The resignation of Dominic Cummings could mean that Brexit comes back into play, says ANDREW ADONIS.
The poignant bit of Dominic Cummings’s Rose Garden press conference was when he said he needed to drive 250 miles into the middle of nowhere in order to escape the public anger. The Special One is reaping what he has sown, and it has only just begun.
He said people had been shouting at him in the street where he lives in Islington. I do not condone this, and I hope English civility returns to north London.
As a minister I lived around the corner from him, using public transport every day, and no-one ever yelled at me outside of public meetings.
True, even HS2 and tuition fees didn’t arouse the passions of Brexit and the lockdown. But there is something else going on: the guy who rallied the people against the elites has been found out.
We now know all about his family’s houses, estate and private woods scattered north and south.
We know that the Special One, ensconced in Downing Street, regards himself as only loosely bound, if at all, by the rules his government imposes on the rest of us in this national emergency.
The word Cummings used most in his bizarre 80-minute media grilling was ‘exceptional’. His family circumstances were exceptional. He was under exceptional pressure. He was, exceptionally, required to be in both Durham and Downing Street. He was exceptionally unpopular.
He made another important claim to exceptionalism: that he, almost alone, had warned publicly of the danger of coronaviruses before it struck. This revelation is already unravelling as tech experts allege that the Clairvoyant One rewrote his blogs last month to include these references.
‘STAY ELITE’ was the best headline the morning after the press conference, a riff on ‘STAY ALERT’.
If Cummings implodes, what next? ‘Of all human errors, prophecy is the most unnecessary,’ George Eliot said. But let me chance my arm and say there is a serious possibility that Brexit comes back into play, either immediately or as a result of deep ongoing crisis post-lockdown.
It is increasingly likely that every other state in northern Europe will come out of Covid-19 in better shape than us, particularly Germany, the leader and motor of the European Union. Attention will inevitably focus on the failures of leadership and governance which brought us to our knees. And whether we should follow Johnson et al when they try to inflict a no-deal or hard Brexit on us immediately afterwards. ‘Global Britain’ has never in recent times been so isolated, insular and afraid.
However, as ‘new Europeans’ we need to make a bigger argument than the case for a soft Brexit. We need to associate Cummings with the whole brand of modern populism which is not only fake but the most dangerous right-wing project in Britain since Enoch Powell unleashed his anti-immigrant and anti-European tirades in the late 1960s. Today’s hatred of the EU and dog whistling on immigration are straight out of the Powell playbook.
Roy Jenkins, who led the liberal forces against Powell, used to tell me how powerful a hold his opponent had over what we now call the working-class ‘red wall’ in the Midlands and the north.
Catastrophe was averted largely because the leadership of the then Tory party, in the hands of Edward Heath and Margaret Thatcher, kept clear of Powell, albeit in Thatcher’s case while acting Powell-lite if not Powellite.
By contrast, today’s Tory party has gone almost fully Powellite, and Cummings has been the prime force in making it so. In league with Nigel Farage, Johnson’s Tory party embraces the essential Enoch creed; it has just avoided the lurid ‘rivers of blood’ language he used to attack immigration.
The public appears to be rumbling Cummings’ new brand of elite populism. Johnson’s popularity plummeted in the days after the revelations of his chief adviser’s nationwide car tour. By the time you read this the Special One may have been banished to Durham for good, which would put Brexit seriously in play.
But beware. The Tories were running the country for most of the century before Cummings’ right-wing populism took hold. They called it One Nation Conservatism. And even then, many were not particularly keen on Europe or foreigners.