SO, the glaring Mekon, the deranged genius, is gone. Dominic Cummings’s appearance, strange behaviour and acidic manner always meant he was box office, and always meant it was highly unlikely he would go ‘gentle into that good night’. He hasn’t. It is difficult to know which sigh of relief is loudest – that of the discombobulated establishment or a commentariat glad to write about something other than damn Covid for once.
Of course, Cummings is a genuinely substantial figure, so it is not surprising that his departure is being dissected from every conceivable angle. According to the Telegraph, it is a sex war, with ‘Carrie’s Crew’ beating the ‘Brexit Boys’ – 0/10 for tabloid-style alliteration there, Telegraph. Then there is the Brexit angle: Remainers are back in charge and we are about to be sold out, again.
There is even a case for combining the two: as this blog has previously argued, although it would rather absurd to say that Brexit was ‘gendered’, to use that awful expression, in the way some Remain feministas wanted it to be, nonetheless a strong case can be made that it was part of a wider culture war between the feminised elite – consensual, nannying, risk-averse – against the more masculine traditional culture of predominantly working-class Leave voters – swashbuckling, competitive and freedom-loving. Thanks to Covid, the balance of power has swung back decisively towards the former.
Or you can view it as the ghastly, parasitic Tory party reverting to type: myopic, low agency and opportunistic, it simply saw Brexit as a technocratic task to be delivered with a view to securing its Red Wall voters rather than a long-term project for cultural renewal and national self-belief. With Brexit in sight (hopefully), it is looking for new forces to be bullied and pushed around by.
Or you can take the Wizard of Oz angle: Boris – as TCW has long argued – is shown to be a fundamentally weak man in thrall to his harridan of a fiancée. Indecisive, cowardly and desperate to be loved, especially by his Metropolitan liberal friends, the Bottler Blond is embracing establishment orthodoxy on eco-lunacy, the culture war and much else.
There is truth in all these views, but they obscure a wider one. This is the war of unelected advisers against other unelected (and in the case of Carrie Symonds’ case, unappointed) advisers. Far from unprecedented, it shows a dismal continuity of over-mighty advisers running the show that goes back at least as far as the Blair years: Alastair Campbell, heavily embroiled in the catastrophic Iraq War; Steve Hilton, Cameron’s new-age guru; Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, outrageously pushing the totally inadequate Theresa May forward for Prime Minister with catastrophic consequences; Dominic Cummings, Brexit saviour or demented iconoclast, according to taste; Carrie Symonds – well, enough said.
The book ‘May at 10’ that I recently reviewed for TCW had in its conclusion one great insight: that all recent Prime Ministers have found the job too big for them. Perhaps it is because they were more ambitious to be something than to do something, or perhaps because people don’t like electing the obsessively driven highly abrasive personalities such as Nigel Farage, but all have been to a large extent weak figures: captured by networks of vested interest and overly reliant on powerful, unelected and often fanatical advisers. Again and again, such people have themselves become the story – a sure guide to where power, rather office, really resides.
The horrible truth is that the office of Prime Minister has become a Potemkin position: the people we elect to drive the engine are not in charge of the clattering train.