Dramatic music. A serious voice-over describing a “trouble maker” and a man who is “no stranger to chaos”; “everyone knows his name”. The opening of the Laura Kuenssberg interview with Dominic Cummings broadcast on the BBC last night felt like the over-dramatic introduction to a movie villain.
And there is something of the villain about Cummings. In the hour-long segment he revealed a near-terrifying dismissal of democracy, an unwavering belief in his own superiority to those elected officials who surrounded him, and a capacity to see the most underhand political machinations as nothing more than smirk-inducingly amusing.
Much of the interview was taken up with Kuenssberg feigning shock at the sheer audacity of Cummings and re-hashed explanations of the necessity of the drive to Barnard Castle, but his revelations about the confusion and disorder at the heart of Number 10 deserve attention.
Cummings made much of Boris’s early approach to the pandemic last spring: apparently it was Cummings who had to tell Johnson to stop seeing the Queen in person (something Number 10 denies), and Cummings who realised that the herd immunity plan was not viable. The former advisor is damning of Boris’s professionalism and approach to the whole affair, arguing that he just “hadn’t thought it through”.
Cummings also dwelt on the period after the first wave had passed. According to him, Boris quickly started stating that the first lockdown never should have happened. Apparently it was this belief – and his reluctance to put in place a policy which Keir Starmer had publicly called for – that saw the second lockdown introduced so late. When talking about anti-lockdown Tory MPs and pundits, Cummings claims that Boris used to refer to The Telegraph as his “real boss”. Kuenssberg appears to find this statement shocking, but is there anything truly surprising that a man who has built his public persona off likeable, affable buffoonery prizes the opinion of his fellow right-wing journalists and public figures?
The other major revelation of the interview is that, mere days after the 2019 general election, Cummings was contemplating “getting rid” of the Prime Minister. Boris is, according to Cummings, useless, “terrible for the country”, and a “ludicrous” choice of leader. It’s hard to prove Cummings wrong, but his sheer disdain for democracy – and his comfort in revealing it – is disconcerting. One wonders if Cummings would have had the power for such a coup, or if we are simply watching an alternative history as imagined by a man with a God complex.
Cummings made much of the power of Carrie Johnson in Number 10 – crediting her with the appointment of Allegra Stratton as Boris Johnson’s spokesperson. Evidently the concerns over Carrie’s power are valid, but Cummings’ insistence on only ever referring to her as “the Prime Minister’s girlfriend” (he never once uses her name, or calls her Boris’s fiancé or wife) is rather distasteful. It taints a valid criticism of Number 10 with unmistakable overtones of sexism.
The interview ends with Cummings expressing his anger at the current state of politics. He posits that we need an end to the two-party system, and suggests starting a new party. For better or worse, British politics’ most slippery character is not leaving the scene any time soon.