BREX FACTOR: Dominic Cummings' catalogue of cartoon errors
PUBLISHED: 09:05 28 September 2019 | UPDATED: 09:06 28 September 2019
Like Wile E Coyote, Boris Johnson's special adviser has been the author of his own spectacular downfall says STEVE ANGLESEY
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At the end of August, Dominic Cummings told the meeting of special advisers (spads) which he chairs each week that the Conservatives planned to rip up precedent and wreck Labour's conference in Brighton with a political bombshell.
Cartoon enthusiasts have been pondering for some time which character Boris Johnson's gilet-encased, dome-headed chief of staff most resembles. Could it be Squidward Tentacles, the manipulative egomaniac octopus continually overwhelmed by that eternally sunny bungler Spongebob Squarepants? Or Brain, the scheming, arrogant laboratory mouse whose nightly plans for world domination are frequently stymied by his dimwitted cohort Pinky?
What this week's fresh humiliation at the hands of the Supreme Court suggests is that Cummings is actually Wile E Coyote, luckless springer of elaborate traps which tend to blow up in his own face.
Noticing the large cage hovering above, not even Jeremy Corbyn stopped to eat his free bird seed and vote for a general election. Prorogation was supposed to be political dynamite, except when Wile E Dom pushed down the handle the explosives remained intact while the detonator blew up in his face.
No matter what the method - arcane Commons flummery, legal trickery, old-fashioned Westminster arm-twisting, reverse psychology - it always seems to end with Coyote Cummings putting up his tiny parasol in defence as a huge anvil plummets towards his head.
Just compare and contrast the Tesla swagger of his Downing Street arrival in late July with the clown car reality of what has happened since:
*Sent Boris Johnson on a tour of Labour Leave areas, believing the old Etonian bumbler would instinctively impress the milkmen and travelling tinkers he encountered. Instead, the PM was constantly upbraided by locals for his part in austerity. Withdrawing to the safer environs of a Whipps Cross hospital didn't go much better.
* Ordered that a timer ticking down to our exit at midnight on October 31 should be displayed on every computer in No.10. The civil service refused, pointing out that this would raise employee stress levels. Meanwhile the £500 countdown clocks installed at Tory HQ and in a Downing Street meeting room, complete with signs above reading "We will have delivered Brexit and left the EU by…" click on towards the inevitable embarrassment.
*Put his faith in Jacob Rees-Mogg, who professed to know more about parliamentary procedure than the speaker and more about law than the Supreme Court but was found to not even know how to sit up straight.
*Briefed journalists that parliament had already missed its moment to stop a no-deal Brexit happening automatically. Parliament subsequently legislated to prevent a no-deal Brexit happening automatically.
*Rattled Tory MPs by telling them that if they voted against the government they would lose the whip and be deselected, adding: "When are you f**king MPs going to realise we are leaving on October 31? We are going to purge you." This masterstroke reduced Johnson's working majority from a serviceable one to an impressive minus 43.
*Threatened an October 14 election if parliament took control of Commons business. Parliament took control of Commons business and refused to vote for a general election, on October 14 or otherwise.
*Suggested leakers from his Friday spad meetings would be rooted out with a "one strike and you're out" policy. The fine details of each meeting have been widely reported ever since.
*Scoffed at Dominic Grieve, telling Sky News, "we'll see what he's right about." Turns out, pretty much everything.
*Predicted that Scottish judges would "reflect deeply on the profound consequences for the judiciary if they are seen to side with those trying to cancel the biggest democratic vote in our history" before deciding whether to rule prorogation unlawful. The judges did, and ruled prorogation unlawful.
*Subsequently sneered that "the legal activists choose the Scottish courts for a reason". The Scottish ruling was upheld by the Supreme Court.
*Claimed that Johnson could simply refuse to seek the mandated extension on October 18 and then run down the clock until October 31. Legal experts beg to differ, and Dom's not had much luck with them lately.
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Wile E. Coyote's creator Chuck Jones once noted down his rules for the character's universe. These include "no outside force can harm the Coyote - only his own ineptitude", but the most telling one is "the Coyote could stop anytime - if he were not a fanatic".
This is true of Dominic Cummings, who won a referendum but has since lost a by-election, lost a majority, lost a Scottish leader, lost 23 MPs and two cabinet ministers, lost every single vote in parliament and now lost a Supreme Court case. He may lose Brexit, too.
In one of the classic Roadrunner gags, Wile E Coyote runs off a cliff edge, stopping in mid-air to gulp before he plummets down into a deep canyon. So far, Britain looks like resisting running off the cliff with Dominic Cummings.
"Leaving the single market is going to brutalise our startup culture. Running startups is hard enough, we don't need the extra burden." A good point well made in a February 2017 interview on business news network Bloomberg by a relatively obscure tech entrepreneur named Jennifer Arcuri. Any idea what happened to her?
BREXITEERS OF THE WEEK
4. CHRISTOPHER BARKER
The Brexit Party's candidate for Grimsby tweeted a video of himself claiming that the party's work would not be finished until "we have British fish from British waters landed on British shores - and trawled and processed using British jobs". Yes, bring us more of those delicious British fish with their little blue passports and fewer of these EU fish, with their bitter aftertastes of sauerkraut and garlic!
Things got worse when the car Barker was using in the video, a black Citroen, turned out to be listed on a government website as being both untaxed and having an expired MOT. It's yet another reason to get out now - these French cars come over here and won't even obey our British laws!
3. DIABETIC GOONER
As Brexiteer logic gets ever more absurd, a diabetic Arsenal fan from Birmingham told BBC Breakfast he thought insulin shortages which would threaten his life would be a "price worth paying for Brexit".
Interviewed during an outside broadcast, the Gunners supporter said: "I rely on insulin, but I still want to leave." He was then asked: "If the insulin doesn't arrive, for you as a diabetic, you think that's a price worth paying?" He replied: "Yeah I do. Because we voted to leave, we didn't vote for a deal, we voted to leave Europe. And that's all we want, right?"
He is expected to be offered a senior frontbench role in the government within days.
2. NIGEL FARAGE
Asked during a fawning interview with the Sunday Express what he thought of Remainer MPs who switch parties, the nicotine-stained man-frog replied: "How these guys have any legitimacy I do not know. Chuka Umunna changed once, changed again."
Yes, that's Nigel Farage, who left the Tories for UKIP before joining the Brexit Party, calling someone else a turncoat. Next week he'll presumably accuse Chuka of "smelling of beer and cigarettes".
Farage also hinted he would leave the UK, saying: "The States, now that is the big game. Living here is not easy, living in the States is a lot more easy. In America you can live a normal life." Shall we start a crowdfunder for a one-way ticket?
Leader Dick Braine failed to turn up for the party's conference in Newport in protest against party chairman Kirsten Herriot. Instead the star turns featured aptly-named speaker Dr Peter Gammons, who droned on about loyalty and "losing a few opportunists" despite being introduced as the first defector from the Brexit Party. But most on-brand of all was failed leadership contender Freddy Vachha, who spoke while brandishing a piece of toilet roll ("a bit of continuous roll stationery from a standard dispenser") on which he had made notes for his speech.
Vachha likened it to the moment "when on the men's toilet mirror in Alexandria, Field Marshal Montgomery sketched out the plan for the invasion of Sicily. The wrong plan, as it was, as he invaded the wrong place…"
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