There has been a hell of a lot of takes on the Dominic Cummings affair already. I was hesitant to add my own for that reason. But this isn’t going away it seems, so here goes.
I don’t want to get into the rights and wrongs of what Cummings did and whether he should be sacked or not. What I’m interested in is wondering why Boris has gone so far to protect Cummings. I tried to imagine a similar situation involving either of the last two prime ministers. I attempted to picture David Cameron letting Steve Hilton give his own press conference, or May doing the same for Nick Timothy. I am unable to summon an image of this because it would never, ever have happened. The old logic went that if a special adviser became the story, they had to go. Even if they had done nothing wrong whatsoever, if they became the story, that was it. Now, they are giving their own press conferences.
Why is Boris doing this? Part of the reason is a desire to re-arrange the rules of the game, in a somewhat Trump-esque fashion. Figure out that some of the old rules have no bearing outside of the Westminster bubble, so they can be ignored and further, it might be good to upend them to make new rules that are more favourable to you. I can see that, but it’s still not enough.
Yes, the prime minister probably sees Cummings as too integral to completing his programme to let go in a practical sense. I can see that. But it’s still not enough of a reason for him to go this far. I think there is a bigger factor that one no one is talking about. Sacking Dominic Cummings would have political ramifications for Johnson that could be huge amongst a group of voters he will be scared to alienate.
One of the things this whole affair has exposed is how deeply loved Dominic Cummings is amongst hardcore Brexiteers. I would go as far as to say that he is the top of the totem pole; the one who is trusted beyond all other political figures, including Boris and Farage. A lot of Brexiteers are saying on social media that they will stop supporting Boris completely and switch their allegiance (back in many instances) to the Brexit Party. Farage is waiting in the wings for this to happen. Boris understands this. You also would have Cummings on the outside again, happy to spin his own version of everything. Given he is a much better communicator than anyone in government, this could become deeply problematic.
So what I’m saying is, Boris has created a monster in Dominic Cummings. The prime minister has built a system around him that simply will not work without Cummings at the centre of it. It won’t work practically or politically. He has made himself reliant on Cummings to a massive degree that is far, far beyond the bounds of what any previous PM had established with not only any special adviser, but indeed any member of their team. Was it a good idea for Boris to have done this? I don’t think so, but time will tell. Boris has taken several gambles already that I thought would blow up in his face that have not in the end. But I do know that he has made his bed and he’s going to lie in it, come what may. Lots of people are saying Cummings going is inevitable. I wouldn’t be sure about that at all.
I have a new book out now. It’s called “Politics is Murder” and follows the tale of a woman named Charlotte working at a failing think tank who has got ahead in her career in a novel way – she is a serial killer. One day, the police turn up at her door and tell her she is a suspect in a murder – only thing is, it is one she had nothing to do with. The plot takes in Conservative Party conference, a plot against the Foreign Secretary and some gangsters while Charlotte tries to find out who is trying to frame her for a murder she didn’t commit.
Also: there is a subplot around the government trying to built a stupid bridge, which now seems a charming echo of a more innocent time!
It’s available here:
Douglas beckley says
We’re thirty years on from the specific event, but I just see the relationship between Cummings and BoJo as akin to that between Nick Ridley and Margaret Thatcher. Once he was out, she only lasted a few more weeks.
Cummings is known to be exceptionally abrasive and aloof. No matter how many friends he has had in politics, he conducts himself as if he still has too many. If I had stock in him, I’d be selling it at a sale price right now.
I hope that he’s simply trying to establish the principle that ‘if a special adviser became the story, they had to go’ is no longer the rule because that gives too much power to those who are able to make someone be the story and thereby claim a scalp for spurious reasons.
I hope that this is basically Boris trying to distinguish his administration from the shabby way May’s treated Roger Scruton, jettisoning him as soon as there was any possibility of bad press without checking to see what the rights and wrongs of the situation were.
I think we can all agree that it would be nice if the tide turned and people were no longer automatically fired the moment they were at the centre of a woke Twitterstorm by either public bodies or companies scared of the possible consequences of being seen to stand up against the virtue-signally fury of the online mob.
And if Boris can defuse that by demonstrating that it’s possible to stand strong against such pressure and come out the other side unscathed, then that will be one of the best things he has achieved with his premiership and hopefully enable other bodies — both public and private sector — to do the same and no longer see individuals as disposable collateral to be expended in a damage-control PR operation.
It’s not “woke” or “virtue signalling”. He broke the rules, and he clearly understands that it’s a big deal because he’s lying about it. The fact that his story is transparent, lazy bullshit that only an utter moron would believe is why people are angry. It’s called adding insult to injury.
He broke the rules, and he clearly understands that it’s a big deal because he’s lying about it
So you know he broke the rules, because although if his story is true he didn’t break the rules, you know is lying, even though the only person in this whole affair who we know for sure was lying is the journalist who reported that he had taken a second trip to Durham.
Right. Makes perfect sense.
Phil Beesley says
Nick: “Given he is a much better communicator than anyone in government, this could become deeply problematic.”
I thought that we had learned that Cummings isn’t a very good communicator. Maybe he is more flawed.
However I agree that Johnson has to decide whether he wants to keep Cummings in order to hang out with the Brexit gang, or boot Cummings to retain soft Tories and the ‘borrowed’ votes in northern seats and the backing of moderate MPs. Treating voters and MPs like chess pieces may have been a bad habit learned from Cummings.
If I was Johnson I’d be cursing the circumstances which placed me as Prime Minister surrounded by nomark ministers. I’d be looking about how to do a big clear out.
Cummings will fall shortly (low probability) or will stumble again, to be trampled in a few months.
What is really damaging is the number of different versions of the story, from Dominic Cummings himself and from Mary Wakefield in her Spectator articles. Clearly, they never sat down together once they got back to London and agreed a common line that they would stick to.
At the same time, the Press have not covered themselves in glory over this. Rather than the forensic questioning that you would have got from someone like Keir Starmer at PMQs, all we heard was a series of rants with the same question (or variations on it) being asked repeatedly by journalists who had seemingly not heard Cummings’ responses to earlier questions. A series of questions on the Barnards Castle trip asked without hysteria could so easily have ripped Cummings’ prepared statement to shreds. Also no journalist seemed to pick up on the obvious inconsistencies between Cummings’ statement and what his wife had previously written in The Spectator.
The phoenix says
This is the new poll tax moment
Because it says to every man woman and child what complete idiots you have been to think the lockdown was to be obeyed
You little people
Boris and Cummings have taken you for a ride
Keir Starmer will be the next pm as a consequence
That’ll be why Labour are now leading in the voting intention polls, then?