I used to tell people that when Richard Nixon resigned from office he left a great hole in my life. I was obsessed with every aspect of his Watergate scandal. You ask me, and I would know instantly. There were people with great names — like Donald Segretti, Dwight Chapin, Bebe Rebozo — and long-forgotten incidents, like the Canuck letter.
I was so addicted that the daywas published, I bought it in hardback and devoured it in one very long sitting. was Woodward and Bernstein’s third party account of the end of the Nixon Presidency, and it was utterly gripping from start to finish.
We all have our political heroes and Nixon was never one of mine. But he was one of the great anti-heroes, and politics needs them too. Sometimes in a complex world it can be hard to figure out what side of an argument you’re on. The anti-heroes make that easier. They polarise opinion, and they offer an endless fascination. They all have their own odd charisma.
We had our own anti-hero, of course, in the great Charles Haughey. He’s probably the Irish politician of the last seventy years or so about whom more books have been written than any other. He never wrote his own, of course, never revealed the deeper secrets.
As a result, to this day, there are completely opposite narratives about him and his doings. We do know, I believe, that Charles J Haughey was an awful lot less than the sum of his parts, but there are secrets we may never be able to unravel.
What fun we’d have had if Nixon and Haughey had lived in the era of social media. Our obsessions would have been multiplied by the endless conspiracy theorising and tittle-tattle that would have surrounded them.
But of course, we did have access to all that with our last anti-hero, President Donald Trump. If his Presidency had been a stage play, every one of us would have had a front row seat.
But the Trump era, if you can call it that, did have this much in common with other anti-heroes. We were all glued to it. I don’t know about you, but I took out subscriptions toand so I could keep abreast of the minutiae. And I couldn’t go to bed at night without one last fix of CNN.
So, much as I hope he never comes back, there is no denying that Trump’s departure made the world a duller place.
Until Boris’s love affair with Dominic Cummings unravelled.
Have you been following this? If not, get ready for a roller-coaster ride. I’m not sure what subscription you’ll need to be able to follow the twists and turn that lie ahead. But it’s going to be a political thriller.
Cummings didn’t exactly make Boris, because Boris was pretty well-established when they found each other. But Cummings turned Boris into the winner of the Brexit referendum through his management of that campaign. Along the way Cummings discovered the power of data — he was able to apply the same techniques that had been used in the States to get inside the minds of voters and to target them with barrages of advertising.
The outcome of Brexit, of course, destroyed David Cameron, who loathed both Boris and Cummings. He was replaced by the hapless Theresa May. Cummings and Boris then spent the next few years mercilessly belittling, undermining and betraying May. Until eventually she could take it no more, and opened the door of Downing Street for Boris to walk in, and for Cummings to take over.
Books will be written eventually about the relationship of Cummings and Boris — with sequels about the hatred that exists between them now.
And he is going to use the most devastating political weapon there is, the weapon from which there is no recovery.
In his time as Prime Minister, much like Trump, Boris has disgraced himself and betrayed his country through his cavalier and uncaring management of the pandemic. Britain has one of the worst fatality records in the world precisely because Boris failed, and because he didn’t want to take unpopular decisions, especially in the early phases of the crisis.
He’s blustered his way through that — in part because bluster is something he’s very good at, in part because the vaccination programme run by the NHS has seemed, oddly, to redeem him, and in part because he hasn’t been properly held to account by anyone.
But there is one man who was at his side throughout. Who knows what he should have done, was advised to do, needed to do in his country’s interest, and failed to do. That man is his former champion and now bitter enemy Dominic Cummings. And now he’s willing to tell the truth about it all.
If you’re interested at all in political anti-heroes, this is a space you absolutely must watch.
I don’t want to finish this column without mentioning one of the great characters of my life, and one of the great unseen characters of Irish politics. Joe Revington died suddenly, unexpectedly, and far too soon this past week.
Joe was one of Dick Spring’s advisers in the 1983-1987 government, when Dick was Tánaiste to Garret Fitzgerald. I worked for that government in Dick Spring’s camp. So did William Scally, and so did Sally Clarke. We learned our governmental politics together, struggled together, campaigned together, and survived together. Together with Dick’s close friend John Rogers, we were a tight-knit gang in those four years and formed a bond that I hope will never be broken.
Unlike the rest of us, Joe and Dick and John had already been friends since student days, when Joe was known as a force to be reckoned with (and something of a legend) in Trinity College student politics. Over the years, he conquered his own demons and became a highly-skilled barrister, the trade he plied for the rest of his life.
The law was his trade, but politics was his art and his passion. Especially the arcane mysterious politics of Kerry, where only the mighty and the wise survive. But above all that, Joe was a man of total integrity, unshakeable conviction, and no little mischief.
He loved being regarded as an eccentric because then people under-estimated him — always a mistake. And he was always a man who knew more than he would tell you. If he did drop a hint about some great secret (especially if it was about a horse in the 3.30 at Leopardstown), it would take you days to unravel the clues. By then, or course, the horse would be long gone.
He’ll be terribly missed by Finola, Melody and Faye. And by those of us who valued his wit, his sagacity, the significant contribution he made to his country, and his friendship.