An out of touch elite playing by their own rules while the rest of the country are ignored and treated with disdain. For almost five years, the careful construction of this narrative has served Dominic Cummings well.
However, through his violation of the lockdown rules, Boris Johnson’s most senior adviser has shown himself to be no better than those he so scornfully derided in campaigns gone by. The sincerity of his message must now be called into question, as well as the Brexit culture war which has seen divides between the ‘elite’ and the ‘people’ so simply drawn on remain vs leave lines.
Cummings directed the successful Leave campaign in the 2016 EU referendum by pointing to a remain-minded establishment who had lost touch with the priorities of the British people. His attacks on the perceived out of touch ‘liberal elite’ were effective, and they enabled his campaign to win the support of a long-disenfranchised portion of the electorate. He successfully linked the failures of successive governments to support those left behind by globalisation with an unelected and unaccountable elite in Brussels.
A similar tactic was employed by Cummings as he crafted Boris Johnson’s path to election victory. The December 2019 election was successfully framed as a ‘people vs parliament’ issue; the British public were presented with a simple, binary choice. ‘Get Brexit done’ with the Tories, or opt for yet more ‘dither and delay’ with Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour. Once again, the message cut through. Labour’s so-called Red Wall was decimated by the Tory advance, as seats that had voted Labour for generations went blue this time round.
The election result pays testament to the power of Cummings’ culture war. Frustrated by the delay in implementing the change they voted for, a significant portion of the electorate voted Tory for the first time in the hope of ‘crushing the saboteurs’ and securing Brexit.
Whilst many of the details of Cummings’ recent indiscretions remain unverified, it is clear that he has broken the lockdown rules which he himself helped to create. His supporters have argued that Cummings was merely doing what any parent would have done in following his instincts, but this line of argument loses sight of the fact that millions of Britons are also facing extreme hardship but chose not to follow their instincts, to go outside, meet up with friends, visit Barnard Castle, etc., but instead to follow the rules.
Indeed, his decision to drive more than two hundred and fifty miles to another part of the country with his symptomatic wife is a fine example of the entitled behaviour which he has professed to stand against. It is only compounded by his arrogant dismissal of the concerns when questioned about his actions. Cummings, emboldened by his two electoral successes, has come to assume that his judgement of the public mood is infallible. He is sorely mistaken.
For families who have suffered the pain of losing loved ones without saying goodbye, for those who have struggled with the day-to-day realities of an extremely restricted life under lockdown, these revelations come as a kick in the teeth. Despite his frequent tendency to pontificate about an out of touch elite, let us not forget about Cummings’ background. A privately educated Oxford graduate, Cummings has little grasp on the realities of life for most Britons. The EU referendum has provided him with a thinly-veiled anti-establishment persona, but this serves to disguise a deeply divisive and tasteless brand of politics, as demonstrated by his appointment of Andrew Sabisky as a government adviser. Sabisky was criticised for links to eugenicist theories, including incendiary remarks which suggested that black people had lower average IQs than their white counterparts.
While Sabisky has now resigned, the thought-process which brought about his appointment remains at the heart of Johnson’s government. This is demonstrated clearly by the Prime Minister’s steadfast refusal to sack Cummings, despite the fact that other public officials caught flouting lockdown such as Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer Catherine Calderwood have resigned. If Cummings’ violation of lockdown has demonstrated anything, it is the ardent hypocrisy of a man who claims to represent ‘the people’, yet entirely refuses to recognise the justified anger at his behaviour.
Image: Public Domain Pictures.