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  • Published in Arts Review
Dominic Cummings in BBC documentary. Photo: BBC iplayer

Dominic Cummings in BBC documentary. Photo: BBC iplayer

A recent BBC documentary sheds light on the creepy backdrop to Boris Johnson's puppetmaster, writes Sean Ledwith

There is a grim irony in the fact the BBC recently broadcast a documentary about Dominic Cummings entitled ‘Taking Control: The Dominic Cummings Story’ just a few days before it became apparent the government has totally lost control of the coronavirus outbreak.

The documentary also coincided with leaks in the press that Cummings, as Johnson’s chief of staff, was responsible for disgusting comments about the elderly during a confidential Downing Street briefing. According to the Sunday Times, Cummings summarised the government strategy to the crisis ‘as herd immunity, protect the economy, and if that means some pensioners die, too bad’.

The PM’s office has denied the claims but Cummings’ alleged comments are entirely consistent with the programme’s revealing account of callousness, pseudo-science and outright political thuggery that has characterised his shadowy rise to the epicentre of power.

Cummings first emerged into the spotlight in the early years of the Blair government when, as a spokesperson for the anti-European fringe of the Tory Party, he played a leading role in the campaign to thwart Britain’s integration to the single currency.

Colin Perry from the CBI recounts in the programme that after a feisty exchange with Cummings during a radio talkshow, the latter pinned him up against a wall and postured to punch him. Another contributor explains that Cummings’ approach to opposition during a referendum on regional government in the North East a few years later amounted to ‘putting a hamster into a food blender’.

The programme is punctuated by references to items of popular culture such as The Godfather and Batman movies, from which apparently Cummings derives much of his political inspiration. Disturbingly, Cummings perceived his partnership with the unctuous Michael Gove at the Education Department in the Cameron years to be a version of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. In light of the current corona calamity, Cummings’ fondness for the writings of US journalist Hunter Thompson also take on a darker hue: ‘Real happiness, in politics, is a wide-open hammer shot on some poor bastard who knows he has been trapped, but can't flee.’

Another cinematic figure the programme compares to the eminence grise of the Johnson government is the eponymous maniac of Stanley Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove. On his infamous blog, Cummings has spoken approvingly of the value of an ‘evil genius’ who can shake up sclerotic bureaucracies and inject radical and innovative thinking. Tragically, this sort of unhinged vanity project now means we are the unwilling victims of a hideous bio-political experiment by an alt-right ideologue at the heart of the British state.

Sean Ledwith

Sean Ledwith

Sean Ledwith is a Counterfire member and Lecturer in History and Sociology at York College, where he is also UCU branch secretary. Sean is also a regular contributor to Marx and Philosophy Review of Books and Culture Matters

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