Jake O'Kane: Boris hasn't the intellectual rigour to govern without help from Dominic Cummings
What this most recent cabal of public schoolboy politicians seem to have missed is the need to lead by example as well as decree. While Westminster remains the domain of Oxbridge graduates, today's intake no longer continues the pretence of their predecessors of practicing what they preach...
FEW statements from Downing Street have garnered such an audience as the one given by Dominic Cummings last Tuesday. This was due to the fact Cummings is neither a politician nor civil servant, but a political Svengali.
After keeping us waiting for 20 minutes, I seriously thought Cummings might be about to resign. Mercurial by nature, such a last-minute move would be in keeping with this most eccentric of political operators. I tweeted my suspicion only to have Gerry Kelly – the television one, not the wheel clamp one – reply that was unlikely, as they'd allowed time for questions. 10 minutes later, Gerry was proved right.
What I didn't expect was either contrition or apology and, in this, at least I was proved right: the only apology from Cummings was a curt, "Sorry for being late". As I watched his rambling statement, attempting to justify a 260 mile drive to his family home in Durham at the height of the lockdown, he sounded as coherent as a blind man reading braille whilst wearing gloves.
He asked us to believe his eyesight – or lack of it – was the reason his family subsequently took a day trip of 60 miles to visit Barnard Castle. His wife seemingly worried his recent illness may have affected his eyes, suggested they drive with their infant in the car, to check his vision. That this trip coincided with her birthday was supposedly coincidental.
Dissembling in the world of politics is not only expected but sometimes essential. We live at a time when intelligent people view the pronouncements of our political class with understandable cynicism. We accept much of what we're told is half-truths and we expect at least some effort be put into the telling. Cummings' statement, however, was so ludicrous, so utterly ridiculous, it insulted our intelligence.
His actions were congruent with his character, as he apparently views himself as the José Mourinho of politics – 'the special one'. Rightly credited with masterminding the UK's departure from Europe and Johnson's landslide parliamentary victory last December, Cummings possesses an intellectual contempt which extends beyond the electorate to include many of the politicians with whom he's worked – it's no surprise then that many Tory MPs demanded his immediate removal.
While a uniquely talented political advisor, we in Northern Ireland – having gone through many political scandals – realise 'special advisors' to be anything but special.
Yet one man steadfastly refuses to accept any criticism of Cummings, and that man has the final say: Boris Johnson created the position of 'chief adviser to the Prime Minister' specifically for Cummings, with their relationship stretching back to the Brexit campaign.
While conspiracy aficionados claim Cummings possesses a dossier on the PM, the truth is probably more banal. Perhaps Boris realises that, while he's a great showman, he doesn't possess the intellectual rigour necessary to govern and therefore cannot afford to lose his most trusted aide and policy advisor.
What this most recent cabal of public schoolboy politicians seem to have missed is the need to lead by example as well as decree. While Westminster remains the domain of Oxbridge graduates, today's intake no longer continues the pretence of their predecessors of practicing what they preach. Boris Johnson, Dominic Cummings, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Michael Gove are a throwback to a bygone era when Britain ruled the waves, and those it ruled over could be relied on to unquestioningly follow orders.
A famous photograph of Oxford University's exclusive Bullingdon Club from 1987 encapsulates that sense of entitlement evident in today's Tory leadership. Among the group of arrogantly-posing undergraduates bedecked in their distinctive uniforms of tailcoats with white silk facings are two future Prime Ministers – David Cameron and Boris Johnson.
The Bullingdon Club, founded in 1780 as a hunting and cricket club, evolved into a drinking club where chaps from the right background could indulge in dinners involving hard drinking, acts of vandalism and other activities of dubious legality. One insider present during Boris Johnson's time as a member was horrified at the thought of him ever becoming Prime Minister. She described him then as displaying nothing but a sense of entitlement, aggression, amorality and a lack of concern for others, dressed up in a contrived, jovial image.
It is yet to be seen if Boris will succeed in saving Cummings or how history will judge him. I'd prefer the last word on him be left to Nuala McKeever who, on Radio Ulster this week, inadvertently summed him up as "such a d***".