An unelected official, committed to turning the tide on banal British politics, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s former chief advisor, Dominic Cummings appeared, once again, to show his subsisting challenge to the UK Government. In his exclusive interview with the BBC’s Political Editor Laura Kuennssberg, he cemented the notion of the Government’s incompetence, and spoke of his own vision of a new kind of politics to “kill” all others.
The Dominic Cummings interview, which aired on the evening of Tuesday 20th July, featured the COVID-19 pandemic (mis)handling, Mr Cummings’ Barnard Castle controversy, Brexit, the “unethical and unprofessional” influence the Prime Minister’s wife Carrie Johnson has on governmental appointments, and staunch criticism of politics as we know it. Whilst it revealed little of what hadn’t already been known or suspected by the public, it was another stark reminder that British politics may be teetering towards self-destruction.
“A very complicated character” was how Mr Cummings described his former boss. He added Boris Johnson thought it would be “ludicrous” for him to become Prime Minister. The first few minutes of the interview were perhaps enough to indicate a shifting power dynamic between him and his former boss, and that Mr Cummings would not relent in his hatred of Boris Johnson and the ministers he branded “clowns”.
Of himself, Mr Cummings assumes the public view him “generally as a nightmare”. But Mr Cummings proclaimed himself to be a prudent individual in the political arena, suggesting his incessant targeting of the Government and truth-spilling is to bring “transparency” within politics. He wants the UK electorate to examine “how power is actually exercised in No. 10” and introduce “honesty” within it, by walking in camouflaged, and toppling it from the firmest of its structures.
Throughout the interview, Mr Cummings maintained the image of a kind of formidable revolutionary figure, perhaps to some a character existing in a parallel universe. Certainly, his frequent invocations to morality and integrity, along with the allusion to a desire for empowering the ordinary voter seems conflicting with his track record. Yet he maintained this image in the force of Kuennssberg’s interrogation.
COVID-19 Pandemic (Mis)handling and Barnard Castle
The first topic of discussion was the COVID-19 pandemic mishandling. A “disaster movie” but “actually real life” is how he set the scene of 10 Downing Street, before mirroring it with dialogue he alleges the Prime Minister used, and actions the Prime Minister committed. He claimed the Prime Minister called the virus outbreak “nonsense” and wanted “business-as-usual”, even going as far as planning to visit the Queen in the first week of March. It was his insistence that Johnson spares the risk of infecting her which stopped him from visiting, says Cummings.
This is the basic contradiction and hypocrisy of Dominic Cummings – he accuses the PM of joking about COVID but also laughs away Kuenssberg's accusations that he spread mass Brexit lies#CummingsInterview
— Sam Bright (@WritesBright) July 20, 2021
And the saviour image he painted of himself did not cease there; Cummings lent credibility to the widely speculated shortage in PPE when he told Kuennssberg new orders were originally planned to be shipped in summer 2020 as per procurement and treasury rules, and it was him who arranged their arrival via air from China one evening early on, against the rules.
A rule-breaking for a greater purpose, he carried this narrative over when Kuennssberg questioned him on his lying over relocating with his family to Durham when both he and his wife were sick with suspected coronavirus, and his trip to Barnard Castle. To this, he said security concerns allowed him the liberty to waive restrictions. Yet these weren’t the reasons given by him nor No. 10. Rather, both Cummings and the Government said the trip to Durham was “essential for Dominic Cummings to ensure his young child could be properly cared for”. The outrage that arose stemmed from the indication that Cummings, therefore, had been exempted from a rule everyone else was to follow.
On the question of why there was obfuscation before committing to a Rose Garden briefing about his trip, he blamed the Prime Minister’s indecisiveness. He admitted truth was told at the briefing, even if it wasn’t the full truth, but that he should’ve considered complete honesty or simply resigned then.
Cummings further shed light on the PM’s reluctance to reinstate restrictions in October, when he stated that the PM believed it “politically disastrous” if he listened to opposition leader, Sir Keir Starmer that a circuit breaker was needed, remarking that most deaths were of those over age 80.
Brexit, Leadership and a Two-Party Political System
The next topics for discussion were Brexit, and Tory party and country leaderships. When asked why he knowingly misled the electorate during the EU Referendum Leave Campaign, on the amount the UK gives to the EU and which would otherwise be given to the NHS, he claims the campaign was honest. Despite excluding the rebate proportion from the £350 million Vote Leave, he said true figures were used, and the propaganda had merely been decontextualized. Then when questioned on why they claimed Turkey was joining the EU when they were nowhere near this at the time, and suggesting terrorists would enter the UK as a result, he smirked and attributed the Vote Leave victory to these distortions. But “no false pretences” were used.
Though, the question that may cut him off from most others within the Tory party was why he helped a politician he labels “completely hopeless” into party leadership and eventually, 10 Downing Street. Both the party and Whitehall systems needed to be “broken and opened up”, he claimed, because the Two-Party system of UK Politics left only “bad” choices, and the Tory senior leadership “threw up all the wrong people”. It was the prospect of having Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister, a worse scenario in his opinion, that made him settle for Johnson, despite this being “objectively obviously ludicrous”.
But Cummings isn’t the only prominent commentator in politics to criticise the Two-Party System. Journalist and Labour Party activist Owen Jones wrote in 2015 the “electoral system is designed for the hegemony of two parties” and the option for an alternative vote system in the 2011 referendum on electoral reform “would hand disproportionate influence to the third party”. Over a decade earlier, In 2001, political scientists Matthew Shuggart and Martin Battenberg predicted the introduction of a 21st electoral reform that would be characterised by “mixed-member electoral systems” with “some seats elected in local contests” and the “top up seats” given to provide a “proportional outcome”.
The result would be “two bloc nationally (not two party) oriented political systems”, and this would prevent “minor parties” falling into “insignificance”. However, the Cummings remedy for this system, which puts the Tory party at an advantage, is to conquer and bend the system from inside, something he says he has demonstrated by helping make Boris Johnson Prime Minister and then plotting with his co-conspirators to oust him “days” after Johnson’s December 2019 landslide General Election victory.
Reactions to the interview were few, and it was mostly said that nothing we did not already know was told. One even went further to state that the BBC carefully withheld this information to allow it to be revealed incrementally, with them now “performing outrage”, against what another labelled a “pantomime villain”. Below are some of those reactions:
I was lying then but I'm telling the truth now!
— Ian Guider (@ianguider) July 20, 2021
Nearly every single thing Cummings has said, I said three years ago when I blew the whistle. And the journalists that have been beaten over and over again by this country’s political class. Lauded as conspiracy theorists and charlatans. By the same people performing outrage now.
— Shahmir Sanni (@shahmiruk) July 20, 2021
Dominic Cummings has become a pantomime villain who obscures the fact Britain’s problems aren’t caused by wicked individuals, but by a fatally broken system.https://t.co/qFgdR0MwG8
— Owen Jones 🌹 (@OwenJones84) July 21, 2021
Just had to hear it from the white mans mouth I guess. https://t.co/eWrlQqWgFm
— Shahmir Sanni (@shahmiruk) July 20, 2021
Former colleagues, and No. 10 came in denial of Mr Cumming’s claims. A Government Spokesperson released a statement stating the Prime Minister had followed the guidance of “the best scientific advice”, and taken the “necessary action to protect lives and livelihoods” throughout the pandemic.
In addition to this, even his former colleagues refused to accept his revelations as true. A former Cabinet Minister from Theresa May, and David Cameron’s respective governments, Liam Fox suggested he knew nothing of the plans to oust Mr Johnson. “Who are the ‘we’ he refers to trying to oust the prime minister?”, he asked. One person who had worked on Mr Johnson’s election campaign implied no one was attempting a coup. Instead, the atmosphere was of “general euphoria”.
However, on the claim that Boris Johnson considers the newspaper, The Telegraph, his “boss”, some insiders did agree “he can be very easily frustrated by headlines”, spending “days dissecting papers”.
A New Kind of Politics?
The interview came to a close with Cummings saying he is “unbothered” to no longer be in direct contact with the Prime Minister. But he seems unlikely to cease his attacks on the establishment. He ended with outlining three “logical” solutions to the “chaos” that 10 Downing Street has become:
- Set up a new party to end all existing parties and create something new
- Displace the ruling party “to create different kinds of networked power in the world” – which he says he is doing.
- Assimilate a new entity that disrupts that power.
But despite building a case for revolutionising the UK Political system, Dominic Cummings’ constant blame-shifting, and his practising manipulative politics whilst criticising his opponents for doing so, makes it unlikely he’ll ever be taken seriously.