Is the fat lady really singing for Dominic Cummings? Twitter is sceptical. First there was euphoria. Then a 90’s movie reference to Gwyneth Paltrow’s head being in the cardboard box Cummings carried out of No.10 Downing Street, in what looked like a very stage-managed way. (The movie was David Fincher’s neo-noir, Se7en, by the way. Ed) These quickly gave way to suspicion. Who, apart from actors in long-forgotten movies padding out Netflix’s offering, uses a cardboard box as a prop to signal their departure – willing or otherwise – from a job? If he’d really stopped working for No.10, why was he still wearing one of his many ‘lanyards for all occasions’, from which his security pass is usually seen to dangle? After irreparably dividing the country, and presiding over a catalogue of outrages and failures, could Cummings really be quitting because some of his misfit and weirdo acolytes had been overheard calling Carrie Symonds ‘Princess Nut-Nuts’? (It’s not even witty!)
James Forsyth, husband of recently appointed No.10 Press Secretary Allegra Stratton (who is rumoured to be at the centre of the bust-up), seems to be taking the Cummings departure seriously. He rushed to write a mini-hagiography of Cummings for The Spectator: “Cummings is one of those rare individuals who has bent the arc of history. He has been crucial, if not indispensable, to several key moments in this country’s recent past.” Gush, gush.
“Oh FFS,” retorted former Times columnist Philip Collins. “He’s hardly Martin Luther King. He’s an advisor who is a good campaigner and useless in government. Get some perspective.” Now we’re talking. It is simply extraordinary how many in government and in the press are prepared to overlook:
- industrial-scale lying;
- illegal data-harvesting;
- inflicting military-grade psy-ops on the electorate;
- subverting the spirit and letter of our electoral laws;
- bulldozing our constitution;
- undermining the rule of law;
- stoking dark, psychotic mob forces with ‘fake news’ propaganda techniques, and
- showing nothing but disdain for us ‘little people’
just so long as they win!
Yet James Forsyth wasn’t a lone voice. Former MP and minister, now Telegraph columnist, Rob Wilson commented:
“In a Government structure that lacks original thinkers and needs a radical overhaul, a disruptor like Dominic Cummings will be a loss. I’ve sat on too many Government Committees where everybody is guided to agree and not challenge. It really doesn’t improve decision-making.”
Hang on. Cummings advised Prime Minister (PM) Johnson to furnish his Cabinet with sycophants and mediocrities, who would toe whatever line Cummings told them to. All that mattered was that they were Brexit ideologues and would obey his every word. If anyone is responsible for surrounding the PM with ‘yes men’, it’s him. He’s a megalomanic, not a genius, as the Sonia Khan incident makes clear: Cummings’s treatment of Sajid Javid’s special advisor (SpAd) was brutal. He accused Khan of leaking information to the press, had armed police frog-march her out of No.11 Downing Street, and demanded that she should be replaced with one of his own hand-picked lackeys. In one of the few flashes of ministerial integrity since Johnson came to power, Javid resigned as Chancellor of the Exchequer. That little Downing Street drama resulted in a five or six-figure pay-out at the taxpayers’ expense (although that’s the least of what DomCum has cost us).
Former deputy PM Lord Heseltine, said: “In an interview in March, I forecast Dominic Cummings would be gone by Christmas. I can think of no man who has done so much harm to this country in so short a time. He has left a generation to pay the price of Brexit.” Those of us who have observed Cummings since his days as Michael Gove’s SpAd at the Department of Education (where they wrought lasting damage together), tracked him through his meandering blogs during the wilderness years and witnessed his rebirth as a ‘dirty tricks’ electioneering guru, certainly hope Lord Heseltine is right.
The sneaking suspicion that Cummings might be playing four-dimensional chess lingers. Donald Trump once boasted he could “stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue, and shoot someone, and he still wouldn’t lose any voters.” Dominic Cummings metaphorically shot Tory MPs in the middle of Westminster, and still people voted for them, and the MPs thanked him by tolerating his enthronement as the ‘real’ prime minister. Yes, some of them moan about him and call for his sacking from time to time, but they never do anything meaningful about him.
Cummings said, “People think – and by the way I think most people are right – ‘The Tory party is run by people who basically don’t care about people like me.’ That is what most people in the country have thought about the Tory party for decades. I know a lot of Tory MPs and I am sad to say the public is basically correct. Tory MPs largely do not care about these poorer people. They don’t care about the NHS.”
This is a man who commits the grossest offences, survives and thrives. In the run-up to the EU referendum, he had a meeting with the Financial Times (FT) to explain his campaign strategy. The presentation left them gobsmacked. One of them distilled it into a simple question: “You’re just going to lie?” Lie he did, on an epic scale. In his book The Powerful and the Damned, FT Editor (2005-20) Lionel Barber writes, “Asked about the scale of the economic shock that would follow Brexit, Cummings says he has ‘no idea what damage such a shock might do. The figure is unknowable and the ordinary person in the street would have little understanding anyway.’ As he realises what he has said, Cummings adds: “This conversation is off the record, right?”
Later, in his rambling Spectator article about how he won it for VoteLeave, Cummings admitted that false narratives – about better funding for the NHS and the UK being vulnerable to invasion by 76 million Muslims as soon as Turkey joined the EU – had been determining. “If Boris, Gove, and Gisela had not supported us and picked up the baseball bat marked ‘Turkey/NHS/£350 million’ with five weeks to go, then 650,000 votes might have been lost.”
The Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee eventually tried to hold Cummings to account for some of his dodgy practices during the referendum, but he refused the summons. The Commons Select Committee of Privileges recommended the House issue an admonishment for contempt of Parliament, but that didn’t prevent him from entering No.10 Downing Street as the PM’s right-hand man (and some would say, his puppet-master), four months later.
Shocking as that may be, it is perhaps his shaggy-dog story about his trip to Barnard Castle on his wife’s birthday during lockdown, allegedly as a means of testing his eye-sight, for which he will be best remembered. This obvious lie assured the story would never die, no matter how much political capital the PM expended on trying to dismiss it, or how often he patronised the public with admonitions to “move on.”
Cummings undermined weeks of compliance with a draconian lockdown, sending the message to millions of Brits that their heart-breaking sacrifices had been for nothing. He smashed the budding reconciliation that had been bringing the country back together after the fractious Brexit debate. He prompted a shambolic exit from lockdown: the government announced the easing of measures, without rhyme or reason, earlier than was prudent, just to knock Cummings off the top of the news cycle. The harm he has done public health in this country cannot be over-stated.
Yet Cummings stayed on, despite a jaw-dropping plot-twist in his Durham flit, after an eagle-eyed member of the Twittersphere, Alex Tiffin, noticed there were buildings on the Cummings family farm that didn’t appear on a planning application for development there. Tiffin found that Cummings was part-owner of the complex with his parents and sister, so he had been visiting his second home rather than trying to arrange childcare. His cottage doesn’t have planning permission, and he has never paid council tax on it, with the arrears amounting to between £30,000 and £50,000. In more ‘one rule for us, another for them’-ism, Cummings was granted retrospective planning permission, and let off paying the council tax. Anybody else would have had their home demolished and faced a jail sentence if they didn’t pay off the back-tax.
If some Conservatives have been able to forgive Cummings’s unacceptable, even unlawful behaviour, they have been stung by his words. He famously described former Secretary of State for Brexit, David Davis, as “thick as mince, lazy as a toad and vain as Narcissus.” He accused veteran Conservative MP Sir William Cash of talking “bullshit” and went on to describe Eurosceptic MPs as “a metastasising tumour” that should be “excised from the UK body politic”. He claimed, “A basic problem for people in politics is that approximately none have the hard skills necessary to distinguish great people from charlatans.” (Admitting he’s hiding in plain sight?) Despite being an Oxbridge graduate himself, he lamented, “I’ve learned over the years that ‘rational discussion’ accomplishes almost nothing in politics, particularly with people better-educated than average.” (Spinning his misunderstood genius myth?) He further claimed, “We should stop selecting leaders from a subset of Oxbridge egomaniacs with a humanities degree and a spell as spin doctor.” (Being ironic, or displaying an extraordinary lack of self-awareness?)
Cummings denies the quote carried by the Sunday Times in February this year, in which he described the government’s coronavirus strategy as “herd immunity, protect the economy and if that means some pensioners die, too bad.” Since the comment chimed with Johnson’s ‘Clark Kent’ speech at Greenwich, in which he appeared to offer up the nation as a herd-immunity experiment for the good of the world, few believe his denial. With an official death toll over 50,000, an excess death toll over 70,000, a lamentable but eye-wateringly expensive track-and-trace system, corrupt cronyism in the awarding of lucrative public contracts, and over three million desperate Brits excluded from any support, the UK’s management of the pandemic has been the worst in Europe. After the US, it is possibly the worst in the world. Cummings must bear some of the responsibility for that failure.
Wycombe MP Steve Baker claims the only minister Cummings respects is Michael Gove. Ouch. Not the PM, Boris Johnson – just Michael Gove. Which brings us back to four-dimensional chess. Michael Gove has been reported to be ‘on manoeuvres’ – Toryspeak for ‘angling to become PM’ – by various right-wing newspapers for some time now. The vituperative Daily Mail columnist Sarah Vine, aka Mrs Gove, has had a makeover. Could Cummings flouncing out of No.10 be the first step in a plot to get Gove into No.10? Those same right-wing newspapers have also been briefing against Johnson. Or perhaps Cummings is preparing his excuse for the carnage that will be unleashed if we do come out of transition on December 31st, irrespective of whether it is on the basis of Johnson’s ‘thin-gruel’ deal, or no deal at all.
Cummings excoriated the implementation of Brexit before he came on board and dreamt up a new three-word-slogan – “Get Brexit Done” – to get the Tories re-elected with their biggest seat majority since the days of Margaret Thatcher. He said leaving the EU may be an ‘error’, lambasted those who decided to remove the UK from Euratom as ‘morons’, saying that leaving the nuclear regulatory body was “near-retarded on every dimension”. For 18 months he has wielded absolute power and had the opportunity to re-shape Brexit to limit its damage. Has he done that? No.-
- Unfinished IT systems;
- insufficient haulier permits;
- lorry parks still under construction;
- a whopping shortage of customs officials;
- the new and forbidding mountain of Brexity red tape;
- a dismal lack of preparation (because nobody knows what they’re preparing for):
we’re heading for a worse Brexit than even the most pessimistic architects of ‘Project Fear’ could ever have imagined. Maybe Cummings has realised that Brexit will be an unmitigated disaster and he wants to get out early enough to be able to float one last unicorn: had he been allowed to steer it right to the end, it would have turned out to be brilliant. For now, Cummings’s equally sinister and shady – albeit more silent – ideological twin Matthew Elliott remains in place at the heart of government, in No.11…
Looking to the future, Sir Roger Gale tweeted, “With the departure of Mr Cummings it is now possible for the PM to muck out the stables and ensure that he finds an adviser that is capable of doing the job, and can help lead this country forward.” We’ve had these false dawns before. On Johnson’s election as Tory Party leader, pundits were saying a soft Brexit was more likely than ever. Boris Johnson is at heart a Europhile and will bring his party round, they claimed. (He didn’t.) Again, after his comprehensive election victory in December 2019, pro-soft-Brexit Tories whispered that Johnson would now unleash his inner one-nation Conservative. (He didn’t.) Is Johnson kind enough to save his country from the disaster of a harsh Brexit, mid-pandemic, in mid-winter? (He isn’t. Nothing he has done so far suggests he has either the courage or the compassion. Boris Johnson is no Winston Churchill.)
Cummings once blogged, “In history books, luck is always underplayed and the talent of individuals is usually overplayed.” He may have done it his way, but he is definitely more Nancy than Frank Sinatra.
“Right about now you’ll find me on the highway
Pointin’ my thumb at all the cars going my way
Right about here you’ll see me gettin’ weary
I got no one left to keep me warm and cheery”
He may be gone for now, but we’ve not heard the last of Demonic Cummings.