Boris Johnson’s ex-comms chief admits mixed messages undermined Covid response

Lee Cain, a former Downing Street director of communications, said the Government system buckled under the pressures of the Covid crisis

Boris Johnson and Lee Cain

Boris Johnson’s ex-comms chief has admitted that mixed messages undermined the Covid response at the start of the pandemic.

Former No10 director of communications Lee Cain said early Covid campaigns were poor as the system buckled under the strain, leading to confused messages for the public.

Mr Cain, who resigned in November after a wave of Downing Street infighting, blamed inexperienced staff, poor leadership and leaking to journalists” for the chaotic messaging.

He called for a major overhaul of Government communications, including slashing the number of press officers for Whitehall departments.

In a paper for the Institute for Government (IfG), he said: “While there is much for the government to be proud of during these periods – such as the success of the ‘Stay Home’ campaign – the strains of the system became clear as the government came under increasing pressure.

Dominic Cummings (left) alongside Communications Director Lee Cain, both of whom have now left Downing Street


Adrian Dennis/PA Wire)

“The first Covid campaigns were poor, the ‘hub’ system (a team of comms professionals based in the Cabinet Office to assist in the crisis) was a failure due to inexperienced staff and unclear lines of responsibility, policy development was inconsistent and leaking endemic.

“This resulted in the public receiving mixed messages at a critical time, damaging the government’s Covid response.”

But Mr Cain failed to mention other issues which undermined the messaging such as his ally Dominic Cummings ‘ lockdown trip to Durham.

Alex Thomas, programme director at the IfG, said: “While Lee Cain is right to call for a strengthening of the Government Communication Service, structural changes alone won’t repair the damage that a lack of honesty and transparency from leaders has done to public trust.”

He added: “Even the best government communications team cannot obscure poor policy decisions or indecisive leadership.”

Mr Cain was a long-serving aide to Boris Johnson and worked on the Leave campaign.

He was in talks to become the PM’s chief of staff before stepping down last year after a tensions in No10.

There were reports that Mr Johnson’s then-fiancee Carrie objected to his appointment to the powerful role.

Mr Cain, a former Mirror reporter, once donned our famous chicken suit to taunt David Cameron and his Tory allies during the 2010 election.

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