Peter Donnelly, Editor
Dominic Cummings’ first television interview, on 20th July, was certainly a performance but for all the hype of its pre-broadcast billing it was by no means the ‘be all and end all’ interview that would traduce and subsequently topple the Government. To all intents and purposes Cummings did indeed land some heavy digs with extraordinarily damaging claims against senior figures within the Government; the Prime Minister being the chief defendant of this derision.
Anyone, even with a faintly critical lens, could see that Dominic is a disaffected character; despite the ‘I’m not bothered’ persona he has contrived, punctuated by his frequent shrugging, it is as clear as the day is long that his career at Number 10 did not turn out the way he had desired. Therefore, a certain dose of scepticism may be required for those who are watching the interview for the first time.
There is little doubt that Laura Kuenssberg had to climb mountains to get this interview with Cummings or cross his palms with silver, regardless of his stated aversion of speaking to the media. In the past few months it has taken little for Cummings to disclose his anonymity; with his intermittent blog posting exposés of how the public were “hancocked” (Cummings jargon for his belief that the former, disgraced Health Secretary Matt Hancock and the Prime Minister’s negligence around Covid-19 had literally killed people up to 120,000 citizens) as well as his explosive May appearance at the joint parliamentary inquiry of the Health and Social Care Committee and Science and Technology Committee.
Contextual detail was certainly a welcome inclusion within the interview as Dominic Cummings was questioned by Kuenssberg about the former Oxford graduate’s past political roles. Cummings had been the driving force of strategy for the Leave campaign during the 2016 Brexit Referendum, although he always desired to be viewed as a ‘behind the scenes’ figure. The fundamentality of his input into the Leave campaign undoubtedly swing many in the UK to mark the ‘Leave’ on the Referendum ballot page with a firm ‘X.’
A shameful aside, it may be, to the catalogue of claims of incompetence directed at senior Government figures, Cummings admits the ‘Leave’ slogans which bedecked buses during the Referendum campaign were nothing more than a pressure point to trigger his ‘Remain’ opponents and reap the political capital thereafter. At this he also smiles.
Cummings no longer has the low-profile he suggests he once craved; to the contrary he is the prime governmental antagonist in the country. There is something strikingly Shakespearean about the falling-out between Cummings and Johnson; the great playwright could have written dense tomes on the dynamics of those two characters. Although personality clashes are as predominant in the 21st century as they were in the 16th and 17th centuries, this is very much a 2021 affair.
The preponderance of his allegations, during the TV interview, relate to his tenure as the Prime Minister’s Chief Advisor in 2019 until his rather unceremonious sacking or quitting in November 2020. It is a post he cynically belittles as entailing nothing more than performing the role of supervisory child minder for a dysfunctional and delusional juvenile prime minister wreaking a trail of destruction within the domain of his Downing Street crèche. Like Cummings, who crowns himself as “a nightmare” to some who have encountered him, he labels Boris Johnson as “a complicated character” and found it a “ludicrous” thought, never mind a reality, that Johnson could become Prime Minister.
As the seismic events of March 2020 descended, Cummings depicts a Whitehall in varying degrees of chaos and confusion; a ramshackle mode of governance if you like. According to Cummings as the potential scale of the public health crisis was laid bare the emergence of the Coronavirus was played down by Johnson, who had fobbed it off as nothing more life-threatening than the common cold and promoted a blueprint for herd immunity.
As the first lockdown was introduced by a reluctant Johnson, as Cummings claims, the Prime Minister suggested re-opening the country as Covid-19 was “only killing 80-year-olds.” This is not to mention the claims that Johnson fought tooth and nail against the statistics presented by the medical experts, Professor Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance, resisting a second lockdown in the Autumn of 2020.
Throughout the interview, Kuenssberg levelled with Cummings; labelling him the ‘disruptor’; a trait Cummings takes great pride in possessing. His characteristic grin was confirmation of that. From his multitude of run-ins with Whitehall civil servants, ministers and even Johnson’s then-fiancé Carrie Symonds; Cummings was the wolf of Downing Street.
Commentators have viewed the interview as particularly insightful and telling as far as the spectacle of Cummings divulging all the ‘dirt’ to the public and press. Matt Chorley, of Times Radio observed that the right-handed advisors to Prime Ministers throughout the decades have defended and continue to defend their Prime Ministers. Cummings, as with many things, is the exception to the trend. His “malevolence,” as Quentin Letts notes is “magnetic”; he is “a wonderful baddie.”
Many people watching the interview will reasonably ponder from where Cummings’ new-found moral compass has emerged, considering the duplicity to which he blatantly admits and the so-called ‘Barnard Castle-gate’ affair which further propelled him into the spotlight in the initial stages of the Coronavirus crisis in 2020.
The claims he now utters are not new to him; why not tell all one year ago? When Cummings laments the dearth in ethical and efficient government perhaps he should consider the authoritarian coup he admits he plotted against Boris Johnson “literally days” after Boris Johnson was democratically-installed as Prime Minister in the December 2019 General Election.
Few people could disagree with Cummings on his contention that the party-dominated system is misaligned with meaningful and effective provision of public services. How could it be? In a Civil Service dominated in the upper-echelons by ‘firms people’ who are professional executives or managers; rarely having an expertise in their specific department or service area.
Cummings emphasised that this had to change and in so many words he signalled that he was the man that could deliver it so that the public are not left between the choice of Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn or their acolytes again. Despite the doubts about Johnson’s intellectual faculties, as to Cummings’ there are none. How precisely he will see his pronounced desires fulfilled in real terms is unknown. One can never tell with Cummings, but rest assured he is thinking and deeply so.
The forum for the investigation, deliberation and analysis of the events of the Coronavirus pandemic will be the public inquiry, which is expected to be convened at the beginning of 2022. It will ultimately be the open, transparent and independent arbiter of the claims and allegations which have emerged of governmental failings and failure.
Something signals that this is just the beginning of Dominic Cummings and his plot, the “be all and end all” is yet to come.
The BBC News Special: Dominic Cummings – The Interview is available to watch here on the BBC iPlayer.