Strategist Dominic Cummings has written another of his blogposts and this one is said to be more than 19,000 words long. The brains behind the successful Vote Leave is always interesting, partly because rather than playing the traditional media game, corralling and ordering his thoughts into individual op-ed pieces for newspapers aimed at explaining in easily comprehensible terms what he means, and then releasing them in orderly sequence, he instead emerges once in a while and spews it all out in a curious stream of consciousness. He promises some shorter-form posts soon. Good. He really should write a book explaining his worldview, but I doubt he would listen to an experienced agent or editor long enough to learn about structure and self-editing, which all of us who write need to work on constantly and improve.
The latest Cummings missive is as ever packed with stuff of note, however, including some cutting remarks about his critics on the Eurosceptic side. There is a good chunk of analysis of the campaign, some pro-Bismarck worship and musings on what almost everyone else got wrong in the referendum. He should hear what some of the donors and advisory board members say about him. Wait, he probably knows and does not care. He also has a nerdy obsession with maths. He thinks “some physicists” are the key to understanding the world and pretty much all problem solving. They are not.
Cummings is good on how broken the SW1 Westminster way of viewing the world is. Finance went bust in 2007-2008 and traditional politics – by which I mean the Kennedy/Nixon shift to TV and adoption of advertising techniques and media management, refined later by Thatcher, Reagan and Blair’s people – has gone bust too. Trump’s team understood the changing nature celebrity and media and behaved accordingly. Being a character from a Washington version of Back to the Future – from 1992 but stranded in the now – Hillary Clinton did not.
Back to Dom Cummings. If you like The Clash (I do) the reading experience involved in a Cummings blog is a little like listening to Sandinista, their controversial triple album which is a bit of a frustrating mess containing some moments of joy and excitement and amusement, juxtaposed with far too many digressions and little sketches that a producer such as George Martin at his peak or Jimmy Miller with the Stones would have cut back on.
Two more thoughts, one questioning, the other involving praise.
Praise first. Cummings gets to the root of the electoral connection between the financial crisis and what has happened since:
“This undermined confidence in Government, politicians, big business, banks, and almost any entity thought to be speaking for those with power and money. Contra many pundits, Miliband was right that the centre of gravity has swung against free markets. Even among the world of Thatcherite small businesses and entrepreneurs opinion is deeply hostile to the way in which banks and public company executive pay work. Over and over again outside London people would rant about how they had not/barely recovered from this recession ‘while the politicians and bankers and businessmen in London all keep raking in the money and us mugs on PAYE are paying for the bailouts, now they’re saying we’ve just got to put up with the EU being crap or else we’ll be unemployed, I don’t buy it, they’ve been wrong about everything else…’ All those amazed at why so little attention was paid to ‘the experts’ did not, and still do not, appreciate that these ‘experts’ are seen by most people of all political views as having botched financial regulation, made a load of rubbish predictions, then forced everybody else outside London to pay for the mess while they got richer and dodged responsibility. They are right. This is exactly what happened.”
Bit strong that, ignoring that a lot of well-motivated people in the system were focussed on keeping the show on the road and avoiding another Great Depression, but yes. I would only add that since the Second World War, and in a process that accelerated after the end of the Bretton Woods system in the early 1970s, the emphasis was put increasingly on Western multilaterism, globalism and agreed rules that mimicked in the economic sphere what had become through World War the norm in defence and security. The message was we’re across this, we’ve got this, the economy, progress, prosperity, at a level above the silly old nation state. That was the message sent by the EU and also the Davos crowd, by the WTO and OECD and other rule-setters who really decide the international rules which dictate regulation.
Then the bill landed for the failure of the globalist elite experiment in the financial crisis of 2008. And it fell to national taxpayers to pick up and pay that bill. A globalist disaster was visited on national taxpayers and they didn’t like it or the elites who did it. In this context in hindsight it is nuts – completely nuts – for a member of the Clinton clan that personifies that elite to run for the presidency in 2016 and think they would win, until quite late in the day, by a landslide.
One other highly refreshing aspect of the latest Cummings post is the way in which he is rude about pundits. That’s pundits like wot I am. Journalists who get to express their opinions for a living dish it out and should be prepared to take it in return. But he seems to have misunderstood both the role of journalism and the target audience – the readers – and makes the same mistake about the media business that he accuses others of making elsewhere, that is he pontificates while lacking expertise. Might he consider the possibility he really doesn’t know much about the media business and that not all answers lie with “some physicists”?
Anyway, if the problem he identifies is poorly made precise predictions that’s perhaps only 1% of journalism on the comment, business and sports pages. After a relatively brief period when the habit of political and financial pundits making predictions was in vogue (I made some stupid predictions myself) it’s very much out of fashion now. Punditry is really just trying to help make sense of the carnival and offering ideas and insights written in a (hopefully) entertaining style that aids understanding and gets read. All of which people are free to throw bread rolls at. He should talk to Boris and Gove about this, or to Reaction’s own Bruce Anderson who in his latest piece has taken Theresa May’s premiership apart. They’re masters of the art.
And one small query: if, as Dom says, he hardly reads any of the commentary from pundits, how does he know so assuredly it is all wrong?
Again, you can read the whole Cummings posting here. It’s a mixed bag but worth it.