A couple of years ago, few would have heard of Dominic Cummings. Now, since Friday, his name is currently dominating the COVID-19 status quo in the UK, a name which is suffering from a tsunami of criticism at every turn. But these waves have not just only begun, as Cummings has already faced opprobrium through the media’s constant comparisons of him to historical figures such as Niccolo Machiavelli and Grigori Rasputin. As Cummings is himself a admirer of similar cunning figures such as Sun Tzu and Otto von Bismarck, with a first-class degree in Ancient and Modern History from Oxford University, there is no doubt that he would easily comprehend such comparisons being made, whether he agrees with them or not.
For many, Cummings should leave his position as the Prime Minister’s senior advisor due to his 260-mile expedition to Durham to visit his parents. But seeing this as a rightful call for justice instead of a chance for the wolves to catch their prey and feed from it would be a injustice altogether, especially when most people have been complaining about the ambiguity of the lockdown rules that Cummings supposedly broke. The keyboard predators of social media are fixated on Cummings nevertheless, with over 600,000 signatures signed on a petition calling for Cummings to be sacked. In contrast, despite a girl possibly being physically abused and raped in the past week by a suspected grooming gang, another petition calling for the release of the Home Office’s grooming gang review in full has only acquired over 100,000 signatures over a much longer time period. The hysterics over something very menial when compared to something far more serious is a testament to the media narrative fallacy very much existing.
Besides this, critics, unlike beggars, have been extremely choosy when it comes to who they wish to target most. Cummings’s high profile role as Boris Johnson’s main advisor hardly ameliorates this, but that is hardly the point. What is the point is the reasons for commuting legitimately. Cummings took his course of action under the circumstances that his child would be left without childcare if Cummings, along with his wife, fell ill (which eventually did happen). Thus, his parents in Durham were the only ones available to provide the necessary care, especially when Cummings revealed the risks his family may face if left uncared for in their home in London:
“The truth is I argued for lockdown, I did not oppose it. But these stories have created a very bad atmosphere around my home. I was subject to threats of violence, people came to my house shouting threats, there were posts on social media encouraging attacks, there were many media reports on TV showing pictures of my house. I was also worried that given the severity of this emergency, this situation would get worse and I was worried about the possibility of leaving my wife and child at home all day and often into the night while I worked in Number 10.”
Dominic Cummings’s Downing Street statement on the 25th May (Full transcript available at: https://www.runcornandwidnesworld.co.uk/news/national/18474014.dominic-cummings-downing-street-statement-full/)
Unlike Catherine Calderwood, the former Chief Medical Officer for Scotland who broke her own department’s advice by making a non-essential journey to her second home, Cummings made his journey out of the necessity to secure his son’s welfare, spurred on by the unpleasant news of his uncle’s death. The same can’t be said for Labour MP Stephan Kinnock’s visit to his father’s house on the latter’s birthday, which can hardly be called a essential journey. The lack of hysteria towards Kinnock’s actions, unlike the attitudes towards Cummings’s, gives off suspicions of double standards being in play, especially with the former being elected unlike the appointed latter.
To be quite frank, what the Cummings scandal reveals is the political opportunism being played in its most dirtiest form. The situation merely serves as the most powerful ammunition available for his political enemies, a list of which that is not short thanks to his maverick personality. A substantial portion of this list of adversaries is the British civil service, which has long been in Cummings’ crosshairs. In 2013, whilst serving as a leading advisor to the then-Education Secretary Michael Gove, Cummings submitted an essay to the Guardian titled as “Some thoughts on education and political priorities”. In it, Cummings argues for a radical restructuring of the UK’s education system and the distribution of skills within the civil service, with strong criticism towards the current order of public administration:
“Most politicians, officials, and advisers operate with fragments of philosophy, little knowledge of maths or science (few MPs can answer even simple probability questions yet most are confident in their judgement), and little experience in well-managed complex organisations. The skills, and approach to problems, of our best mathematicians, scientists, and entrepreneurs are almost totally shut out of vital decisions. We do not have a problem with ‘too much cynicism’ – we have a problem with too much trust in people and institutions that are not fit to control so much.”
Dominic Cummings, “Some thoughts on education and political priorities”, p. 1 (Link to the full essay: https://dominiccummings.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/20130825-some-thoughts-on-education-and-political-priorities-version-2-final.pdf)
For most civil servants, Cummings’s proposal for an “Odyssean Education” for schools and universities threatens to put them out of a job. Self-preservation thus lies behind their keenness, along with MPs such as Steve Baker’s own enthusiasm, to get Cummings job hunting again.
Cummings’s second biggest enemy, and a more recent one, is that of the pro-Remain camp within British politics, who are desperate to silence the man who led the Vote Leave campaign in the 2016 Brexit referendum. Now that Cummings is the main advisor to the PM, his departure from office would allow further inroads for those who wish to sabotage Britain’s exit strategy from the EU at all costs. Again, ulterior motives are at play.
Cummings’s journey could have been better played out, something which he admits to in his statement. Nevertheless, he stated “I don’t regret what I did”. Many would argue Cummings is being obtuse. Yet his personality as a whole is very much based on his principle of not caring what others think of him. He is an enfant terrible and was once compared to the infamous French revolutionary Robespierre, for he is “someone determined to bring down things that don’t work” – which is unsurprising for someone who was taught by Norman Stone, another maverick amongst historians.
Cummings’s vocation is thus not merely a career to him unlike the civil servants he criticises. Instead, it is that of a crusade for a British renaissance within the political establishment. It is not one that seeks to overhaul the system but to simply reform it. His modicum of participation in interviews (his recent statement being the first of many in a long time) is not out of fear – but instead out of disgust for the very people he is fighting against. If anything, like the practitioners of realpolitik that he either admires or is compared to as by his enemies, Cummings merely laughs at such people, especially when they themselves are evidently breaking the social distance rules that they chastise Cummings for doing. This latest stage of attacks against Cummings reveals society’s hypocrisies further, especially when there is the beauty of video recordings to show such contradictions.
Alex Johnson is a Co-editor of The Jackdaw.