Overseas readers may accuse us of navel gazing, but the human dramas of UK affairs may have universal relevance. Or so we fondly believe. So the news that former special advisor Dominic Cummings has launched another venomous attack on Prime Minister Alexander de Pfeffle “Boris” Johnson fills us with curiosity: why do old buddies fall out?
In December 2019 this accomplished pair had the world at their feet, or at least the British bit of it. Having recently won the earth shattering Brexit referendum they then achieved a trouncing win in a General Election. They complemented; the one a tactician of something like genius, the other a shrewd communicator who deeply resonates with the key elderly C2D voters who shape British national life. Both belonged to the same ruling-class background-prosperous families, private education, Oxford, then thriving in the well financed ecology of British Conservatism-journalism, think tanks, “advisory” roles- before pushing their way into the top jobs. Both might have been forgiven for yelling “The future belongs to me!” on that distant winter morning. So why, oh why, the big bust up? We can’t be sure. But history offers us some intriguing parallels.
Brotherly Love However close you started out, however much you went through together even the closest relationships can come under strain. The well-documented travails of the Gallagher brothers of Oasis fame or the Windsor brothers Harry and William (they of the eponymous castle) show that even the bonds of DNA will snap in time. What bond then in strangers, especially when the fruits of success must be delivered? Which leads us to:
The Pressure Cooker The old saying of the 49ers on the trail to the west was that three weeks cooped up a waggon, coping with the conflicting pressures of Indigenous Native Americans, wolves, desperadoes, poor weather. baked beans and non existent cellphone signals, were enough to make you want to murder anyone, for any transgression, even your own wife. It is easy to write columns, and blogs, about what Governments should do. Just as it is easy to walk along a wooden plank laid out conveniently on a garden lawn. Try walking the same plank across Niagara falls. You will find that the mood alters somewhat.
The woman The oldest triangle in history is the King, the Queen, and the Chief Advisor. Augustus had Livia, who saw to the extermination of Agrippa and his line. Edward II had Mortimer and Isabella. Fans of the Barchester Chronicles will recall how Mrs Proudie engineered the downfall of the oleaginous and double dealing Mr Slope, up to then her husband’s right hand man. Can we carry this analogy further, without weak puns?
We got it all wrong What do you do when the act is no longer pulling the crowds, or The Project has gone all wrong? The bust up between Judas and Jesus has been fairly well documented. But what about Marshall Bernadotte? Until 1810 he was one of Napoleon’s Main Men. But realising the little guy was starting to get it seriously awry, he jumped ship, got himself a plum job as King of Sweden and spent the next few years stabbing his old chum in the back. Even closer to our time, remember how former pals Hitler, Goering and Himmler fell out when the events in the war panned out “not necessarily to Germany’s advantage”? Worms turn, but trust is not like gold-you can’t buy it back at any price.
Our prediction For now Johnson still has the support of the papers, which still bring their crucial constituency of voters with them. Cummings can be dismissed as an embittered loser. But a careful reading of Government newspapers shows evidence of growing doubts. For now these are mild and coded. But a Prime Minister, especially a Conservative one, is there to protect the economic interests of the English landed and monied classes. If these start to be seriously threatened, then Cummings’ scribblings will be revived. With glee.
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