How are you enjoying Dominic Cummings’ mission to dump on Matt Hancock from the greatest possible height? I am beginning to think of it as Operation Moonshit. This week Cummings opted to release a series of WhatsApp messages dating back to the first wave of Covid last year, in which Boris Johnson referred to his secretary of state for health as both “hopeless” and “totally fucking hopeless”. Which at least suggests range.
So, then, to the unbearable hopelessness of Matt Hancock, who somehow still remains health secretary in the most eyecatching miscasting since the Bond movie in which Denise Richards played a nuclear physicist. If you wished to distil the minister’s entire pandemic performance into one six-second clip, you could do a lot worse than this week’s footage of a reporter shouting “Are you hopeless?” through Hancock’s open car window. As the Range Rover pootles off, from the back seat comes the reedy reply: “I don’t think so … ” (Incidentally, I understand that convention states all cabinet ministers have to be driven around in Range Rovers, but surely Matt should be downgraded to an Evoque. Or even one of those toy cabriolet versions you occasionally see in the park driven by some remorseless three-year-old future landlord.)
It goes without saying that the only people who should be defending themselves out of Range Rover windows are football managers on deadline day, when they’ve just managed to push an osteoporotic 37-year-old striker through a medical, and an undisclosed fee through their Swiss bank account. For a secretary of state to be doing it is so ridiculously humiliating that I’m surprised Hancock has not issued a small enamel badge to honour himself.
Cummings, meanwhile, is burdened with glorious purpose, and currently styling himself as some sort of Westminster Loki variant. Although Dom was played by Benedict Cumberbatch in Brexit: the Uncivil War, the character’s self-regard is now so preposterously misplaced that it would seem more apt to shave Tom Hiddleston’s head and bring him on instead.
There is precedent for this in other universes, of course. In Marvel’s, Hulk has been played by both Edward Norton and Mark Ruffalo, with the latter once opining: “Hulk is like my generation’s Hamlet.” Everything’s smaller and crapper in the UK, as we know, which makes me wonder if the role of Dominic Cummings is not perhaps my generation’s Hamlet.
Having said all that, there’s a sense Cummings struggles for audience outside SW1. These days I have taken to spending a lot of time in the MailOnline comments section (present but not involved), and down there the strongly prevailing view of Cummings is that he is a complete rat and so disloyal as to render anything he says immediately discountable. Outside the Westminster bubble that he’s so fond of pricking, these outpourings from the god of mischief are currently being roundly ignored. Or to put it another way, the public don’t want to be told they need their eyes tested by the little boy who cried eye test.
As for what’s next, there’d doubtless be a market for Johnson’s WhatsApp verdicts on Gavin Williamson, but we’ll presumably have to wait for Cummings to release those in the event of the education secretary cocking up exams for the second summer running (he has already cocked up education and catch-up for the second spring running).
All of which brings us to the heart of matters – the prime minister who keeps those he judges serially hopeless in post. Unlike the England football captaincy – a position as operationally meaningless as that of regimental goat – the role of health secretary in a pandemic is a profoundly critical one. Likewise that of education secretary in a period of disrupted learning and life chances.
So to stick with known and proven failures says vastly more about Boris Johnson than anyone else. Despite his matey posturing, the prime minister appears so completely indifferent to the death and myriad forms of suffering his own hopelessness has wrought that he would rather retain Hancock and Williamson as human shields than upgrade his personnel. This is the weak leadership of a man who judges – perhaps rightly – that if he permits the bell to toll for one of his cabinet ministers, it hastens the moment it tolls for him. So he leaves them where they are, ruining further lives and livelihoods with apparent impunity.
Meanwhile, leaks and “friends” of the PM supply us with a constant stream of his moans about money and what a bore being prime minister is. Like “pulling a giant 747 down a runway”, was this week’s gem. Poor Boris Johnson. And – much, much less importantly – poor everyone else.
Read More:Why it suits Boris Johnson to have a cabinet of all the hopeless | Marina Hyde