Who does he think he is?

Jude Wanga

In his interview with Laura Kuenssberg on Tuesday evening, Dominic Cummings described a battle for control over Boris Johnson between himself and Carrie Symonds, now the prime minister’s wife. He lost. We know he lost because to the victor the spoils and to the loser a 7 p.m. interview on BBC2.

We learned that Johnson had no plan for Covid-19 and initially hoped to ignore it. We learned that he had to be talked out of going to a meeting with the queen after being exposed to the virus. We learned that he had a cavalier attitude to the data on Covid deaths, and was relaxed at the thought of older people succumbing to the disease. We learned that he referred to the Telegraph as ‘my real boss’. These would have been bombshell revelations if they hadn’t already leaked out to the press over the last fifteen months.

The most interesting moment was when Cummings revealed that, mere days after helping Johnson win the 2019 general election, he and his allies discussed making a move to oust the prime minister. Kuenssberg seemed shocked by this: ‘Some people will listen to you saying that, and just wonder who you think you are.’

But such moves are hardly new to British politics. Unelected actors are always trying to intervene in government, whether they’re special advisers, business lobbyists, or the political editors of major media organisations. And it was difficult to take Kuenssberg’s performance seriously – the shock, the disapproval, the hard-nosed cross-examination of ‘Mr Cummings’ – after he revealed in May that she was his only regular media contact. He spoke to her ‘every three to four weeks’ to ‘give guidance on big stories’.

Political journalists and the people they report on and interview may pretend to encounter one another only when the public is listening in. Yet the close, ‘informal’ ties between Westminster and Fleet Street are evident not only from photographs of the Spectator summer party, but also the fact that we have a former journalist for a prime minister.

If Kuenssberg was genuinely shocked, it was because someone who had been at the centre of power was pulling aside the curtain and confirming that the rituals of democracy – from elections to political interviews – were a sham. It didn’t matter how the public voted or what the public wanted. Cummings and his ‘network’ wanted Brexit and set out to achieve it by any means possible. Then, faced with the options of the party political system, they decided the choice before the nation was not one they wanted and intervened again.

Cummings’s claim that the party political system is not fit for purpose stands up. It can’t be said with any confidence that either Conservative or Labour members are at all happy with the condition of their respective parties. The Tory membership is still largely made up of the people Johnson was happy to let die of Covid. The Labour Party, meanwhile, faced, in Jeremy Corbyn, with a leader its members wanted but its MPs did not, ripped itself apart, imagining it would be easy to stitch itself back together.

Though he comes at it from a staunchly Randian libertarian ideology, Cummings has stumbled across an argument more often made from the left: that political parties have become closed shops, with the links between communities and MPs, and between constituencies and Parliament, severely weakened.

There will be few repercussions for what Cummings has described. Johnson won’t have to pay for his near-psychopathic willingness to allow senior citizens to die of Covid-19. The opposition is too busy proscribing groups of members who have already left the party, bringing themselves and their recent embittered past, rather than their opponents’, into scrutiny.

Beyond that, the government will face no action over these allegations for precisely the reasons Cummings gave in the interview: politics is largely about ego, backslapping, factionalism and competing interests, and no one with the power to change that wants it to change.


  • 23 July 2021 at 6:39am
    Andy Redmain says:
    It is an extraordinary interview despite the fact that most of the revelations were already out in public. Kuenssberg allows him to speak at length. He seems genuinely surprised to be confronted with the “theory “ of British democracy - those exceptionalist underpinning assumptions which inform political coverage and as a result, voter opinions.

    Every five years or so we have two parties offering very different visions for the country. The most popular wins, and dutifully sets about implementing its programme. Parliament debates this programme, ensuring it is fine tuned to deliver the outcomes earlier promised. An election five years later is part a verdict on the last period of Government and part a vote on competing visions for the next. How grown up! How constructive! How inclusive! How utterly delusional!

    This is what LK exposed in this interview. Most of us instinctively know it. But there it was - the venality, the arrogance, the assumption of being right, the contempt for accountability, the tiny number of entitled men who run the country and put on a theatrical sideshow to persuade us all is as it should be.

    • 23 July 2021 at 7:22am
      joel says: @ Andy Redmain
      You left out the role of Kuennsberg herself and the rest of the media in determining electoral outcomes. For them only one ideological vision is acceptable, even when represented by people like Johnson and Cummings. Smears, omissions, double standards, all deployed by Laura to ensure Johnson and Cummings stayed in charge.

    • 25 July 2021 at 3:43pm
      XopherO says: @ joel
      Yes, we can't forget Kuennsberg being censured for deliberately misreporting negatively Corbyn's remarks and rejecting the censure without consequence from the BBC. She is obviously equally as venal and arrogant as Cummings while hiding behind the so-called 'neutrality' of the BBC, and promoting her Tory perspective. I have never taken seriously anything she says since then, and I think you can hear that she knows that she is seriously compromised as an honest journalist. Did I really use the expression 'honest journalist'? Dear me.

    • 29 July 2021 at 9:11am
      cwritesstuff says: @ joel
      It feels odd to see the "argh the BBC are Tories" brigade on here. While I'm sure there are specific instances of partiality (which are generally censored), the BBC does an excellent job of attempting neutrality. The fact that both the left and right attack it for being too far the other way is anecdotal evidence of that.

      The only studies of this show that the BBC tends to favour the party in power, whoever it is.

    • 29 July 2021 at 11:26am
      frmurphy98 says: @ cwritesstuff
      The last major independent content analysis of the BBC's news, political and economics coverage found overwhelming right-wing bias across the board. The report is called Hard Evidence and was undertaken by Cardiff university in 2013 at the request of the BBC Trust. The findings broadly aligned with those of every previous independent study. But such studies are hardly necessary.The BBC has not employed a leftist in any significant capacity, on or off air, for decades to counteract the hjordes of high profile Tories and establishment liberals who filter and frame its news output. Would it surprise me if you are correct and this kind of BBC "impartiality" is enthusiasticalky approved of by commenters on the LRB blog? Hardly. The comments here are astonishingly banal and unreflective.

  • 25 July 2021 at 6:12pm
    Francis FitzGibbon says:
    As an advocate used to cross-examining tricky customers, I thought she asked the right questions, allowing Cummings to hang himself with his answers. Maybe he thought it would be a cosier encounter, but it was not cosy. He revealed the coarseness of his politics, his bottomless arrogance and self-regard, and his contempt for rules and standards that the rest of live by. How he imagined this interview would reflect well on him beats me.

    • 26 July 2021 at 5:22pm
      Joe Morison says: @ Francis FitzGibbon
      ‘How he imagined this interview would reflect well on him beats me.’ Narcissists always do.

    • 26 July 2021 at 8:26pm
      Toby says: @ Francis FitzGibbon
      or perhaps, here too, it's simply a case of being 'near-psychopathic'

    • 28 July 2021 at 1:37am
      Michael Protenic says: @ Francis FitzGibbon
      We do ourselves an injustice when we do not admit that the citizen, the bottom of the barrel, has either not been properly informed by an adversarial media, or it has just given up opposing such corruption. The USA is full of such "citizens", since entertainment and fun are more fulfilling than meaningful lives with fulfilling work and improving standards. The bitterness felt and voiced by the "proletariat" is not organized (except by the Right who manipulate such passions well due to loss of money spent to nurture them), searches for saviors to lead them out of misery (ala the Kinks "Mr. Black"), and chooses those who best exemplify the decline of morality and responsibility, let alone ability to reflect the needs of that citizenry.

  • 27 July 2021 at 2:56pm
    Simon Wood says:
    There is a theory that Cummings was got at in his time in Russia. "Rapid error correction of inevitable constant errors is almost the ultimate value.," he says in a recent tweet, which says to me he's being worked by algos from Moscow.

    Labour is not concentrating on proscribing Corbinners. Labour needs to keep a low profile. Their left-wing diffidence to Brexit, "It's all capitalism, but we support Remain, I suppose", will last for years and no-one will trust them for a long time with this and their insistence on suffering as the only authentic way of being.

    One day, a proper Labour pop star will come along and save all of us from the current decadence and moral decay.

    • 27 July 2021 at 5:09pm
      Christopher Enstad says: @ Simon Wood
      I truly hope that last sentence was made tongue-in-cheek. Lurching from TV personality to TV personality is not the solution to the ills of either the UK nor the USA.

    • 30 July 2021 at 1:10pm
      Simon Wood says: @ Christopher Enstad
      Labour need to be popular, like the Beatles, a breath of fresh air, good tunes, catchy lyrics, that kind of thing, not hymns. It's horrible at the moment being represented by P.G. Wodehouse throwbacks, it makes us look stuffy.

  • 28 July 2021 at 5:14pm
    David Valdez says:
    The project of the current British Empire seems to be a return to ~1837 in terms of wealth creation and distribution. That and housing anyone in the world with that same agenda who might need to work-remotely-from-England, and (of course) can afford it. At least the museums in London still offer free admission. (Shhhh!)

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