Many of us struggle these days to work out which corner of which parallel universe we inhabit. The word ‘unprecedented’ has been overused so much by politicians of late, I almost expect Katherine Hamnett to release a T-Shirt with it emblazoned on the front (those older that 40 may need to Google that).
But it was with even greater incredulity than even the new normal has inspired, that I heard that special adviser Dominic Cummings was going to be making a statement from 10 Downing Street.
I’m sure we all know who Mr Cummings is by now, but to the uninitiated, he’s the guy who seems to be having trouble working out his social distancing at moment. For him it could be anywhere between 2 meters and 260 miles. It’s all a matter of interpretation we’re told, only some interpretations have more latitude than others.
Obfuscation, feeble excuses and contradictions
If we thought this might be a resignation speech, that idea was pretty soon squashed. He could have resigned in writing or by Twitter. An ‘adviser’ doesn’t need the assembled media in Boris’s back garden to do that. No, this was the full ceremonial skewering, not something that Dom is used to submitting to.
The statement was full of, obfuscation, feeble excuses and contradictions. But in the main it was a simple justification for his belief, and apparently the belief of several senior government ministers, that the rules don’t apply to him.
Although rather than the Cummings’ customary two finger salute to the media in the studied Malcolm Tuckersesque style he’s tried so hard to cultivate, we had a fair impression of submission and respect. Almost a bowed head and a slight catch in the throat. The hangdog expression of a puppy caught chewing on the Sunday roast. This may have been what he spent the half an hour delay to the start of the press conference practicing in the Number 10 bathroom mirror.
There was an air about his written statement of a spin doctor sculpting the few facts that were already available in the public domain to fit a narrative, something which Cummings is very practiced at. Some creative writing with plenty of saccharine sprinkled on top. We’re told that Dom is very good at catching the mood of the nation, and he went straight for the “caring family man motif”.
Hardly any of it was worth much in the way of close scrutiny. Some of it raised more questions than it answered :
We were told he was concerned about his safety and that of his family in London. So why, with the full might of the police and security services at his disposal in the metropolis, would he choose to drive 230 miles to an isolated farm house where, he would arguably be more exposed?
For much the same reasons why would he take his family away from the myriad top-end medical facilities in London, risking a 5 hour journey, while he himself was feeling the effects of the virus, to somewhere less accessible, putting further strain on local services?
Who in their right mind would test their “weird” eyesight, by loading their family into the back of a car and taking an hour long drive, not only putting them as risk, but other road users as well?
This could all be argued to be a matter of judgement, were it not for the fact that Cummings himself was involved in drawing up the very guidelines he chose to ignore. But even were we to accept this as a judgement call, or some of Boris Johnson’s good old British common sense, how astute should we judge the senior adviser to the PM to be if he makes judgement calls like these, especially knowing he would be very likely to be called into account for his actions at some point? What indeed, would Malcolm Tucker have said in these circumstances?
Bucket of nonsense
This all stank of a bucket of nonsense thrown together by Boris, Cummings and others that they thought we might have a fair chance of swallowing. Well I suspect they got that wrong as well.
But my real incredulity was reserved for the pantomime we all had to go through to be fed these flimsy little fantasies. The idea that an adviser, no matter how special (and there’s plenty of evidence now that he’s really not that special), would be making an announcement to the press from Number 10!
He’s not a minister. He’s not an MP. He’s not elected to any office at all. He’s an appointed member of staff, who apparently got the job because of his past connections with our beloved leader and his then mistress.
He’s not even really that much of an adviser, if he thinks this is the best way for the people he’s advising to act. Any adviser with the true interests of his client at heart would have bowed out days ago, when he became the story instead of those he was supposed to be advising. Yet Cummings himself glibly confirmed that he had not offered his resignation, telling us it was “up to the Prime Minister”. No it’s not Dom, all you need is a one line letter and some moral backbone, as many of your former colleagues could attest.
Any adviser worth his expense account would have cleared his desk days ago when it became obvious that he is doing significant damage to the delicate and fragile tissue of competence that the government is hanging on to with the very tips of their well manured fingernails.
Advisers are ten a penny
Cummings is just the hired help. Advisers are ten a penny and are usually treated as disposable by the politicians they are attached to, especially if throwing them under the bus allows them to live another day. So why are we to be treated to his moonlike fizzog on our screens and radio boxes? Why should he or anyone really care if he resigns, is sacked, or simply crawls back under whichever rock he slithered out from under? Why have so many senior ministers and the highest office in the land rallied behind plucky Dom to try to save his snake-like skin?
There are conspiracy theories that say he knows where the metaphorical bodies are buried. That he could take them all with him if he was forced out. But I think it’s simpler than that – they just can’t do the job without him.
Our government is now so stuffed with brown-nosing, ambitious, entryist politicians, hardly any of whom have the foggiest idea what to do now they’re in the hot seats. None of them have relevant experience for the job of government. Their principal talent, so it would seem, is to win elections. And that’s where Dom comes in.
Permanent campaign mode
As we’ve seen with Donald Trump, this is a group of politicians who are in permanent campaign mode. That’s all they know how to do, and Dom’s a campaign manager. He helped run the Brexit campaign on which many, if not all, the current crop of senior Tories rode on to power. Having now won that battle and grasped the keys to Number 10, they have no idea what to do with them.
We’ve seen through the abject chaos and incompetence of the Covid-19 crisis in this country, that none of these erstwhile failed journalists, lawyers and general hangers-on have the first clue when it come to government. They are only any good at arguing amongst themselves and grandstanding on populist platforms with a leader who’s ability to craft empty, lunatic, one-liner campaign slogans is only bettered by his tangerine chum in the Whitehouse.
We are now governed by a group of politicians so utterly clueless about policy and governance that they are desperate to hang on to the one man who unites them in their mediocrity and offers some tenuous grasp on the job of government. Even if the ideas he proposes are borderline psychopathy, such as ‘herd immunity’ and jobs for ‘weirdos and misfits’ they’re something, anything, to fill that yawning, empty, soulless, morally vacant, ideas vacuum that otherwise surrounds them all.
If Twitter and the rest of the media are anything to go by, Dom’s desperate plea for clemency to the media he’s previously scorned and derided hasn’t cut much ice. His advice during the press conference not to “believe everything you read in the papers” probably didn’t help that cause. Especially from someone who’s made a career out of trying to make us believe what he tells us in whatever newspaper he can throw a bone to will run with whilst actively excluding anyone he doesn’t like the look of.
We haven’t seen the end of Cummings yet
But if the waste of time and energy we’ve seen this afternoon in dealing with the hubris and self-interest of one not-very-special adviser is anything to go by, we haven’t seen the end of Cummings yet. I fully expect him to be installed as interim PM any day now as Boris slopes off to do more important things like bath the baby, wash his hair, and polish the cat.
I mean, it’s not like the government has anything better to do right now is it? We all just need to understand that protecting the salary and pension of a chum of the PM is far more important than dealing with the carnage and death both of them have left in their wake over the past few months. With the lockdown already crumbling over the bank holiday weekend, this is something that is likely to be made worse by the poor example that Cummings has now very publicly set.
Moreover, judging by the amount of pomp and circumstance he was afforded on Monday afternoon, together with Johnson’s lacklustre performance straight afterwards, it’s probably only a matter of time before we see King Dom swapping his customary beanie for a crown. In these ‘unprecedented’ times I really think I’d lack the energy to be surprised.
Related: We are witnessing one of the great cover-ups of our time