellor and Tory leadership hopeful Mr Sunak was branded a ‘Covid revisionist’ by Mr Cain after a explosive interview in which the former minister claimed he had been banned from highlighting the impact of lockdowns on the country designated
Britain’s Covid alert downgraded to level two as hospital pressures and infections continue to fall
The UK’s Covid alert level has been downgraded as the latest wave continues to fizzle out.
The country’s four chief physicians have jointly recommended moving the Covid alert level from level three to level two.
A level two alert means “Covid is in general circulation but direct pressure and healthcare transmission are decreasing or stable”.
The last time the alert level was at the highest level of four was in December, when the original Omicron variant swept the country.
It was also four o’clock the previous winter, before vaccinations, when the alpha strain drove hospital rates to record highs.
The downgraded warning comes after weeks of falling infections and hospitalizations across the UK.
Cases spiked from June when the highly infectious BA.5 subvariant took off, sparking fears of a deadly resurgence of the virus.
But the substrain proved to be just as mild as its parent variant, Omicron, and any increase in hospitalization rates was short-lived.
Mr Cain said he remembered the morning of March 14, 2020, around a week before the nation went into lockdown, when Mr Johnson and his advisers were told current measures to control the spread of Covid were failing.
He said three scenarios had been presented to the Prime Minister: first, do nothing, second, enforce social distancing, or third, a national lockdown.
Only the last option would prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed, Mr Cain said.
But he added that despite the prospect of the NHS collapsing within three weeks, Mr Johnson had still waited over a week to enact a lockdown, with the Government “paralyzed” by the lockdown’s potential compromises.
Mr Cain said contrary to Mr Sunak’s claims, these “compromises” are regularly discussed.
“The trade-offs were highlighted daily by Chris Whitty in our morning Covid meetings. They weighed heavily on everyone involved,” he said.
“But we believed lockdown was the right thing to do – morally, politically and practically. Yes, it was a flawed, blunt tool, but it was the best we had in a very limited toolbox.’
That blunt tool, he added, gave the nation and scientists the valuable time they needed.
“We urgently needed more time to improve NHS capacity, buy more ventilators, develop medicines and buy PPE. And of course develop a Covid vaccine,” he said.
“It wasn’t those actions that we should regret – it was the weeks wasted by a government too faint-hearted to act.”
Mr Cain asked what “lockdown critics” like Mr Sunak, who originally backed the measure, had done instead.
“Mr Sunak says he has had ‘a mature conversation with the public’. But what does that mean politically?’
“Do lockdown skeptics think people would have voluntarily stayed at home and avoided social contact, like in Sweden, so restrictions weren’t necessary?”
“Or is the real, unspoken argument that we should have just let Covid rip?”
Mr Cain said some lockdown skeptics argue the high death rates of an unchecked spread of the virus would have been worth avoiding the economic damage of restrictions.
He called this “callous” position untenable for any government.
“The faster we acted, the less painful the much-discussed compromises would have been. No amount of Covid revisionism can avoid this hard truth,” he said.
Analysts from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimate that around 1.2 million had the virus on any given day in England in the week ending August 16. Cases fell 15 percent from the previous week
Despite his dismissal of his former colleague, Mr Cain still called Mr Sunak a “talented politician” and praised him for his work on the Covid furlough scheme.
Last week, Mr Sunak sensationally claimed it was a mistake to bend so heavily to SAGE, the government’s influential scientific committee, whose ominous forecasts prompted a series of damaging restrictions on Boris Johnson.
In a heated interview with Spectator magazine, he also argued that No10 failed to recognize economic compromises “from the start”.
Although the government had helped thwart the pandemic in the early days, the government’s two-year containment cycle crippled the economy and caused NHS backlogs to skyrocket.
Ministers eventually lost confidence in the draconian policies, instead relying on vaccines and immunity to keep Covid at bay.
Mr Sunak claimed he “must not talk about the trade-off” between the virus-controlling effects of lockdowns and the impact on healthcare, the economy and education.
“The script was never to acknowledge her. The script read, “Oh, there’s no compromise because if we do this for our health, it’s good for the economy,” he said.
“I felt like no one was speaking. We didn’t talk about missed at all [doctor’s] Appointments or the backlog building up in the NHS on a massive scale. That was never part of it.”
Mr Sunak claimed that meetings with ministers at the time “were literally me at that table just fighting”, describing them as “every time incredibly uncomfortable”.
He later claimed he had never been against lockdowns, although his article strongly suggested he was.
But SAGE scientists hit back, accusing him of passing the buck, arguing that ministers are the ones making decisions and it is “not the fault” of experts that ministers failed to seek broader advice.
Mr Sunak also boasted last month that he flew home from California to personally block another lockdown during the winter’s Omicron surge.
Mr Cummings, another former No10 insider, said his former colleague’s interview was “dangerous garbage”.
He added that it “reads like a man whose [epically] bad campaign has melted his brain [and] he is about to leave politics.