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: