On Friday evening the image of Dominic Cummings leaving number 10 began circulating on social media with some ferocity. The campaign mastermind behind Brexit and Boris Johnson’s 2019 election victory had handed in his resignation.
In a final act of theatre, the pantomime villain trundled out the front door with his belongings in a cardboard box for the world to see, his characteristically non-descript demeanour soaking up every flash of light from the facing media photographers.
Rarely in the spotlight – except for his trip to Barnard Castle – he was the man behind the throne, in the shadows pulling the strings. He had been brought into the heart of government as Johnson’s chief adviser where he has successfully deployed his “us against them” worldview with damaging effect.
This is a man who has undoubtedly left his mark on British politics, but I couldn’t help but wonder: was this really news-worthy?
By now you have probably established that my blog is a reactive one. That is to say that I tend to write about prominent news stories and events which conjure up some sort of emotion within me, be it positive or negative. To me at least, this ‘story’ does neither.
What did in fact prick my ears was the predictable onslaught of media coverage which ensued in the following days, something which I think was Cummings and Co’s plan all along. In the days following a number of serious newspapers and prominent journalists had tried to piece together a he said she said account of Cummings’ exit.
Surprisingly, no one has a clue and subsequently two opposing narratives have emerged: the first being that Cummings and another aide Lee Cain had been dramatically confronted for briefing against Carrie Symonds, Boris Johnson’s fiancée, resulting in a huge row and subsequent exit. The other states that the departure was in fact amicable and not incendiary at all.
Forget Coronation Street. This is Downing Street, ITV’s flagship new soap.
Ironically, my frustration at the broadcasters, journalists and political commentariat for lapping up this story has in fact caused me to write a reactive blog post about the very thing which I had considered to be a bit of a non-story in the first place.
Makes sense, right? Didn’t think so.
I suppose my main gripe is that so many more important things are happening right now: Covid-19, rampant cronyism in government and a looming unemployment crisis, to name a few.
This shouldn’t have been a tabloid-esque retelling of the Chinese whispers which crept out of number 10; instead, why not focus on the more pressing political and ideological fallout which is likely to follow?
This story is bigger than Cummings and he shouldn’t have been given the spotlight.
Anyway, I digress. Back to the non-story…story.
Your reaction to Cummings’ departure will no doubt be heavily influenced by your views on a number of key issues, like Brexit. He was a snide political puppet master to some, a campaign genius to others.
Cummings’ departure will of course be seen as a victory for many of the more moderate voices in Parliament who will see this as another step closer to a less turbulent and more cabinet orientated mode of governance.
But I wouldn’t be so quick to celebrate: regarding the man himself, as a senior aide to the Prime minister he did at least have some degree of accountability. Relieving him of his post will simply allow him to pull his strings in a role with far less public scrutiny.
Similarly, I would offer equal caution to those who see Cummings’ exit as an opportunity for Johnson to return to his more open and liberal stance which characterised his time as London Mayor.
That being said, Cummings’ exit will worry those who saw him as the key stone holding Boris’ increasingly wobbly bridge in place. As an instrumental and hard-line proponent of Brexit many now fear a watered down approach to ongoing negotiations with the EU.
Clearly, Cummings was an effective campaigner, but he wasn’t a successful policy maker and this is the crux of it. The latter requires far more substance and nuance than the former and I suppose this might have been his undoing. The brash, arrogant and warlike personality which got him his seat at the high table simply wasn’t able to adjust to the sensitivity needed to deal with a global pandemic.
I suppose the reason I saw this as a bit of a non-story was because I doubt much will really change –Cummings or no Cummings I’m sure the government will continue to be pretty incompetent and we’ll still have to deal with the Brexity, culture war chaos which he helped orchestrate.
And that, to me, is what should have been the focus all along: it isn’t Cummings’ pantomime exit which is important, but the tumultuous path he has left us on.
Unfortunately for Boris his support for Cummings is biting him in the proverbial: he is now left in the unenviable position of continuing with a political program which he has neither the ability nor the competence to articulate.