It’s 15 years since The Thick Of It hit our screens and while I miss it, even the creative genius of Armando Iannucci could not have conjured up Dominic Cummings’s press conference. There is still so much to pick over. Apart from taking a drive to Barnard Castle as a DIY eye test, which is up there with injecting bleach and has spawned a thousand memes, my favourite moment was when he said he hadn’t thought to bother letting the Prime Minister — his boss — know he was leaving town during a pandemic as he didn’t want to bother him.
Anyone who’s ever been a special adviser knew this didn’t pass the smell test as you can’t even pop to the loo without getting permission from your Cabinet minister. I once tried to sneak out of the room to powder my nose during a strategy meeting and was asked “Where are you going? Err… How long will you be? Number one or two?” It’s like a hostage situation. They know your movements at all times. Literally. But I guess Cummings has the superpower of being able to endure a 260 mile journey without nature calling.
The fallout from the car crash press conference is already taking its toll in the polls. The Tories have seen the biggest drop in ratings in a decade and 66 per cent of people think Cummings should resign — well, he did promise to unite the country. It feels inconceivable that a party which won a stunning election victory only five months ago could be in such a mess, so quickly. The last time I saw a powerful political force unravel at this speed was my own party, Labour under Jeremy Corbyn, a comparison Boris Johnson will grimace at, and with good reason. “But he won the election,” I hear you cry, but Corbyn showed how easy it was to trash an established party’s reputation, and Johnson appears to be apeing him.
They are very different men, but I see similarities in their leadership styles. An over-reliance on toxic advisers who become the unfettered power behind the throne, while the leader takes his foot off the pedal to enjoy his downtime and private passions. A dangerous lack of self-awareness. A stubbornness. A shambolic comms strategy. Attacking the media. Becoming a laughing stock. A refusal to punish your friends when they do wrong. And as with anti-Semitism, the inability to listen to public anger, show some empathy and just say sorry. Of course, this is a very different issue, but the hurt that so many are feeling is real, raw and extends well beyond the Westminster bubble. Never has the political felt so intensely personal.
A friend got in touch last night to say her mother died of Covid in a care home recently and the home didn’t even have an iPad so they could say goodbye. The Prime Minister has thrown a protective ring around his principal adviser. I just wish he had done the same with care homes.
The hero we need
In among all the villainy, we need a hero. J K Rowling has brought joy to young fans (and their parents) by releasing a new children’s book — The Ickabog — which she is publishing for free in daily instalments on her website. It’s not connected to Harry Potter but features the myth of a monster called The Ickabog which is said to “eat children and sheep”.
She had previously referred to the work as an “unnamed political fairytale.” Draw your own conclusions.