In the two months since Cummings exited 10 Downing Street with his famous cardboard box of vital data in his hands, Britain has gone down the toilet.
It has been one of the most popular stories in the world for more than 120 years. An innocent, beautiful young girl falls into the clutches of a sinister, creepy hypnotist three or four times her age: He bewitches her and enables her to sing with the voice of angels, making her one of the most beloved singers and entertainers in the world, but she is totally within his power and if he is not there to hypnotize her, the only sounds she can make resemble those of a strangled frog.
The tale is the story of the sweet, lovely Trilby, and her sinister Controller and Master Svengali.
It is also the story of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his now departed brilliant, dazzling (at least in his own imagination) Mastermind, Dominic Cummings.
Seeing Boris as Trilby and his Chief Policy Adviser — until he was forced at last to resign in November — Cummings as Svengali is the key understanding the ongoing collapse of Britain.
It explains why Johnson, a lazy, easygoing, utterly self-indulgent though (very fitfully) intellectually brilliant dilettante who aspires to a (superficial) understanding of classical situation won a landslide election victory — the greatest his party had enjoyed in well over 60 years and far more sweeping than anything Margaret Thatcher herself ever managed.
It explains how he then appeared to boldly and decisively cut the Gordian Knot of the endlessly complicated negotiations still binding Britain to the European Union — a quandary that had previously bedeviled him as Foreign Secretary for the previous three years.
And most of all it explains why since Cummings/Svengali’s departure, the strange magic spell has startlingly broken.
With Svengali Cummings gone, suddenly Boris Trilby cannot sing any more. Instead, a bewildered, confused prime minister is seen bumbling around Number 10 Downing Street and the Palace of Westminster like Hamlet’s Father — a mere fading shadow of a long-departed leader.
The final deal that “tough, decisive” Johnson made with the European Commission (EC) in Brussels was an abject total surrender on Brussels terms.
Boris has written and published an actually worthwhile book about his hero Winston Churchill. He clearly also harks back to the decisive no-nonsense military rule of Oliver Cromwell 370 years ago — the only military dictator Britain has ever had.
Yet when it came to negotiating with the unpopular, bureaucratic despised EC, it was Boris who folded. He allowed France and Germany to retain almost all the rich fishing grounds that the contemptible Edward Heath allowed Brussels to strip from Britain back in the crucial 1973 negotiations that brought Britain into Europe. Those fishing grounds were the basis for the prosperity and nutrition of the people of the North of England and further for half a millennium. Getting them back was supposed to be the basis for jumpstarting the long moribund economy of the North of England.
Without them — and with the previous modestly flourishing support of European investment within the European Union shut down as well, and with easy access to the great European Single Market cut off — Johnson’s dream — or to be more accurate, Cummings’ dream — of turning the Conservatives into a nationalist, working class populist party with an enduring political base in the working class North, will vanish like snow in the Sahara Desert after the Sun of reality starts to shine.
For without his Svengali, Boris has no idea what to do next. He cannot come up with any alluring new idea without Cummings to provide it for him.
This in many respects is a welcome development as every one of Cummings ideas was bad, crackpot, unworkable and an idiotic pipedream.
This explains what has happened to proud, dignified Britain since its dynamic leader, so beloved for so long by the nation’s raging fake macho of popular tabloid culture, lost his Svengali, his puppet master.
In the two months since Cummings exited Number 10 Downing Street with his famous cardboard box of vital data in his hands, Britain has gone down the toilet.
Even with Cummings to hold his hand, Johnson’s actual record in policymaking was catastrophic. The difference is that since Svengali’s departure, the Prime Minister’s Comfort Zone, the Blissful Force Field that seemed to surround him everywhere, has gone. He is obviously bewildered and lost.
Increasingly his Cabinet colleagues, men and women who owed the revival and survival of their careers to him, have all effectively abandoned him en masse. Business is done without him. He is repeatedly forced to reverse ill-considered remarks he blurts out within the same news cycle.
Already, Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak, the former Chief Secretary of the Treasury is seen as the Coming Man. Boris is already reduced to a shambolic, sad disheveled teddy bear, less a prime minister than an afterthought, stumbling around the Whitehall and the Palace of Westminster. As much of an afterthought as the ghost of Hamlet’s father at Elsinore.
In truth, Sunak’s record in policymaking is at best dimly conventional and conformist according to the Free Market, minimal government mantras that British Conservatives have drunk like hemlock since the days of Saint Margaret Thatcher herself.
However, Sunak can still master the most crucial attribute for any modern British leader — to project the image that he is decisively and crisply in charge rather than being a bewildered upper class elitist moron stumbling around in the dark. Johnson delighted in that skill for a decade. But bereft of his beloved Svengali, he has lost it.
Let us spare a gentle tear for Britain’s Trilby.