HAROLD Wilson famously stated that a week is a long time in politics, and the events of the past week bear him out. But that is no excuse for forgetting political events and circumstances that happened more than a week ago.
The reshuffle took place on the day before St Valentine’s Day. However commentators are resisting my suggestion to call the formation of Boris’s new cabinet ‘the St Gosbert’s Day Massacre’.
One characteristic of the events of St Gosbert’s Day is to see the hand of Dominic Cummings in all the goings-on. In fact, the media are trying to promote the idea that Cummings is the real power and that Boris is merely the front man.
This is not new. Channel 4 made a drama Brexit: The Uncivil War that suggested just as much, having Benedict Cumberbatch, an actor who has made a career out of portraying tortured geniuses, play Cummings as, er, a tortured genius. One has to admire Cumberbatch’s range. As with all political dramas made by Channel 4, there was a propagandistic element to it. Past dramas have been used to nobble the Liberal Democrats for going into coalition, suggest Tony Blair was going mad, and that Gordon Brown was cheated out of the premiership after Blair reneged on a deal to step aside. Other dramas have promoted the idea of assassinating George W Bush and kidnapping Prince Harry while he was serving this country in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces.
But back to Cummings. The result of all the recent events has been to make the doorstepping of Cummings as routine as the doorstepping of Jeremy Corbyn used to be before some event or other caused him to resent the attention.
But what, exactly, is so special about Cummings?
The answer is: nothing. Cummings is doing nothing different from what was done in New Labour by Peter Mandelson or Alastair Campbell. However there is one important difference between Cummings and his antecedents.
It is the absence of fear. Over twenty years ago the press in this country treated Mandelson and Campbell with a fawning respect borne solely out of a fear of the consequence of doing otherwise. Although their names were rarely out of the print media, the pair hardly appeared on broadcast news and were rarely pictured, and this was at a time when every trick was employed to catch candid images of the Princess of Wales.
These almost invisible men wielded such power over the media as to be beyond imagination today. When Jeremy Paxman outed Peter Mandelson as gay on live television, he felt obliged to turn up on the doorstep of Mandelson’s London home unannounced to beg for forgiveness. Mandelson and Campbell’s hold was based on the simple premise that if any journalist stepped out of line by not providing less than slavish coverage of New Labour, they and their organisation would be cut out of any future news exclusives, being forced to rely on second-hand reporting of someone else’s coverage of a briefing.
The cowing of the entirety of the British news media to Pravda-like journalism is barely mentioned today. It led to the under-reporting of the seriously dysfunctional relationship between Blair and Brown. The New Labour project was based on a deepening civil war between its two major front men, and rational government policy suffered.
We have yet to understand fully the extent of how this country was misgoverned during these years, but we know that it almost led to national bankruptcy. Certainly it was widely held at the time that the financial implications of the 2008 crash were as severe as the Great War. Our grandchildren will be paying for Blair and Brown’s diversity of personal ambition. Billions of pounds was wasted due to Gordon Brown’s ego.
We do not know how the dice will fall in the ensuing months, but there is increasing confidence that this country now has a team at the top that is united and is up for the challenges ahead. But we the people also benefit from not having a cowed media while Boris is at the height of his powers. Reportage may be biased, perhaps even distorted, but at least it will not be rendered submissive by an overextension of state power that shaded into abuse as it did during the Blair years. The fact that Cummings can be doorstepped while Campbell and Mandelson weren’t shows that our government is not above scrutiny, and with this scrutiny, excess of the kind practised by New Labour will be avoided. The press might not be grateful for this, be we should be.