In “one of the most extraordinary exchanges in recent political journalism”, Dominic Cummings last week admitted to the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg that he considered getting rid of his boss, Boris Johnson, shortly after the 2019 general election. His brazen justification for what would have amounted to a coup d’état? “That’s politics.” Cummings referred to – but didn’t name – a shadowy “few dozen” co-conspirators against the PM. Such cliques have long dominated the upper echelons of power: look at New Labour or David Cameron’s “Notting Hill Tories”. As the anthropologist Margaret Mead observed: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” So why worry, asks Matthew d’Ancona in Tortoise.
Because “one clever man in a hoodie” showed our political system has become “alarmingly immunocompromised”. Cummings ran rings around the Electoral Commission after the Brexit referendum, ensured 21 Conservative MPs had the whip withdrawn and was happy for Cabinet ministers to mislead the Queen about the prorogation of parliament. And he got away with it all. Crucially, he understood that institutions are being supplanted by digital networks – look at his “astonishingly nimble”, and dodgy, use of data in the 2016 Vote Leave campaign. Legislation in this area is woeful and the “digitally illiterate” rump of the political class aren’t exactly leaping into action. After five years we have something approaching herd immunity to Dom himself. “What should be worrying us now is the variants to come.”
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