James Forsyth

In many ways, the Covid inquiry has already begun

In many ways, the Covid inquiry has already begun
Boris Johnson (photo: Getty)
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It is inevitable that there will be a public inquiry into the government’s handling of coronavirus at the end of all this – the death toll demands it. There is, as I say in the magazine this week, an interesting question about what kind of person should chair the inquiry. Leveson was a judge, Chilcot a former civil servant—and this showed in the kind of inquiries they led. There’s a view in government that, in the words of one secretary of state, ‘a lawyer would be the worst person to chair it as they will take it down the blame route’.

In many ways, the government is conducting a rolling inquiry right now. There are a number of areas where the government has changed tack during this crisis. As one source at the heart of government admits: ‘Some things have so manifestly not worked that reversing them has been an admission of failure.’

The most striking example of the government changing its approach is testing. But you can also see it in the changes to the way that Whitehall works. The appointment of Simon Case as the No. 10 permanent secretary, a position that has been vacant since the end of 2011, and the fact that he has been given special responsibility for Covid-19, is an admission that the centre of government has not performed as it should have done during this crisis.

Interestingly, I understand that the civil service top brass think that this crisis has shown that there needs to be changes to the way that the system works. There won’t be a return to the status quo ante once this crisis is over.