Lone rangers aren’t usually suited to politics.
Politics is a sport played by those who stand in front of the mirror, picturing their first address to the nation on the steps of Downing Street.
It’s also populated by those who love people: who genuinely relish the conversations they have on the doorstep, even if they eventually get booted out of someone’s front yard.
So this makes it especially strange that Dominic Cummings – an awkward, cynical, antagonistic figure – now occupies one of the most senior political roles in the country.
Indeed, Cummings makes it clear at every possible opportunity that he prefers books to people. He loves defying social norms, to the extent that commentators were shocked that he didn’t turn up to his Rose Garden confession in a beanie, four gilets and flip flops.
Therefore, it’s difficult to say that Cummings has allies in a traditional sense, despite the fact they are usually needed to sustain a career in student politics, never mind hold down a job in the higher echelons of government.
It’s fair to say that Cummings has people who rely on him, and a great many more who fear him. But Cummings doesn’t have an army of disciples, and nor has he ever tried to nurture one.
Rather, Cummings has been propelled to his lofty status largely through the patronage of just two people – Boris Johnson and Michael Gove.
As we all know – indeed it has been dramatised – Cummings was the brain behind the Vote Leave referendum campaign, fronted by Johnson and Gove.
Gove, who had given Cummings a job when he was Education Secretary, thus passed on his fatherly responsibilities to Johnson, who made Dom his key confidant in Downing Street. Some mutter that the PM doesn’t even think he could survive in government without him.
But while Cummings has the backing of two political heavyweights, even they are finding it difficult to repel an all-out assault from his opponents.
Cummings’ aversion to the friendlier side of politics – building friendships that help to insulate you in times of crisis – is finally catching up with him.
At the time of writing, Cummings is still stubbornly maintaining that he did the right thing, by taking his wife and four year-old son on a 260 mile trip to Durham during the coronavirus lockdown.
However, while Cummings retains the backing of the PM (for now), it seems clear that he’s a spent force. Until now, Cummings was a backroom schemer – someone known to a small, politically engaged sub-section of the population. The lockdown scandal has put his face on the front page of the news, and opened up his every future move to intense, painstaking scrutiny. That’s not a position that an advisor can survive, for any length of time.
And it’s not as though Cummings has a lack of enemies, or an uncontroversial past.
After the story broke of his jaunt to the North East, a number of Tory MPs were unequivocal: he should be sacked.
There are a few reasons for this sharp backlash. For one, Cummings is proudly not a member of the Conservative Party. He helps to run a Conservative government, yet hasn’t pledged his loyalty to the party. He even once said that lots of Tory MPs don’t care about the NHS or poor people. As a result, many of these MPs have struggled to pledge their loyalty to him, in return.
Second, Cummings was the chief assassin in the purge of 21 Conservative MPs who opposed Boris Johnson’s Brexit strategy. The advisor allegedly dressed down a group of MPs in Downing Street, while Sir Roger Gale (who remarkably managed to survive the purge) called Cummings an “unelected, foul-mouthed oaf”.
The parallels between Cummings and former Trump minder Steve Bannon have been drawn on many occasions, but now they seem particularly relevant. Bannon ran the final furlong of the 2016 Trump campaign – helping to put an alt-right tangerine in the White House – just as Cummings won the 2019 general election for Trump’s British sidekick. However, Bannon only lasted eight months in government. His combative style, once channelled against the Democrats, was redirected against members of Trump’s own administration. He left soon after Press Secretary Anthony Scaramucci accused Bannon of trying, metaphorically, to suck his own c*ck.
Cummings is very similar to Bannon. His unyielding, scorched earth style is ideal for an election campaign, when message discipline is autocratically imposed for a few weeks. But both Cummins and Bannon are much less suited to the tempo of government, which requires careful diplomacy over a long four/five year term.
In this regard, it seems very unlikely that Cummings will change. While he’s clearly capable of ironing a shirt, taking off his sweatpants and making a deferential statement in front of the press, he’s still hardwired to be an enforcer. And every time he goes on the war path, he will further turn people against him. And, all the while, the press will be watching.
The Cummings saga might not end with a resignation today, or even this week, but the Downing Street henchman is living on borrowed time.
Sam Bright is the Editor of Scram News.
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