There is some hesitation that I write this article with. I have a huge amount of admiration for Dominic Cummings, ego and attitude aside, he achieved the unachievable when Brexit was announced three years ago. Like other massive events of my lifetime- the death of Diana, 9/11 and the 2007 London bombings- I will never forget where I was when it happened. I had just got out of a swimming pool in Orlando, Florida and I saw the comforting scowl of David Dimbleby, as he said, “The British People have spoken- we’re out”. Standing around the TV with my now wife’s family, we all in choir said one word- “Fuck.” Not because we were leaving; some of us had voted for it. We were shocked because we didn’t think it could actually happen.
It seems such a long time ago now. Cummings was the campaign director of the Vote Leave strand of the side that wanted out of the EU and he played a big part in reaching the result.
Why was he successful? It was the use of cold calling, intricate planning and sound bites that were key in winning. £350 million pounds a week and Turkey joining the EU. You don’t want that, right? He used what every great campaign does- your fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of different and in many cases, the fear that things are going to continue as they are (Reagan did this superbly in his “Are you better off?” speech before the 1980 US Presidential Election).
Now Cummings is in Number 10 with one mission- to make the UK leave Europe on October 31st. The one thing I always wonder is how far in advance Cummings is planning and whether he’s foreseen this weeks events- the Scottish Court of Sessions vote, the opposition prorogation protests and even Bercow’s demonstration in front of Black Rod on Tuesday.
We’ve seen more MPs swapping parties in the last few years probably since the Liberal Democrats came into being in the 1980s.
Leaving is another matter altogether, however. This time Cummings can’t rely on the big data (although Cummings strenuously denies the Cambridge Analytica link) and he’s not dealing with Joe Public- he’s playing in an arena of parliamentarians who couldn’t be more unpredictable and unreadable at this present time. We’ve seen more MPs swapping parties in the last few years probably since the Liberal Democrats came into being in the 1980s.
Another man who was incredibly successful at pulling on the coat strings of power almost 400 years ago was the Duke of Buckingham, or George Villiers to his friends.
Why are we talking about George Villiers? You may remember a few weeks ago that we did a whistle stop tour of the 16th and early 17th century politics as an introduction to the podcast and mentioned Villiers. He had gained the unwavering support of King James I and exploited his power regularly with the support and backing of the monarch.
The loss of battles at the French port of La Rochelle, failure to secure the Electorate of the Palatinate from the Spanish and flip flopping in support for the persecuted Prostestant French Huguenots, led to a growing disgust for Villiers’ polcies and poor decisions. After attempting to rescue the marriage negotiations of the young Prince of Wales (who would become the notorious Civil War victim Charles I) with the Spanish Infanta Maria, the Spanish Ambassador sought the execution of Villiers for his poor behaviour in Madrid.
There has to be a bitter taste in the mouth of many Conservatives who’ve seen nearly two dozen One Nation MPs kicked out under the advice of a man who is probably not even a member himself.
There are probably more than a few Conservative MPs who are feeling a similar disgust towards the special advisor to Prime Minister Johnson at the moment. Margot James, a former minister said, ” He is ruthless, he couldn’t care less whether we got a deal or whether we didn’t and he rules with a rod of iron. I don’t approve of the way he treats people, apropos that poor special advisor who did nothing wrong whatsoever. I mean, I could go on but you know my opinion of the man” (PA Media).
There has to be a bitter taste in the mouth of many Conservatives who’ve seen nearly two dozen One Nation MPs kicked out under the advice of a man who is probably not even a member himself. As David Gauke joked, they finally have something in common with one another. Some referred to the purges as something from Stalin’s playbook and made the tired reference to Churchill who should be the Conservative pedal stool.
There’s no denying he is ruthless. Cummings plans a route, makes people choose sides and bulldozes through without consideration for people’s feelings. In the business world, it may be seen as an attribute- but even there collaboration is becoming more of a buzz word than confrontation. The man has a job to do and I don’t think he’s going to let anything get in the way of that. Scary to some, but to a large number of fed-up voters, probably quite impressive.
Villiers failed in most of his exploits, but continued to be supported through James I reign and was the only advisor who made it to the privy council of Charles I when he was crowned. By this time, he was immovable from power and continued to control the access to royal patronage and access. It was only the blade of an assassin that would finally cut him down.
There is a point I made about leaders being led by those so obviously who are not accountable to the public and may not have the people’s best interests at heart. It happened 400 years ago through people like the Duke of Buckingham and other characters such as regents (Edward VI and George III being perfect examples). The ‘illegal’ prorogation and the breaking of the good chap model of government seems to be straight out of Cumming’s playbook; I frankly can’t see Boris coming up with such a vigorous shaking of the apple cart (or in reality the setting of the apple cart and seller alight).
Either way, Cummings will end up leaving a mark on this country- for better or worse. Is all this part of the Brexit strategy? Are we heading towards a general election and will all of this anti-Brexit fervor from the political heavies actually go along way with the voters? Dominic Cummings is good at winning public votes and I’d be surprised if all of this is not someway part of the end game to achieving what he’s good at doing- empowering the disenfranchised.