The bizarre and obsessive defence of Dominic Cummings shows that the current crop of Tories are incompetent as well as callous, argues Chris Nineham
Every day that Johnson hangs on to Cummings is damaging the government. Tory polling is in meltdown, them and us sentiment is spiralling, and it is now guaranteed that any Covid uptick will be blamed on number 10. The strange fact that Cummings is still in place, at least for now, tells us important things about our government.
1That Johnson feels unable to govern without Cummings shows that he has, in the polite words of the Financial Times, 'never been ideological, believing instead in the pragmatism of men of destiny'. In other words he has been outed as a rudderless, entitled, opportunist with few political allies who relies entirely on Cummings for ideas.
2The importance of Cummings and the cabinet's loyal defence of him in the face of fact and fury show that it is made up almost entirely of lightweights. With the possible exceptions of Gove and Sunak, none of them have much in the way of political conviction, principle or competence.
3This underlines the fact that the Tories have no coherent project other than 'getting Brexit done'. Their election victory was based largely on successfully channeling Brexit sentiment. This emptiness at the heart of government was always going to emerge. The fact that a virus has forced governments to have to do something other than front up a free market economy has accelerated this process of revelation.
4Their failure to predict the backlash against Cumming's elitism shows neither they nor Cummings really understood the Brexit vote. They thought it was mainly driven by small minded nationalism whereas, as they are now finding, there is a very widespread anti-establishment mood in the country.
5The government is in deep trouble. Whether he stays or goes, Cumming's behaviour has confirmed the widespread suspicion that the government has been utterly arrogant, deceitful and irreponsible from the start of the Corona crisis. Clinging on to him in the face of popular outrage is only massively reinforcing this impression. Such reliance on a man with crackpot political ideas whose only claim to fame is alleged communication/PR skills is anyway not an alternative to having a political project. That this reliance is now public knowledge is a humiliation for the Tories. Altogether it is going to make implementing what will no doubt be deeply unfair and bungled policies extremely fraught. It is going to be a ‘one rule for us and another rule for them’ summer.
Chris Nineham is a founder member of Stop the War and Counterfire, speaking regularly around the country on behalf of both. He is author of The People Versus Tony Blair and Capitalism and Class Consciousness: the ideas of Georg Lukacs.
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