Before Dominic Cummings displayed great villainy in a rose garden – like Donald Sutherland in the Hunger Games before him – myself and many others had already begun to suss out that this man, this bald man seen standing ominously behind Boris’ shoulder like a vulture looming over a dying buffalo, might not be as clever as everyone desperately wants to believe he is.
It was a tepid September day when I freed myself from my usual schedule of hate-reading Alt-right Twitter and eating dry Weetabix.
The outcome of my hard-spent weeks cultivating my own moral outrage – and feeling like a reassuringly nice man – was about to surface and detonate, like a sea-mine taking down a Burmese fishing vessel that was mistakenly believed to be an aircraft carrier.
The fishing vessel himself was sat on a plastic folding chair typing mysteriously into his phone, casting a long and bulbous-headed shadow over the stage. I had taken a seat near the back of the converted University theatre, precluding me from the inevitable audience sing-along segments but also ensuring I would be the trailblazer of any mexican waves.
It felt uncanny watching the object of my tireless research occasionally dig around in the nostril of his hawkish nose and inspect his findings, but I then realised that precise action paralleled my own tireless research into him. I was filled with a sense of sickening kinship, which threatened to completely blast apart my journalistic integrity. That fucking wanker.
I gripped my press badge tightly, my fingers beginning to bleed on the sharp edges of the tuna can lid I had assembled it from. My contemporaries – who by this point had politely asked me to stop calling them that – noisily scraped their chairs a little away from me, leaving me an island in this violent sea.
The host, master of ceremonies and also Vice Deputy Chair of Political Science for Durham University took to the stage,
“Hello hello, we’re sorry for the delay, just a little bit of, er, technical issue” She smiled nervously, blinking in the lights that only a week prior had scorched the faces of some Sweeney Todd cast-members screeching about pies. Comparatively this was all a bit of a morbid affair.
Dominic, my beautiful and twisted fishing vessel, sneered and – not realising his lapel microphone was on – muttered “I think you’ll find that should have been a plural, you insipid amoeba”, and nodded his head and sniggered a little.
The room collectively added that moment to their off-the-record memoirs before the speaker awkwardly continued, wringing her hands like an apologetic bailiff at her first day on the job.
“My guest really needs no introduction. Some call him a guru and others call him a shepherd of lost souls, both of which I’m sure he adores” – a ripple of middle-class chortling spread through the audience, and I coughed up a bit of phlegm – “he is the chupacabra of Westminster, the dark magician of the Leave Campaign and is known for his controversial opinions on, well, everything. So guard your livestock, lock up your local MP, and join me in welcoming to the stage, Dominic’s Cumming – I mean Dominic Cummings!”
She shot a sideways glance at Dominic and raised her hands in greeting, but he seemed preoccupied writing a blog-post about how the postal service is a bit like a vacuous cell-membrane.
He raised a finger, finished typing and let out a moist smirk. He got to his feet methodically, picked up his enormous stack of books with large-print covers – so we could read the titles and the well-regarded authors – and walked up to the stage. His toe clipped its edge, however, sending the books flying and skidding to the feet of the front row. He followed, giving ample time for the books’ impressiveness to fully sink in.
Like Sandra Bullock in a 1990s romantic comedy he began to gather them up apologetically and with performative blustering – “Oh sorry Diana from the Guardian, could you slide over my The Glass Bead Game by Herman Hesse, yeah cheers – and oh, Tony from the Mirror, be a ducky and pass me my first edition The Prince by Machiavelli would you, good lad yes nice to see you” – The list went on in that manner for quite some time.
I leant back my head to watch this curious site, to watch this kobold man tirelessly list off all of the Russian moralists like a coked up auctioneer, and occasionally tap his finger on a cover and say things like “this is a right belter this one, I finished it in one Sunday afternoon” about Anna Karenina. This was classic Dom, and I wouldn’t be hood-winked like the rest of these neo-liberal sheeple giggling into their cappuccinos.
I turned to share this humorous thought with my neighbour, but found nobody closer than fifteen feet to me at this point. Unabashed, I crushed my third can of Monster Energy and turned back to the stage, the fishing vessel careening smoothly into harbour. I actually said that last bit out loud because it sounded so fucking good, to the scorn of my short-sighted contemporaries who emphatically shushed me.
“If Brexit was like an icy comet, and British Politics was a Class M planet in the goldilocks zone, then -” he whipped off the sunglasses that he must have put on during my mental deluge and threw up his hands ” – I am the fucking tardigrade!”
I cautiously waited and observed before initiating the first mexican wave. There is the scratching of pencils on notepads – startled, I went to do the same, found I had no pencil or notepad, then imitated the noises with my cheeks and tongue.
He arched his eyebrows and pressed on self-consciously, “You know, because I’m the progenitor of new life and that. And the comet hit the planet also. Meaning I er” – He took a rattling breath – “I inseminated that old uh, that old primordial goo” He took a breath, “I am not articulate”
More pencils, more cheek and tongue.
“The sciences are – as I’m sure you all know – of dear importance to me. In my seminal” – there is a chorus of giggling from the crowd that I loudly participate in – “online blog essay, Some thoughts on education and political priorities, I drew heavily on my Promethean ideas of the seizing of education in a bid to make it more Odyssean, to give greater er er emphasis to Pre-Socratic disciplines such as neurology, biochemistry and evolutionary biology, as opposed to those collectivist girly musings by Aristotle, Plato and Descartes. I for one think this will help shift the balance of power away from all those bloody Classics students!”
He bravely faced the waves of irony crashing on him like Don Quixote facing those sheep he murdered.
“Let’s address the elephant in the room eh? Who’s seen my movie?” – a shockwave of panic and discomfort – “I er of course mean the measured and discursive text, Brexit: The Uncivil War?”
My hand scornfully shot up, followed by three laissez-faire limbs a while after.
“When I, of course played by Benedict Cumberbatch – a man noted for his ability to perform a high IQ exceptionally well – pressed my ear to the ground to hear the rumblings of the discontent of the working classes – that actually happened and anyone who says it didn’t is a Trotskyist sap – it represented my deep and thorough research into evolution. Not that I saw the movie myself, I was far too busy looking at graphs”
He cocked his leg and balled his hands up into tight little fists with furious white knuckles, “Myself and Darwin – and Benedict – have observed the panoply of human nature through the stark and undeniable lens of the chimpanzee, and would you like to know what we all found? That a troop of chimpanzees – who have mixed feelings about, say, the exact tree they take their lovely mangos from and how – when rigorously targeted by a constantly whirling apparatus of deceit and hatred will believe false things and hate each-other.
What’s more, we found that when you then separate those chimpanzees into separate little boxes and show them different things, one side won’t know what the others are seeing. And lastly, the most brilliant move, when you hire an enormous suite of targeted data-modelling firms and trace the fringes of legality, you can get pretty much any old thing done”
He turned on his heel and swept out his arm, like Joaquin Phoenix going for his Academy Award. I shouted that clever cultural reference to the accolade of all, who were so struck by the wit they had to bear it in turgid silence.
“But let’s stop bullshitting like French literary analysts, to coin a phrase exceedingly well, and get down to it. The Brexit Referendum and the campaign for Vote Leave was just one example of the numerosity of applications for a polymathematical approach to politics – and policy implementation as a larger field. Let’s be honest here, alright – most of our elected MPs tend to be Classics students, or disciples of the Oxbridge PPE course. This exposes a wound in the manner in which Westminster is run, where politicians often have no numerical or statistical knowledge to draw upon when forming their opinions” – I leaned forward, falling for it every single time – “When Steve Jobs” – I leaned back again, angry at myself – “When he came back into Apple, he told them to simplify. Scrap all of the various projects they had in exchange for narrative simplicity. The public crave narrative simplicity, they want to have a short phrase or slogan that epitomises the actions of large bodies. And if that isn’t the picture of a well-functioning democracy, then, well, just fucking sod off or whatever, peons”
He turned on his heel again, this time facing stage-right, and in his typical counter-cultural fashion he was now solely facing the Vice Deputy Chair of Political Science for Durham University as he said “Sack them all!”, saliva dripping down his chin and his arms flailing about.
She smiled quizzically, and he quickly realised what he was doing then turned back to face us.
“Most of these people, MPs I’m talking about here, have no experience with running an enterprise or large-scale operation at all. They’ve filled their minds with rubbish, bloody, talking about Lacan over dinner and giggling at me- men like us.
If they had instead spent that time diverting large amounts of money overseas to avoid taxation and fiddling people out of three minutes of their flexi-time allowances, they might find the whole Westminster malarkey more manageable!
And no cohesion of goals! A party’s in for five years and then out again, they have no reason to put in large, decades spanning projects that might genuinely improve things” – the bastard had me again, but I quickly came to realise the alternative is a one-party nation.
He then blithered and blathered about his favourite subjects; Steve Jobs again, Richard Epstein, how much he didn’t care about public opinion, that one time he told Cameron to go suck on a goose egg. It was all very typical and lovely Grand Vizier faire.
He finally opened up the floor to a Q&A. He took out a crumpled bit of A4 paper from his deliberately shabby pocket.
“I have a list here of who is permitted to ask questions of the Dom- er, rather, a formal list of questioners to help cohesion. First up, Nedric Castlekeeper of Landlords Gazette”
A chinless visage stood and bowed.
“Dom, how do you get so bloody clever?”
A split-second slide was projected onto the back-wall that said “fucking clever”, Dom burying his face in one of his hands.
“Oh, terribly sorry, fucking clever?”
Dom stroked the bridge of his hawkish nose like a Roman legionnaire deciding whether to burn down a ritual circle.
“Reading, project management, my natural genetics – Next, the honourable Sir Pembly of Wembly from The Spectator, who definitely does not know my wife”
An eerily similar chinless visage rose up, but this time with elbow patches attached.
“And I hope Mary is doing very well. Mr. Cummings, how do you respond to accusations that you have an incredibly high IQ and are very good at ice-skating?”
“You’ve been talking to Benedict, haven’t you! Yes, I regret to say it’s all true”
The maximum amount of friends, former colleagues of his partner and political wackos who happen to align with him took their turns, stopping before it became a tad suspicious.
Dom rolled his eyes upon glancing at his fish and chip wrapper scrawled on in biro.
“Terri Kindhobs, of the Well-Intentioned Liberal with Vested Interests Gazette”
She stood, adjusting her clean glasses.
“Mr. Cummings, do you feel regret?”
“No. Next question, Michael Woodbarrow of The Graduate who Once Went to a Socialist Meet-Up in Uni but Thought it was a Bit Fringe Observer”
He stood, adjusting his clean glasses a bit more than Terri.
“Mr. Cummings, regret, do you feel it?”
“No thank you, next up is-“
More liberals, more soft-balled questions, finally there were three minutes allotted for the people who didn’t all turn up in the same carpools. My hand shot up amongst a sea of other nervous looking mid-twenties people in jeans. Miraculously, he pointed to me, checking his watch with utmost gravitas. I stood, knocking over a self-made pyramid of Monster Energy cans, ready to slay the leviathan.
“My fishi- Mr. Cummings, do you think that despite your manifesto calling for a period of investment into education and the sciences – which undoubtedly the middle-classes and above would feel most of the benefits from – would you agree your entire ability to sway the general public with such simple, logo-esque platitudes is representative of a faltering democracy where the masses have been carefully hypnotised into hating one another instead of the self-styled architects of ideas, and to directly vote against their own interests? Furthermore, do you feel that your corrupt and awful track-record of bullying staff, mass-deception campaigns and exploiting arcane loop-holes in our parliamentary system to push your agenda is all in service of some vague greater good, which I’m sure you believe morally excuses yourself for a surge in far-right terror attacks that directly related back to your own callous salt-rubbing into long-standing cultural wounds? Do you feel that even the very notion of Take Back Control as a message is the equivalent of poisoning the water under the slogan Clean This Water? Can you at least admit that there is nothing democratic about our democracy, when you yourself hired a pirate’s crew of data-thieves and digital hypnocriminals to contort all chances of a reasonable debate?”
He looked contemplative, or perhaps irritated, or perhaps hungry. He looked then startled, and said “Oh sorry, I missed all of that. I think the base question was if I feel regret, so I’m going to say-” He smirked and clicked his presentation bopper again, the word NO projected in big letters. Arial ones in fact, that practical fuck.
“I’m afraid all of that white noise is about the last bit of time we have. Let me conclude by saying, like the majestic tardigrade, I am also indestructible. Thank you, Durham!”
I missed my chance to be part of the ensuing mexican wave, as I had already been clubbed by a baton and put into one of those woolen body-bags like in Brazil by Terry Gilliam.
And what I realised there, leaking Taurine like a horrible slug while being dragged away by two zero-hours contract workers, is that the establishment – and all counter-polemical aspects of it – desperately needed to think of Cummings as very clever. If, as my suspicions were, he was in fact an over-inflated Skeletor screaming “nyehh” at hundreds of people who were cleverer than him, and he simply had a bathtub moment where he realised the same tactics people use to sell Big Macs could be effective in politics, then both sides of the liberal agendas had lost.
The right-wing would be made to look like the culturally left-behind assembly of Muppet Babies we all know they are anyway, and the husk of the Labour party would have to admit they are playing a game that has been carefully designed to ensure they lose.