Dominic Cummings has been in receipt of a fair few epithets over the past few days. I’d like to add another – brilliant! This does not in any way detract or deflect from the many less complimentary names he’s been called. It is simply to acknowledge the rather evident fact that as well as living down to any or all of the unflattering ways he’s been described, Dom is a very clever individual.
Perhaps ‘cunning’ is a better word. And it has the benefit of the kind of alliteration so beloved of tabloid headline writers. In fact, I’d be surprised if ‘Cunning Cummings’ hasn’t already been used. Another contender might be ‘calculating’. It must be allowed that ‘Calculating Cummings’ is not quite as euphonious as my first choice, and it breaches the tabloid editorial guideline which stipulates that, unless they are scientific or technical terms currently in common usage – such as coronavirus, words of more than seven letters or three syllables should appear only in the ‘Brain-teaser’ crossword puzzle. But it has the advantage of being accurate. Dom Cummings gives the impression of being an exceptionally calculating individual. He has a habit of calculating correctly.
Before I’m sentenced on the fly to a thorough birching, stoning and/or burning for failure to join in the ‘Two Minute Hate’ with sufficient spittle-spraying enthusiasm let me just point out that if I seem to admire Dom Cummings it is only in the context of his work as a political technician. I don’t know him in any other capacity. Which apparently is no impediment to passing judgement on the man in all of his capacities, but I’m only talking about him as a special adviser (SPAD) to the British Prime Minister, Boris F Johnson. And in that capacity he is certainly distinguishing himself.
How long did Catherine Calderwood last under similar circumstances. Or Professor Neil Ferguson? And yet Cummings has managed to engineer a situation in which him resigning could arguably do more damage to the British government than him holding out. He has contrived to put himself front and centre while his boss isn’t even standing in the wings but is already out of the building and on his way to the pub. His press conference yesterday was a masterly piece of political theatre. It resolved nothing. It answered no questions. But it fogged the glass through which his guilt was being viewed just enough to let a few of his friends in the right places suggest he should be given the genuine benefit of the ersatz doubt. Brilliant!
Everything about Cummings’s performance in the afternoon sunshine yesterday was cleverly calculated. Even the fact that it was staged in the open air. Cummings knows that he is not particularly photogenic and that the TV lights do him no favours. Sunshine is his second-best friend some way behind total darkness. Sunshine says happy. Sunshine says normal. Sunshine says the things he wanted said. So did the plain white, open-necked shirt. He was playing it as the ordinary family man sitting in his back garden enjoying a bit of relief from lockdown. Just like everybody does or would like to do. If he could have got away with it he’d have had kids playing football or splashing in a brightly coloured inflatable paddling pool as a backdrop. Even absent that nice touch, the setting took the politics out of the occasion as much as possible.
Timing is everything. Actually, it isn’t. If it was, what’s the point of all that stuff about costume and scenery? But timing is certainly important. Timing in the sense of scheduling the show right before the daily coronavirus briefing and so having a perfect excuse to end the thing at any point. Timing in the sense of turning up late so as to build expectation, cut to a minimum the amount of time left for questions and, not least, demonstrate that he is an important man doing important work for an even more important personage at a time of national crisis. Brilliant!
Cummings’s communication skills were also on display. He was attempting that trick of appearing forthright while saying nothing. Looking like he’s opening up while revealing nothing. Striking that balance between authority and humility. Being neither this nor that so that it is as easy to describe him as that as it is to describe him as this. Saying nothing is better than saying the wrong thing. Being nobody is better than being the wrong person. Leave a tabula rasa and let the professional manipulators of public opinion do their work after the fact.
Don’t try to look innocent. Go for looking the right kind of guilty. Confess a little to conceal a lot. Leave the scent of apology in the air and let other’s imagine its source and subject. Say nothing notable or quotable on the matter under scrutiny. Save all the best lines for the alternative story. Don’t do a Tony Blair! He played a similar character under director Alastair Campbell but just came across as false and smarmy. Blair didn’t commit to role the way Dom Cummings knew he had to. The acting shouldn’t show. The audience only gets to see behind the curtain when exposing what’s behind the curtain is in the script. The emperor is too busy saving and protecting his people to be bothered with getting laced into his finest robes, but here’s a wee peek inside his wardrobe. SPAD’s are not supposed to be visible to the public. It must be true/real because we’re not really supposed to see this. Brilliant!
Dom Cummings handles situations. He plans several moves ahead. He sees where all the pieces of the puzzle go. Something made it imperative that he travel to Durham. He had to assume this would come out. He planned accordingly. Whatever it was that really compelled him to make that trip, he had to know the risks. Except he didn’t see them as risks. He was confident he could cope with the situation. And so far he has done just that.
You may not like the actors or approve of the action. But you have to admit that the acting is brilliant.
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15 thoughts on “Well played!”
I very often agree with most of what you write. Sometimes I agree with all of it. Not this time.
There is a common question presented to teachers of mindfulness. Surely the techniques of mindfulness can be used by a sniper or mass murderer. After all a degree of mindfulness is necessary for a sniper successfully to hit the target.
The usual responses include notions of compassion at some level. It is clearly not compassionate to murder people from a distance. All mindfulness techniques must include some basic humanity and care for others. All others.
I watched Cummings yesterday too. Yes it was a clever performance. And yes it may have been a masterful tactical move. But it was utterly devoid of basic humanity. And I saw through it for what it was – another effort by this evil administration to hoodwink the vulnerable and normalise policies which will tear the heart out of the cultures of these islands.
Not once, despite being asked several times, did he display one iota of contrition. Not once did he even acknowledge that from another viewpoint his conduct ran contrary to the spirit of the regulations. Not once did he act with anything but his accustomed arrogance and entitlement. Not once did he recognise that what he does has effects beyond his intention. Not once did he display anything but the hyper rationalist hubris to which he expects us all to defer, because surely we must all accept the dictates of reason. Further scrutiny of what he takes to be reason should be enough to make the blood run cold. He seriously wants the next generation to become quantitative data analysts who are able to operate capitalism efficiently because as we all know, if the rich get richer, everybody else benefits. Any and all discussion to the contrary is rendered irrational by the ideology of scientism to which Cummings subscribes and which is being built into the foundations of government.
I admit I am unable to see Cummings without wanting to commit very mindless acts of violence. So I simply had my prejudices confirmed. Nevertheless…
All the above leaves aside the careful choice of hacks in the garden, the unprecedented appearance of a civil servant giving a press conference, and the very fact that this man has been given such power.
My respect for your work remains undiminished and I suspect a bit of your analysis here plays devil’s advocate. But I saw a very different spectacle from you. This is not over and its effects will resonate for some time yet. The desire of the Tory establishment to draw a line under this affair and move on must now be met with exactly the opposite. Confronted by the politics of evil we must find compassion, but never succumb to complacency towards clever political operators engaged in dissembling and covering up nefarious policy.
“I watched Cummings yesterday too. Yes it was a clever performance. And yes it may have been a masterful tactical move.”
Which is what I said. Which is ALL I said.
“But it was utterly devoid of basic humanity.”
So what? The music wasn’t all that great either. And the words didn’t rhyme. And if that’s supposed to be dancing then I’m a Unionist. As a song and dance routine, it failed completely. It was utterly devoid of musicality.
Personally, I wasn’t expecting a cabaret performance. But I can understand how those who were might be a tad disappointed. Likewise, those who anticipated a display of humanity.
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“You may not like the actors or approve of the action. But you have to admit that the acting is brilliant.”
I do not. I saw right through it.
Cummings & his charge Johnson do not give a damn what we the public think. He is there to do a job & is going nowhere. He is exactly what the tories want & he reflects their mentallity. Johnson wants this chaos, the torues want it. Who are we to dare question our superiors? Cummings fixed the Leave vote & the Elections. He is an asset they want to keep! nothing to do with ‘what has he got on BJ etc’ No 10 does not care, this is their ship for the next 10 years!
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Have to agree with that, Mr Bell. No contrition or humility, though, that wasn’t entirely false and that was set to be seen through by everyone with two brain cells to rub together. It was a game: look, I’m giving you media people something with which to feed the masses; but you and I both know that I couldn’t give a fig; and this is a set piece to deflect from the real reasons that I had to make that journey. I trust you won’t be asking any questions on that score? No? Thought not.
I have absolutely no doubt that Johnson knows exactly why he went and that he was given leave to go and do government work on behalf of the Tory government. That most of their own MPs were not apprised of this goes a long way to showing that there are two Tory parties, maybe more, in Westminster, a wee cabal of really noxious f***s within the larger stinky miasma, smelt only rarely by the public. Cummings knows where the bodies are buried on Brexit and other equally honking Tory wheezes; he should, he buried most of them; and, if the wee cabal is almost enough to knock you off your feet, the toxicity of these burial mounds would bury the Tories forever. Or would they? Probably not, in today’s political climate. No, change that to definitely not.
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Aye. Very much aye!
Apparently through intelligence, humans possess the cognitive abilities to learn, form concepts, understand, apply logic, and reason, including the capacities to recognize patterns, plan, innovate, solve problems, make decisions, retain information, and use language to communicate (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_intelligence).
Dominic Cummings does all of these things. The difference is that he performs these functions in order to lie, deceive, deflect and conflate. In other words he has cunning. So by that definition Cummings has cunning, no doubt. Cunning by itself may or may not be the lowest trait of human intelligence … but it doesn’t matter. All is fair in war and politics.
The SNP/Yes could learn quite a lot from this. The moral high ground will only take you so far in politics. (In mountaineering terms it has taken Yes to 50% in the opinion polls, effectively base camp from which it has been unable to get any additional footholds in order to launch a sustained bid to make it to the summit).
Wallace, brave heart though he may have been, ultimately failed as he took on his far larger and more powerful enemy in open field. Bruce, on the other hand, succeeded mainly by ambushing and harrying his enemy using guerrilla warfare to hound and wear down his enemy.
Likewise the SNP/Yes need to do something bold and play to our strengths. Rather than asking for a section 30 order (weak action) and wait for the inevitable “No!” response, we need to suspend the Union via the Scottish parliament (strong action) and carry out our own referendum to obtain the backing of the people for this action. We need to turn the tables on Westminster – rather on the onus always being on us, it is on them to respond.
Dominic Cummings has effectively said “I’m going nowhere – what are you going to do about it?”
We need to signal something similar to Westminster.
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“All is fair in war and politics.”
There are red lines. But, as a general rule, you are correct.
“The SNP/Yes could learn quite a lot from this. The moral high ground will only take you so far in politics.”
Awfy well said! My commenters are on fire today!
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Reading this I couldn’t help thinking you could warp reason to praise Ian Brady in the witness box or Goring at Nuremberg.
Cummings the political mastermind has overseen the worst death toll in Europe from COVID-19 despite having had at least two months warning of what was coming down the pike. So much for being a calculating political genius ahead of the game
The man has no endearing qualities and only gets away with it because Tories have no balls and the Westminster ‘scene’ is corrupt beyond parody. Anyone with a brain and no scruples or conscience could pull this off. It is nothing to admire.
Shame on you.
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How is it possible to see the point but not get the point? If that is some kind of accomplishment, give yourself a pat on the back.
The Cummings saga should teach us one thing: Nicola better think out of the box to get Independence. There is no way this lot will consent. They hold everybody in contempt and attach no value to the law so why persevere. Bring the MPs home and secede.
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Benedict Spence gets it!
The departure of Cummings is neither here nor there, his opponents would get a short lived frisson until the news cycle churns again. The real problem is Johnson and his acolytes, he is doing and will continue to do damage to England and the collateral damage to Scotland will be our ‘consequentials’. Johnson will never accede to a Section 30 order, something else is required
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The Cummings saga should teach us all one thing: Nicola Sturgeon and her cabal are not and never will be in the same league as Cummings when it comes to progressing an ideology, Scottish Independence in this context being a case in point.
This charade being played out over a visit to Barnard Castle is a bone thrown to the complicit media hacks who, if serious journalism was their forte, would be concerned to establish the details of the Government business which necessitated his presence and where more importantly he was NOT spotted.
I would concur with both Peter and Lorna, and to Lions 67 with respect, a point you miss is that Cummings et al are concerned with establishing a new order in British politics whereby any means are justified to achieve this end and you can forget the faux outrage on the part of a few Tory MPs who only demonstrate their naivety with regard to the fifth column operating within their ranks and if the slumbering Scottish electorate and their elected representatives do not soon waken to this our arses are well and truly oot the windae!
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According to the English government logic exhibited by Hancock. If DC kills his family and you kill your family the penalty is rescinded retrospectively cause if DC did it it isn’t a crime? Am I missing something. Put another way jurisprudential thinking is now governed by the DC test.