In the twilight weeks of Theresa May’s ordeal as British prime minister, a number of commentators were derided for suggesting that a particularly British kind of coup was being hatched.
The passage of time, the selection of a lacklustre cabinet based more on fealty to Boris Johnson and Brexit, but most of all, the tolerated hubris of Downing Street advisor Dominic Cummings, suggests those commentators were more prescient than is comfortable.
There has been a profound change in the character, plausibility, and security of British democracy. It is not possible to see any positives in that evolution. Unfortunately, this realignment may have unwelcome consequences for Ireland as ongoing Brexit negotiations seem more and more like a stage for Johnson’s envoys to leave a die-in-a-ditch impression — only an impression, mind — rather than than one designed to achieve a workable outcome.
Once upon a time, maybe in the old, forgotten gods’ time, it might have been possible to believe that Cummings’ loop-holing of public health regulations, shown by travelling from London to Durham during the lockdown, would have had an immediate result.
It has not. That he has, with the detachment of an over-groomed, over-promoted Trump heir, dismissed any suggestion that he behaved improperly compounds the affront. That he, in his press conference yesterday, continually pointed to the media rather than his own misbehaviour as the source of public anger can only add to that impression.
He has, and let’s not pretend, knowingly leap-frogged everyone in Britain who has risked health to help others, lost jobs or businesses, or were separated from a dying loved one.
This sorry saga should no longer be about Cummings, but about his boss Boris Johnson and those who continue to support him either at cabinet or in the House of Commons. Cummings is, no matter how powerful, still an employee and depends on the continuing imprimatur of the prime minister.
No matter how the voices on the right of British politics dismiss the anger directed at Cummings as a biased mob-and-pitchforks error of judgement yesterday was a day of reckoning for British politics. It is more than sad to record that when that moment came, principle and conscience were absent.