The Spectator's Notes

What Dominic Cummings gets wrong

24 July 2021

9:00 AM

24 July 2021

9:00 AM

Anyone who thinks Boris Johnson lacks statecraft should pay attention to Dominic Cummings’s attacks on him. They often to seem to show the opposite of what Dom intends. Cummings now reveals that, in January 2020, he and his allies were saying: ‘By the summer, either we’ll all have gone from here or we’ll be in the process of trying to get rid of [Johnson] and get someone else in as prime minister.’ In fact, neither happened. By November, however, Cummings was (to use Mr Pooter’s joke) going; Boris stayed. The winner of the then still recent landslide election victory presumably discovered about his adviser’s seditious conversations and, reasonably, did not like them. He thought he should be more powerful than his adviser and so, when the moment was right, he got rid of him, proving that he was.

Cummings also quotes his boss as saying in October that: ‘We can’t kill the economy just because of people dying over 80.’ I think this revelation is intended to shock us, but should it? The visionary Cummings tends to see only one right path; he does not see that a prime minister’s job is not like that. The PM, to an extent unique in government, must weigh up competing claims before deciding. To clarify his thoughts, he may express them luridly, in private, to his trusted advisers (with a reasonable expectation — disappointed in this case — that they should not be revealed a few months later) in order to test their validity. The claims of the economic and psychological health of the great majority shouldweigh strongly against the danger that thousands of octogenarians will die slightly earlier than would otherwise have been the case. So Boris was not being casual or callous: he was thinking out loud. In the end, he decided to protect the vulnerable at massive cost to everyone else. Given the need to maintain public confidence at a time when no vaccine was available, I think (though not very confidently) that he was right to do so. But he would be much more unfit to be prime minister if counter-thoughts had never entered his head.

Again, we are invited to think that the man is a danger to society because, Cummings tells us, Boris proposed to see the Queen for his weekly audience just when Covid got going. Two points occur: 1. Presumably the Queen and her private secretary are capable of forming their own views on such matters, so the First Lord of her Treasury would not just have strolled in, spreading the virus without warning. 2. Boris didn’tgo to see the Queen; he listened to Dom’s wise advice. So what’s the problem?

On Tuesday, the final objections went in against the attempt by Jesus College, Cambridge, to get a church ‘faculty’ to remove the Grinling Gibbons bust of its 17th-century benefactor Tobias Rustat. Seventy Jesus alumni have served a personal notice of objection to the consistory court of Ely Diocese. The college’s case against the man whose money it still uses is based on the belief that what Rustat gave Jesus came in significant measure from the profits of slavery. ‘We can be clear that Rustat had financial and other involvement in a slave trading company over a substantial period of time, including at the time when he donated to the College,’ says the college’s Legacy of Slavery Working Party. After a considerable amount of work, the objectors have established that this is probably not the case. Rustat’s only donations to the college were given in July 1671 and at some point in 1672. In 1663, he had invested, taking 1 per cent, in a company called the Royal Adventurers (probably because Charles II, whom he had helped in his long exile and to whom he was a senior courtier, was a big supporter). The venture failed in 1671. Rustat lost 90 per cent of the money he invested. He appears to have earned no dividends. Later, in 1676, he invested in a new enterprise, the Royal African Company. That company did trade in slaves, among other activities, and Rustat probably profited about £200 (roughly £40,000 in today’s money) by his death in 1694. For this he will already have been judged by his Maker — who may have taken more merciful account of the habits of the time than the 21st-century dons who still trade on his Son’s name. But it would seem that the college never profited, via Rustat, from the trading, or other exploitation, of a single slave.

In an eloquent column last week, Matthew Parris lamented the death of ‘the dream’ of his youth that ‘in the important things we humans are all the same’. But he should take comfort from the fact that his vision will not die with his generation and was not invented by it. It is one of the most basic insights of Christianity. St Paul explains this in his Epistle to the Ephesians (coincidentally, the reading appointed for last Sunday in Catholic churches). Divisions between Jew and Gentile — i.e. between everyone — are abolished by Christ’s peace, Paul says: ‘Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God.’ Because of this, the Dutch Reformed Church, which supported apartheid, can be described as anti-Christian. So can Black Lives Matter, which explicitly attacks ‘whiteness’.

Millions of people are being pinged, and very annoying it is. But the more worrying question for the future of our country is: how many people have been Xi Jinpinged? It is important to know which academics, civil servants, bankers, corporate executives, local government officials, internet wizards, IT consultants, entertainment tsars, media moguls, defence contractors, scientists, doctors, NGO big-wigs, lawyers and politicians have relationships with the Communist party of China or its proxies. Most of these people are probably not deliberate agents of Beijing’s global power ambitions, but China is trying to use 100 per cent of them as if they were.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10

Show comments