Greg Lance – Watkins
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The application of the word “genius” has become more overstretched than a pair of Carol Vorderman’s Spanx. (IQ 154, incidentally; the mathematician, not the support underwear). Elon Musk is a “genius” even though his self-driving cars have been known to spontaneously combust. Mrs Brown’s Boys is “comedy genius”, according to the BBC, even though it is about as funny as herpes. And Dominic Cummings is a genius, except for the small, inescapable fact that he isn’t.
The clever thing about being an actual genius is that you don’t have to go around telling people how smart you are. When the French poet Paul Valéry asked Albert Einstein whether he used a notebook to record his ideas, the theoretical physicist famously replied: “That’s not necessary because it’s so seldom that I have one”. Instead, you make astonishing feats like splitting the atom seem almost accidental. “Oh look, I’ve discovered penicillin while tidying up the lab!” What you absolutely don’t do is make it all look so difficult that you’re left punching in the ceiling and writing painstaking blog posts explaining exactly how you did it.
For all his undoubted intellectual abilities, Cummings has at times shown Celebrity Love Island levels of stupidity. There have been many mistakes but arguably his most elementary error of all has been picking a fight with Carrie Symonds and expecting he was going to win against Boris Johnson’s fiancée and mother of his sixth child.
Having last encountered Cummings during a Downing Street briefing he had seemingly gatecrashed simply to eye roll at the banality of journalists’ questions, I can well imagine how it came to pass that the Vote Leave “svengali” trained his sights on Symonds, the former Tory communications chief.
Anyone who witnessed the original Brexit bad boy holding court with a group of guy groupies at the Downing Street Christmas drinks in 2019 cannot fail to have been left with the impression that Cummings is a bit of a man’s man despite his close association with his fellow former No 10 adviser Cleo Watson, regarded by most as his “better half”.
But in what world does he seriously believe that Symonds was solely responsible for his departure from his former position as the PM’s chief of staff?
Aside from his Domvotees, the general consensus in SW1 was that Cummings’s short-lived tenure at No 10 was pretty much an unmitigated disaster. While Brexiteers will forever thank him for taking back control of Britain’s beleaguered EU membership – and rightly so – he was about as suited to government as Jean-Claude Juncker is to dry January.
There was nothing “genius” about him alienating Spads, civil servants, MPs, ministers and the media during the biggest national emergency in peacetime, while undermining the entire Covid strategy by trying to find a branch of Specsavers somewhere off the A688.
It is all very well encouraging “misfits and weirdos” who have boned up on von Neumann’s foundation of game theory to apply for jobs at No 10, but wouldn’t it also have been useful for the self-appointed head of Downing Street HR to have thumbed through a copy of EB Davis II’s similarly obscure 2016 tome How Not To Be An Asshole?
Power-grabbing, unable to delegate, woefully indiscrete to journalists, contemptuous of Tories, despised by Whitehall and badly dressed, there were plenty of people besides Symonds repeatedly telling the Prime Minister that Cummings had to go, long before the Barnard Castle debacle. Even Dilyn the dog, the Mutley to Cummings’ Dastardly, was reportedly trying to urinate all over his trainers when he wasn’t looking.
I appreciate that the pandemic handed a hospital pass to someone who had clearly never been captain of the school rugby team, but Cummings’s act first, think later strategy was always doomed to failure.
While there is no doubt that Symonds has been wielding a great deal of influence over No 10, at least there was a female voice trying to break through an all-male choir that was incapable of singing in tune when Cummings was the conductor. Rightly suspicious of his growing lack of loyalty to the Prime Minister, she joined the chorus of disapproval – but she was far from a lone voice, performing some sort of shrill solo as Cummings likes to maintain.
Looking back to when it was discovered that Cummings had broken lockdown rules, that unedifying spectacle of a diva-ish Dom, peacocking around in the Downing Street rose garden, with the press in desperate pursuit, was one of the lowest points of a government in years.
Johnson should have put a toe up his backside long before others started putting the boot in. That’s a failure of leadership the Prime Minister will continue to have to live with, since he was the one who naively gave Cummings “special powers” in the first place. But the real loser here is undoubtedly the self-styled messiah who was given a once in a lifetime chance to help to run the country but decided to run amok instead.
As a focus group aficionado, it cannot have been lost on Cummings that, as well as failing to identify him in a line-up, the average Red Wall voter couldn’t care less how much has been spent on Symonds’s curtains, that the Prime Minister was trying to secure tax breaks for James Dyson, or even that he may have suggested it would be better to let the “bodies pile high in their thousands” rather than have a third lockdown. On Wednesday, an Ipsos Mori poll found net satisfaction with the Government and Boris Johnson has shifted very little from March. YouGov yesterday revealed that the Conservatives have extended their lead over Labour to 44 per cent versus 33 per cent.
Is that genius on the part of the Prime Minister? Perhaps not. But there is still something extraordinary about a politician whose popularity seems to be directly proportionate to the amounts of mud slung at him by the Left – and his former lieutenant.
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