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Will Dominic Cummings destroy Westminster? A new party isn't a substitute for revolutionary zeal

This revolution won't be televised (LEAL/AFP via Getty Images)

This revolution won't be televised (LEAL/AFP via Getty Images)


September 20, 2023   6 mins

Can a dissident operate openly within the system he wishes to destroy? For revolutionary-turned-Substacker Dominic Cummings, wrestling with whether or not The Startup Party he has floated on his Substack blog is a mission worth pursuing, the auguries are surely grim. As he correctly notes, Brexit “was a once-in-decades opportunity — election victory on the biggest issue in politics for decades, the biggest government crisis since 1945, clear mandate and need for huge change in economy and government… This combination is highly unlikely to recur ‘naturally’ for many decades.” Yet the opportunity was squandered, and Cummings must share some of the blame: the chosen vehicle, Johnsonian populism, was manifestly unfit for the task, and Cummings’s own political downfall was largely self-inflicted.

It is, in truth, too early to say whether or not Brexit was a net good or evil for British politics: its real effects will not be known for some decades as they work their way through the system, and will be revealed in the state’s reactions to future crises as yet visible only in their barest outlines. Yet it is hard for its supporters not to intuit, already, that it was a Pyrrhic victory on a minor front of what will be a long and gruelling war of attrition. Like Trump’s election, rather than overturn a collapsing system, it allowed the system to consolidate itself in a more ruthless and vigorous form, merely a vaccine allowing the exhausted establishment to eke out another few years of feeble life. The political ferment that followed the Brexit vote has already birthed a handful of insurgent conservative-populist parties, none of which display the slightest possibility of gaining power. Whatever reformist energy Brexit unleashed has long since dissipated itself in draining and tiresome battles between the legions of culture war grifters it spawned. If anything, Brexit proved that the British state cannot reform itself: its decay may be too advanced to permit functioning governance, but the broader SW1 system is still just strong enough to see off any challengers to its rule.

For Cummings, rationalising the failure of his project, the “Insider SW1 network that lives on Twitter” and “revealed a powerful global conspiracy that invented a parallel world and conned voters into believing it” is a natural target. Yet the hard reality he must face is that it all worked: like the parallel Russia collusion fantasy in America, none of its elaborate parallel world-building needed to be true or even plausible to rally anxious liberals to the defence of their threatened hegemonic status, yet it established the still-thriving climate of hysteria which eventually led to his downfall. Ironically, his self-mythologising over the power of data and tech was not markedly different to that of the Cambridge Analytica hoaxers grifting on behalf of the opposition. If Brexit was the result of longstanding mass disenchantment with the country’s downward trajectory, Cummings’s hyping of his own dark data voodoo was just the flip side of Carole Cadwalladr’s elaborate fantasies, just as analytically dubious and ultimately just as politically deadening.

Indeed, Cummings is hampered by being part of the same SW1 bubble he rails against, an insider whose outsider status is only perceptible from a vantage point within the system. Is it true, as he claims, that “it became high status to believe in Cadwalladr?” One would fear for his reading of Britain’s social dynamics if he genuinely believes so. Cummings proposes to campaign against the ECHR to turn the power of the anti-Brexit Twitter commentariat, judo-like, against itself, so that “the pro-ECHR campaign would be the Insider-left-NPC Twitter network and they’d be working really hard for the anti-ECHR campaign every day,” but this itself is a dangerous case of Twitter Brain, and a policy proposal not helped by the unfortunate fact that his chosen adversary is precisely the same force that soundly defeated him last time round. It is difficult to see how a second Cummings-led project will fare any better against the same enemy.

There lies Cummings’s tragedy, and our own: these people, our establishment, are manifestly incompetent, credulous, of middling intellectual capacity at their very best — he didn’t even try to disguise his contempt for them while he was working with them, as Laura Kuenssberg’s new documentary series shows — and yet they beat him. No wonder he wants a second try; and no wonder we should be sceptical. Reading Cummings’s long-teased pitch for party funding, the most striking thing is how modest and quietly conservative his vision is. He wants a functioning state, more receptive to voter demands, tough on crime, strong on growth: but so do we all. Yet the times have changed, the mood has darkened further, and the prospect of reform looks ever dimmer. Back in the 2010s, when history had ended, Cummings looked like a maverick visionary revealing the heretical truths that the British state was so inefficient as to barely function, and would fare disastrously when faced with a serious crisis. Yet these opinions are now so widely held as to be commonplace, and the warning lights are flashing red. As a recent poll revealed, barely half of British voters now believe that democracy is superior to the alternatives, and nearly a quarter would welcome military rule (perhaps this figure would be higher if the British defence establishment were more competent).

It is doubly unfortunate for a Cummings-led reform project that much of his target audience is now enraptured by elaborate conspiracy theories of their own, largely revolving around Covid, in which he was a hawkish voice for locking down longer and harder than anyone else in the party he now wishes to destroy. In the near-decade following Brexit, the general malaise has deepened, the level of political debate has if anything worsened, and the prospect of saving the British political system from its own dysfunction seems less achievable than ever before. Trust in the system has almost completely evaporated. Perhaps, beyond Cummings’s rage at the “Twitter NPCs” who wrecked his project, this is a problem shared by all late-stage democracies whose political discourse is driven by social media: yet no obvious solution is apparent to lead us away from disaster.

So the stakes are even higher now, while the rot is approaching terminal. Cummings, probably correctly, assumes that a Labour government will be at best no more disastrous than the Conservatives, with the result that “the next two years will see a hideous election showcasing the rot of the old parties” so that “Somebody will seize this huge opportunity, for good or ill”. One cannot fault his diagnosis, while remaining sceptical that he is the remedy.

Eager to refight the battles of Britain’s past, Cummings is difficult to place within today’s political context. It can be argued that there are now two strands within the nascent post-Brexit British Right. On the one hand, we have a reformist tendency that encompasses Yimby neoliberals, the online dissident Right who, whether you like it or not, will shape conservatism in the decades to come, and the quasi-Gaullist state-capacity builders who partly overlap with the National Conservative wing. On the other, we have a blackpilled defeatism most coherently expressed by Peter Hitchens, in which Britain is doomed by the compounding errors of previous decades and any attempt to wrest control of the levers of the state is a futile effort: collapse is certain, and only escape is possible. In his proposal for a new party, Cummings bridges both tendencies: perhaps, as he suggests, a data-driven, Midlands-based coalition of small business owners, “NHS heroes” and local headmasters can arrest the rot, or at the very least destroy the Conservative Party in the process; or perhaps it is already too late, and, as he states, “more likely than adaptation is slow rot, elite blindness, fast crisis, and disintegration à la Austro-Hungarian Empire”.

If there is any probability in the latter outcome, then the question arises: why is it worth trying to reform the SW1 system in the first place? Cummings is, unfortunately, probably correct in his perception that “SW1 thinks our political system is very resilient but it isn’t… It’s even more brittle now than a decade ago and [the] dangers are worse.” So why not let his opponents drink the dregs of their own policies? If the SW1 system is so resistant to reform, why bother with a new Westminster vehicle at all? The political beneficiaries of the Habsburg collapse were not found within the Ringstrasse after all: if the crisis is as dangerous as he warns, his solutions seem strangely timid; yet if his proposals are enough to stave off disaster, the danger cannot be as bad as he asserts.

What is striking, then, given all the partly self-inflicted opprobrium Cummings won as a dangerous radical seeking to overturn the system, is his fear that in the “short-term this [project] is unlikely to succeed… But somebody will do something like this. And if it happens in response to the next set of crises — when the financial system melts down, when we have large scale violence because of racial/immigration/terror conflicts, whatever — it will be ugly.” This is, perhaps, an unexpectedly small-c conservative vision from a man often framed as an accelerationist: that our current path is a dangerous one, and that enough of value remains within the Westminster system to make a last-ditch effort at reform worth attempting. For all Cummings made himself a scapegoat for liberals frustrated at Brexit, his project reveals him as less a revolutionary than a reformist, attempting to save an ailing system from itself: a Kerensky rather than a Lenin.

As he states, “the reason I tried so hard 2015-16 and 2019-20 was a feeling of doom about the current system. *I* don’t need to do this. But *SOMEBODY* needs to get us off the track we’re on.” In this, Cummings is entirely correct, and his goal of destroying the Conservative Party is entirely worthy of support. Whether or not the Westminster system can or should be reformed is an unanswerable question at this point; to live in a peaceable, orderly, prosperous, functional society ought to be a modest and easily achievable goal, yet our current political system somehow cannot achieve it. It would be reassuring to think that Cummings can succeed, but it would sadly be prudent to assume that he will not. Perhaps disaster can be averted; we can hope newer, more destructive actors are not waiting in our future. But however the current crisis resolves itself, future historians may interpret Cummings not as the system’s wrecking-ball, but as its last desperate defender.


Aris Roussinos is an UnHerd columnist and a former war reporter.

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Paddy Taylor
Paddy Taylor
10 months ago

The greatest missed opportunity (among SO MANY) of Boris Johnson’s time in No 10 is that Dominic Cummings was not able to achieve his goal of weeding out the Blairite obstructionists who infest the upper echelons of the Civil Service.

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
10 months ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

What did you expect from a bunch of incompetent buffoons?

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
10 months ago

What’s you suggestion boy? Or don’t you have one?

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
10 months ago

“Your suggestion, boy?”
You’re welcome, Racist Grandpa!

William Edward Henry Appleby
William Edward Henry Appleby
10 months ago

Do you have anything to offer, apart from exchanging insults?

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
10 months ago

Paid troll says what?

Charles de Batz
Charles de Batz
9 months ago

He’s not a paid troll, he’s just a troll. Y’all need to stop feeding him.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
9 months ago

Ditto my comments above! “Incompetent buffoons”?! Is that your analysis of the British state’s dysfunction?

Martin Butler
Martin Butler
10 months ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

And they were the only obstruction to the sunlit uplands of a Johnsonian Brexit nirvana. Yes of course.

Marcus Leach
Marcus Leach
10 months ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

No. I would say that in addition to obstructionist civil servants and politicians, a pandemic that killed millions of people and shut down the world economy, which along with the war in Ukraine caused massive inflationary pressures, particularly in relation to energy, and disrupted supply lines that have still not fully recovered, might just have had a negative effect on our economic fortunes over the past three years,

Martin Butler
Martin Butler
10 months ago
Reply to  Marcus Leach

Yes, no doubt without all that Johnson’s serious-minded, conscientious approach to politics would have been able to work its magic.

David Barnett
David Barnett
10 months ago
Reply to  Marcus Leach

It was not the pandemic that caused the problem, but the irrational official response to it, and the concerted suppression of all the rational voices dissenting from the insanity of the official “consensus”. It was “Remain” on steroids.

The responses to Covid-19 were not merely random errors because every single policy was systematically the reverse of the correct one.

The system is very difficult to fix, because our education system now rewards groupthink over creativity. The pool of high-flyers from whom to draw civil servant etc. is a concentration of out of touch savants in a delusional monoculture that believes it has “expertise”. Rare is the individual who can rise above a couple of decades of indoctrination with nonsense.

Can the ruling class acquire the humility to recognise its own incompetence and return some of its usurped power back to the people? Or will they conform to the unfortunate precedents of other decadent incompetent elites whose downfall is born of the social chaos they wrought in their desperate attempt to cling to power?

Last edited 9 months ago by David Barnett
Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
10 months ago
Reply to  David Barnett

As to the question posed in your final paragraph, if one assumes human nature to be mostly fixed, then the latter outcome is far more likely.

Norman Powers
Norman Powers
10 months ago
Reply to  David Barnett

Yup, and Cummings – he who decried civil servants most loudly and wished they’d be replaced with data-using scientists – fell hard for epidemiological pseudo-science. This is a man who thinks he personally won Brexit because he hired a bunch of physicists but has proven he can’t tell the difference between something that sounds like science and something that is.

Dominic S
Dominic S
9 months ago
Reply to  Norman Powers

Indeed so. Eisegesis is no way to be scientific. You cannot start with a conclusion, that way lies twists and perversions of facts to ensure you arrive where you’ve decided you are going, regardless of evidence. A good Protestant exegetical approach is required.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
9 months ago
Reply to  David Barnett

Health and Social Care Committee and Science and Technology Committee
Oral evidence: Coronavirus: Lessons learnt, HC 95
Wednesday 26 May 2021Dominic Cummings: “there was a network of Bill Gates-type people who were saying ‘Completely re-think the whole paradigm of how you do this. Build in parallel’.” Gates among “the most competent people in the world”.
Cummings totally accepted and pushed the “pandemic”, lockdowns (for some), and warp speed rollout of untested, unsafe jabs using unproven mRNA technology.
So no thanks – I’ve no interest in what he has to say.
https://committees.parliament.uk/oralevidence/2249/html/

David Barnett
David Barnett
9 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Cummings is politically clever but does not understand the most fundamental thing about science: Science is about mapping falsehood.

The moment you step into proving the “truth” of a theory, you are no longer doing science.

It is very easy for even clever people (and even trained scientists) to be misled by this crucial subtlety, especially when some of our theories can match experiments astonishingly closely. Useful as these theories are, we can’t say they are “true” in any absolute sense.

In the case of the epidemiological models at Imperial College, they were clearly garbage right from the start.

Phil Rees
Phil Rees
9 months ago
Reply to  David Barnett

It is neither the task, nor the aim, of a scientific theory to provide or discover ‘the truth’. A good theory enables accurate predictions of what will happen, and yes, a good theory will ‘match experiments astonishingly closely’. This was well understood by an earlier generation of scientists – Hertz, Planck, Boltzmann, Bohr, Einstein, and most of the early 20thC giants in the field. Unfortunately modern scientists have moved away from that, perhaps as a result of the adulation by politicians and other ignorant people. Your epidemiological models are an example, and so are the climate models. Scientists don’t deal in truth, leave that to the statisticians who work with models, and note carefully the extent which their models accurately predict anything.

Last edited 9 months ago by Phil Rees
Alex Carnegie
Alex Carnegie
10 months ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

Fair enough. But just firing a few hundred trad civil servants and replacing them with private sector types will not be an improvement. It would just replace one set of problems with another. Out go ineffectual progressives; in come energetic and entrepreneurial influence peddlers i.e. Washington-on-Thames. As in the US much of the system would be hijacked by corporate interests. It would be inconsistent to deplore Pfizer et al over Covid in the US and then introduce the same enabling set up into the U.K. I think you need to propose an alternative system and not just a purge.

David Barnett
David Barnett
10 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

“But just firing a few hundred trad civil servants and replacing them with private sector types will not be an improvement…”

The system is very difficult to fix, because our education system now rewards groupthink over creativity. The pool of high-flyers from whom to draw civil servant etc. is a concentration of out of touch savants in a delusional monoculture that believes it has “expertise”. Rare is the individual who can rise above a couple of decades of indoctrination with nonsense.

Alex Carnegie
Alex Carnegie
10 months ago
Reply to  David Barnett

I agree that it is difficult to fix – though not necessarily impossible – and how originality can be ground out by two decades of conforming. What I suspect, however, is that it is unlikely that transformation will be led from within. So far as I know, the three most impressive examples of Whitehall reform are the Esther/Haldane transformation of the Army and War Office 1905-14, the Next Steps / agencies program in the 1980s and Francis Maude’s reforms in the 2010s. All were driven by outsiders but then acquired internal allies. I accept, of course, that one should not hold one’s breath.

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
10 months ago
Reply to  David Barnett

“Rare is the individual who can rise above a couple of decades of indoctrination with nonsense.”
No doubt you are such an individual?!?! LOL!

Luke Piggott
Luke Piggott
9 months ago

Petty

Kieran P
Kieran P
10 months ago
Reply to  David Barnett

Surely the purpose of ‘education’ has always been to encourage ‘groupthink’?

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
10 months ago
Reply to  Kieran P

Also called “knowledge”.
I realize you guys aren’t too keen on that and prefer coming up with your own dumb ideas. You just keep that up and we’ll just keep ignoring you…

Luke Piggott
Luke Piggott
9 months ago

Sad

David Barnett
David Barnett
9 months ago
Reply to  Kieran P

“Surely the purpose of ‘education’ has always been to encourage ‘groupthink’?”

Yes. However the scope of correct-think was much narrower when I was in school in the 1960s. My special subject (physics) was relatively free. However I could feel the change happening. As I progressed through my scientific training I could see the subtle way the domination of research funding by government grants started to direct the framing of questions.

Today we are approaching Lysenkoism as in the bad old days of the Soviet Union.

Walter Marvell
Walter Marvell
10 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

Correct. The present System (1992, present) represents a complete break with the way the UK was governed up to the 90s. The defining feature was the deliberate emasculation of the powers of national Parliament and Executive; we were now part of the New EU Empire and Blair made this adjustment to make us a more compliant EU Province. Hence the disaster of Devolution in Nations. Devolving powers to Quangos and bodies like Bank of England the Suprene Court, Euro Law and the NHS. Devolving powers to a new army of unelected permanent Regulators. The word is NMI. Why so few fail to recognise this bloodless Revolution is beyond me. The System is now run by the Progressives. Unelected permanent and rich. How to win back freedom from it is the story of our Times. Brexit was a rare kickback by the people but it left them untouched. They still rule.

Guy Aston
Guy Aston
9 months ago
Reply to  Walter Marvell

We are on a slow path to a technocratic totalitarianism. Putting a tick on a ballot is not democracy; we are voting for something that is becoming more and more powerless in the real world. Mussolini formed a system of government that saw the state hand in hand with major corporations. He was going to call it ‘Corporatism’, but hey, that wasn’t catchy enough; Fascism had a much better ring to it. Replace ‘Corporatism’ with ‘Technocracy’, and there you have it.

Chipoko
Chipoko
9 months ago
Reply to  Guy Aston

“”technocratic totalitarianism …”
Excellent concept – so true!

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
9 months ago
Reply to  Walter Marvell

Interesting. The Private Finance Initiative is associated with Blair’s New Labour, but was started by John Major in 1992.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Private_finance_initiative#History
WEF leader Klaus Schwab lauds Stakeholder Capitalism as a public-private partnership.
And at COP26 then Prince Charles underscored the “overwhelming responsibility to generations yet unborn” to mitigate climate change. 

“We know this will take trillions, not billions, of dollars.”

The Prince of Wales says a “vast military-style campaign” is needed to ‘marshal the strength of the global private sector with trillions at its disposal’

https://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/579457-prince-charles-calls-for-warlike-effort-to-fight-climate-change/

Last edited 9 months ago by UnHerd Reader
Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
9 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

Thoughtful comments, thanks. Thank goodness someone thinks the problems of the British state might go a little deeper than some “buffoons” or “lefty Blairite” civil servants or whatever provided by the usual ranters!

Steve Farrell
Steve Farrell
10 months ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

Dominic Cummings seems to believe in his own brilliance. Has he ever done anything to justify this? He always struck me as another self important, power hungry Westminster t**t.

William Edward Henry Appleby
William Edward Henry Appleby
10 months ago
Reply to  Steve Farrell

I don’t think Cummings would survive in a true start-up, entrepreneurial environment. But in Westminster the one-eyed man thought he was a king amongst the blind. Unfortunately for him, they kept the lights off and knew their way around the room much better.

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
10 months ago

That’s rather good. Your own?

William Edward Henry Appleby
William Edward Henry Appleby
10 months ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

Thanks, and yes it is.

William Edward Henry Appleby
William Edward Henry Appleby
10 months ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

Unfortunately, the kinds of opportunities offered by Brexit, for a slimmed down state, tariff and obstruction free global trade and the like, would not appeal to those who actually voted for it. Brexit wasn’t that deep for most people: it was no to open borders and a protest vote against the “elite”.

Last edited 10 months ago by William Edward Henry Appleby
Tom K
Tom K
9 months ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

Blairite obstructionists? Like Fataturk himself?

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
9 months ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

And in that you make an even more limited analysis of our problems than Roussinos argues Cummings does. Just the “Blairites”. Is that it?

This is exactly why the “Right” if such it is is losing so badly; it can’t agree on the diagnosis, resorts to name calling and in some cases daft conspiracy theories.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
10 months ago

Had Cummings NOT panicked over COVID his credibility might have survived.
As it is, he did and it hasn’t.

Mark Goodhand
Mark Goodhand
10 months ago

Correct.
Sadly, it wasn’t a fluke. Cummings is a technocrat at heart, he just wants to be the one at the controls.

Aidan Anabetting
Aidan Anabetting
10 months ago
Reply to  Mark Goodhand

If you read his blog you realise that, for Cummings, to be called a “technocrat” is a compliment.

Josh Woods
Josh Woods
9 months ago

And he still holds those hyper-authoritarian views till this day. Thus the hill he dies on.

Mark Goodhand
Mark Goodhand
10 months ago

Good article.
I can’t agree with this bit, though:

“Cummings, probably correctly, assumes that a Labour government will be at best no more disastrous than the Conservatives”

The Conservatives, especially since Cameron, have been truly disastrous, but Labour will be much worse. They’ll do all the same wrong things, but enthusiastically. Whenever there’s a vote for something awful in the Commons (public health totalitarianism, Net Zero insanity, censorship, surveillance, reversal of Brexit) it gets full support from Labour but faces resistance from a few Conservative MPs.
Against the odds, Conservative rebels salvaged Brexit. If Labour had won in 2019, we’d be back in the EU by now.
A Labour majority will mean even more uncontrolled migration, faster descent into Chinese-style social credit fascism, and more radical efforts to undermine democracy.
I’m afraid I’m black pilled, along with Mr Hitchens. Nothing short of violence will turn the West around. Those of us who liked Britain as it was, and don’t fancy rioting, need to escape before it’s too late.
The question is, to where?

Martin Butler
Martin Butler
10 months ago
Reply to  Mark Goodhand

Blimey you’re good at predicting the future aren’t you? ‘Liked Britain as it was’ is a bit vague. Which period do you have in mind?
I liked the period when you didn’t have to have a rich mummy and daddy to get on the housing ladder, when it was possible to get council housing if you were on a low income, when there wasn’t an insane waiting list to get treatment on the NHS, when food banks weren’t as common as muck, when CEOs didn’t ‘earn’ an obscene multiple of their workers income, when rivers weren’t full of sh**t, when getting a degree didn’t mean taking on tens of thousands of pounds of debt, and so on. It’s of course the Labour party who have been in power for most of my 68 years so it’s them I should blame I suppose.

Last edited 10 months ago by Martin Butler
James Kirk
James Kirk
10 months ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

Labour 23, Cons 43 years since the 50s.

Mark Goodhand
Mark Goodhand
10 months ago
Reply to  James Kirk

Conservatives have a lot to answer for, but most of our current troubles started with Blair.
Conservatives since 2010 have just continued what New Labour started.

Nick Faulks
Nick Faulks
9 months ago
Reply to  Mark Goodhand

Absolutely right.

Luke Piggott
Luke Piggott
9 months ago
Reply to  Mark Goodhand

Blair was Thatcher’s political birth-child. Our woes started with Thatcher-Reaganism

Mark Goodhand
Mark Goodhand
10 months ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

Which period do you have in mind?

My personal favourite years were 2001 to 2005 – good levels of technology and prosperity, before New Labour did most of their damage.

Andrew R
Andrew R
10 months ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

No but New Labour can take a fair bit of credit for it.

Mark Goodhand
Mark Goodhand
10 months ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

I share a lot of your concerns, though I don’t think more government intervention is the answer.
The NHS is fundamentally dysfunctional, and throwing more money at it won’t help.
Before Blair, university was reserved for the truly academically able. In 1980, only 15% stayed in full-time education after the age of 18. It’s much easier to fully subsidise 15% than ~40%, or whatever we’re up to now.
OTOH, I’m fairly sure our rivers are cleaner now than they were throughout the 20th century, and the same goes for air quality (despite the absurd promotion of diesel).
As for the food banks, I suspect it’s a case of “if you build them, people will come”. Take a look around the poorest areas of our country and you won’t find many people who look like they’re short of calories.
I’ll grant that income and wealth inequality are a concern, though we should look for the root causes of that, rather than leaping straight to taxation and redistribution.

Susan Grabston
Susan Grabston
9 months ago
Reply to  Mark Goodhand

We’re seriousy considering going to a rock in the irish sea. Nice.people,.low.tax.and a.parliamentary system.organised to ensure nothing meaningful gets done. Whilst the financial benefits are attractive it’s the suffocation of freedoms of all sorts which will see us.go.

Andrew S
Andrew S
9 months ago
Reply to  Mark Goodhand

If you think Brexit has been delivered in any meaningful way you have very low expectations and possibly a very limited appreciation nof what could be done in the UK without the dead weight of excessive regulatioins, especially EU regs and attitudes.

Martin Butler
Martin Butler
10 months ago

What I find bizarre about this article is that despite all the talk about reform, decline and new political parties, I don’t get the slightest sense of what kind of renewed Britain the author would like to see. Those on the right – which I gather is his political orientation – seem to be great at telling us that things need to change, and I agree on that, but apart from vague generalities no practical suggestions emerge. For example, why doesn’t he propose proportional representation? That would give new parties far more chance. Those on the left and right can at least agree that the sclerotic hold of the two big patties needs to be broken.

Last edited 10 months ago by Martin Butler
Steve Murray
Steve Murray
10 months ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

That’s a very good point about electoral reform. Whilst the argument in favour of FPTP was always that it enabled “strong, decisive government” this can now be increasingly seen as a fallacy, as all Western governments are engulfed within a wider, globalist agenda.

The question is: how might a more representative system come about, to turn the widespread sense of disenfranchisement around? As the writer quotes Cummings as saying, the forthcoming election promises to be hideous; in its impotence and the glaring hollowness of its posturing.

JJ Barnett
JJ Barnett
10 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

I have thought a lot about this, and I’ve decided that I would like to see our upper chamber radically rethought…

The US has 100 seats in the Senate, representing about 330 million people across 50 states.
We have nearly 800 people in our House of Lords, and it appears to operate more like a retirement village for political cronies and donors, rather than a serious chamber scrutinising the output of the legislature on behalf of the citizenry.

I would propose that we abolish the HoL and replace it with an upper chamber of no more than 100 seats, elected on the basis of proportional representation.

I think this could be a good balance, against the FPTP-elected Commons. It would be a lot less expensive, and hopefully more productive. It would mean we have a lower chamber elected by FPTP, which would allow us to avoid the kind of messy coalition stuff that European nations regularly struggle with …but then that upper chamber would be scrutinising the output of the Commons, and if it was elected via PR it should reflect a plurality of views, without impeding basic governance.

What do you think?

JJ Barnett
JJ Barnett
10 months ago
Reply to  JJ Barnett

I would add, another practical suggestion would be to halve the number of Commons seats, and double the pay.

I know it’s deeply unpopular to suggest we pay politicians more money, given the cretinous lot we are governed by currently, but the wages are objectively far too low to attract top talent. All we get is the dullards, the activists, and the silver-spoon types — the ones unqualified for any real jobs.

That’s not a good situation.
We need MPs that have varied life and business experience. I think the era of ‘professional politicians’ demonstrates the folly of the whole idea. The American Founders were men of business and trades. Britain’s politicians were often gentry, with men of business or skill mixed in.
The whole idea of having a professional political class (of people who’ve never done anything except work in politics, civil service, QUANGOs and charities etc) is actually quite a new idea, but the resulting governance has been abysmal, in my opinion.

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
10 months ago
Reply to  JJ Barnett

I like both ideas. Sadly such reforms are way beyond the competence of the current crop.

Pete Marsh
Pete Marsh
10 months ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

They are ideas worth looking into. I just can’t see over 1,100 MPs and Lords voting themselves out of a very very cushy job and pension.
Plus the loss in revenue into party coffers via their influence.

Walter Marvell
Walter Marvell
10 months ago
Reply to  JJ Barnett

A great sentiment (well bar the pay idea). But all too late. This Parliament has been flirting with the abolition of second jobs – but not nurses doctors or anyone in the State sector of course. No. They want to purge Parliament of those in a grubby Diskrimator wealth creating private sector the Ruling Clerisy of Illiberal Progressives (Lib Dem Labour Lords & plenty of Wet Fake Tories) are pathologically opposed too. A range all qualify all life experience – long gone. We live in the Age of the Professional Politicians. And god how it shows.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
10 months ago
Reply to  JJ Barnett

I think that’s an idea that would gather a lot of popular support.
Another variation would be to retain FPTP at Westminster (for the time being) but change local council elections to PR. It’s almost comical watching the small-minded political posturing of local councillors, whose job it is to make sure the bins get emptied and the street cleaned whilst being responsive to local issues affecting their electorate. That would give people a taster of the possibilities for extending PR as far as the national level.
The fudges witnessed elsewhere don’t seem quite as restrictive to good governance now we’ve had a period where so many people perceive UK government as failing the population. It might also have the advantage of dampening down the rabid divisions the MSM seek to exploit for headlines, which has had such a negative impact on the level of political debate.

JJ Barnett
JJ Barnett
10 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Very good point Steve.

Dumetrius
Dumetrius
10 months ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

All they had was Big Dog and the guy who liked maniacally rubbing his hands together.

Not a great menu.

Paul MacDonnell
Paul MacDonnell
10 months ago

Cummings’ attitude to lockdowns, alone, disqualifies him from ever again being anywhere near power.

James Kirk
James Kirk
10 months ago

Please apply that logic to the current top of the polls Starmer.

Josh Woods
Josh Woods
9 months ago
Reply to  James Kirk

Agreed. Both of them(plus many others) have no place near power.

Josh Woods
Josh Woods
9 months ago

Great that you remember Paul. Cummings has surprisingly been spared a lot compared to Hancock when both men have had arguably equal blame(more than even Boris) on pushing lockdowns & masks onto England if not the entire UK in both March-April & October 2020. In fact he was one of the biggest reasons why the UK derailed itself from the Swedish approach. I still haven’t forgiven him for that, and despise him as much as Hancock and the lot at SAGE(and Indy SAGE).

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
10 months ago

Every time I think of the current political establishment in the UK, a line from Roald Dahl’s Matilda springs to mind. Matilda’s parents dislike her to such an extent that they think of her as a scab: something which you put up with “until you can pick it off and flick it away”.
I think the British feel the same way about Westminster and its malcontents.

Last edited 10 months ago by Katharine Eyre
Andrew S
Andrew S
9 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

And the feeling is mutual.

odd taff
odd taff
10 months ago

Our particular electoral system doesn’t reward third political parties. I’ve believed that all my adult life however the success of Nigel Farage and his ad-hoc UKIP party somewhat dented my belief. What he succeeded in doing was to get his political objective without winning power. He essentially used the media and the resulting public pressure to move one of the mainstream parties closer to his views. It nearly split the Conservative party with defections from both the parliamentary party and membership. A similar movement is possible on other issues but it would require someone as strong willed an driven as Mr Farage. I’m not sure Mr Cummings fits the bill.

JJ Barnett
JJ Barnett
10 months ago
Reply to  odd taff

I think it can be done, but as you highlight, it requires a force of personality (like a Mr Farage, or a Mr Trump in the USA).

Surveying the UK political landscape I can’t yet see anyone with that kind of personality yet. :/

This country is crying out for leadership, and there just seems to be a total dearth of rising talent. I think, in part, we’ve made the political and media environment so horribly vicious and high-stakes, that frankly anyone with brains and talent would view it as not worth the trouble. Why jump into a vipers nest, for crap pay and potentially a destroyed reputation if the press decide to cancel you for a joke you told 20 years ago, etc.

Having said that, I suppose the USA is largely the same re the political environment, yet they do have some really interesting candidates running currently — RFK offering real difference in his platform, from the left… and people like Vivek Ramaswamy, full of energy and ideas on the right.

I hope we will see some new faces throw their hats in the ring here, we sorely need it.

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
10 months ago
Reply to  JJ Barnett

“RFK offering real difference in his platform, from the left… and people like Vivek Ramaswamy, full of energy and ideas on the right”
Looks like we have big conspiracy theory fan here!

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
10 months ago

Time for bed boy!
Off you go now.

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
10 months ago

Racist Grandpa! Had a couple of drinks this evening, old boy?

AC Harper
AC Harper
10 months ago

As long as you select the next iteration of politicians from the swamp dwellers the swamp will always be with us. It would be populist to campaign on ‘draining the swamp’ and we have already seen how well that works elsewhere.
You can argue that Brexit was a counter-swamp affair. It took decades of endeavour (and some inadvertent help from the EU) to come to fruition. It is still trying to wade out of the swamp. Perhaps Cummings-led reform is possible but that too might take decades of endeavour. The sooner it starts the better.

Robbie K
Robbie K
10 months ago

My initial reaction to Cummings’ proposal was one of cynicism. Yet, the political landscape in the UK is a wasteland, with all the major parties lacking identity and ideology. I’m uncertain how anyone can get excited or energised by their policy and direction.
Perhaps as we get closer to the general election some patterns might emerge, but right now, I cannot support anyone.
So, go for it Dom, just maybe it will shake things up.

j watson
j watson
10 months ago

Has anyone heard Cummings, or for that matter the Author here, describe what and how they’d reform/change SW1, the ‘political system’ or whatever it is they are raging against such that’d it would make the slightest difference to ordinary folk?
I do fear much of this is ’emperor’s got no clothes’ and the less specific they can be the more others can project onto them a series of gripes with no actual thought through solution. We are in the ‘Age of the Grift’ and is this yet more of the same?
Fundamentally I think Mr Barnard Castle failed to ever say much about what radically he’d do about the UK’s economic model. Does he favour switching more taxation to wealth rather than income (i.e incentivise investment and graft)? Does he favour fundamental changes in how employers are incentivised/made to drive productivity and wean themselves off cheap labour? Long list of course, on which he’s always seemed silent and more interested in cobblering Civil servants. It’s just a straw man approach I fear.

Dominic A
Dominic A
10 months ago
Reply to  j watson

Populism is just so much fantasy football, with steroids, and good enough PR to make people buy it, even though they’ve yet to see the promised game.

j watson
j watson
9 months ago
Reply to  Dominic A

Indeed DA, and Cummings an arch proponent.

Laura Pritchard
Laura Pritchard
10 months ago

An interesting discourse but this …
“it is hard for its supporters not to intuit, already, that it was a Pyrrhic victory on a minor front of what will be a long and gruelling war of attrition. Like Trump’s election, rather than overturn a collapsing system, it allowed the system to consolidate itself in a more ruthless and vigorous form” ……assumes that this was EVER the intent of the Brexit Project. I’m pretty certain it wasn’t. Let’s remember, when it was conceived, to silence the anti-EU arm of the Conservative Party by achieving a resounding mandate to remain in the EU, Brexit wasn’t even a word. Much like anyone assuming Trump’s intent was EVER to Drain The Swamp or even Make America Great Again. Come on, now.

Last edited 10 months ago by Laura Pritchard
James Kirk
James Kirk
10 months ago

Has he offered his services to Tice? Rejected? Reform have a good reasonable manifesto but no one votes for it. No, he’s no figurehead. Voters like a head of hair and familiarity with an ironing board. They remember his trip up north and his BS about eyetests. He came over as an arrogant SOB. UK needs a Head Boy, not a School Bully. Why Alistair Campbell could never be an MP.

Walter Marvell
Walter Marvell
10 months ago

Huh? I agreed with much of this dissection of the failed Leftist State. But it is Cumming’s first mission to destroy IT that warrants support, not the destruction of the hapless Tories, the only viable resistance The first mission was and still must be the overthrow of the EU/Blairite New Model State/Order constructed in the 1990s. It is permanent and unelected and led to the anti democratic EU style rule by Diktat and the growth of Quangocratic Monster Blob. Rishi did more today to batter these charlatans – this arrogant useless Let Em Eat Cake power clique – than DC ever did after the achievement of Brexit. Rishi and HIS useless Tories are- alas – all that stands between us and a limp Labour Party who will happily entrench the powers of the Big Daddy State beyond the point of return, making us yet more Soviet and economically and socially crippled. DC was a mad Robespierre who screwed up terribly on lockdown – reinforcing socialism and the sickly progressive entitlement culture – and then tunneled away like a mad rat on acid into utter irrelevance with his deranged petty party spat with the Fool and his Lady Ping Pong Whatever. This article gets so much right about the horrors of the Progressive New Order system. But only the very useless Tories – the non wet non uniparty types like Rishi – can stop its cancerous spread beyond 2025, not the burnt out comet DC. Today was a tiny first and long overdue pushback.

Martin Terrell
Martin Terrell
10 months ago
Reply to  Walter Marvell

Brilliant précis, if I may say so, although not sure if Rishi is that much less useless than the rest of his party. Opportunism and necessity may help in one or two areas, but I wouldn’t have much faith in this getting us very far.

Andrew S
Andrew S
9 months ago
Reply to  Walter Marvell

I disagree. Thge Tories are not going to be a part of the solution. They are a big part of the problem. Partly because so many of them actually support the same sorts of policies as the left but also and seriously because they act as an anger sink which tricks their members, supporters and voters into thinking they might actually follow policies the people want.

As they did on the EU so with all the other problems noted above, they kept their members and supporters quiet while quietly signing up fopr every EU measure put before them.

As I recall we have had Conservative Party PMs since 2010. Inn those years they have advanced the cause of authoritarian leftism not least by appointing leftists to key roles in the bureaucracy and quangos but never ever a freedom loving libertarian in a usefull role – never.

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
10 months ago

All Cummings represents is an attack on political representation. Those years ago, he simply wanted to bypass the parliamentary Conservative Party and lead a recentred bureaucracy focused on a radical reform programme. Some of his ideas may be considerably more intelligent than Richard Tice’s replacement of N Farage’s EU referendum party but he has no current way to communicate them to a mass, populist audience.

Vern Hughes
Vern Hughes
10 months ago

This really is pretentious rubbish. Either Britain needs a political instrument to demolish Westminster and rebuild a working democracy, or it doesn’t. If it does, get on and do it – a party of the mainstream Somewheres, anti-Woke and anti-Thatcher, can not be that hard to create. Most people know it has to be done, so get serious and down to work. Roussinos, though, never helps us with the task at hand. There are always too many reasons why nothing can be done. It remains infinitely easier to describe the problem than to create a solution. Occasionally, with Roussinos, there is a sense that he perhaps does know what he’s talking about, but by the time you reach the end of a Roussinos piece, the doubt passes and you can be quite confident that he is just a wanker after-all.
This problem is now UnHerd’s problem. At some point, doesn’t it become important to actually do something? To change a decrepid polity instead of documenting every instance of its decay?

Last edited 10 months ago by Vern Hughes
Noel Chiappa
Noel Chiappa
10 months ago

The root of the problem with today’s Western democracies is the voters; they’re moronic children. With such voters, anything that looks like democracy is fundamentally non-workable. There’s a reason the Romans replaced democracy with an Emperor.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
10 months ago

Interesting piece, thank you.

Mark Melvin
Mark Melvin
9 months ago

Opeds like this are the reason I subscribe to Unherd so first of all thanks very much Aris. I find it sickening to have to admit to thinking Cummins is right about quite a lot and had a real chance with BJ to absolutely move things in a better direction. Any direction even. But they blew it. Cummins (like BJ) to me has zero credibility (even though he is likely right about some things) but his schoolyard excuse of why he took that drive from London to Barnard Castle during lockdown sticks in the gullet. Caught bang to rights and being shown as a total hypocrite and then trying to sleaze his way out of it with an excuse my 4-year old might have come up with… words fail me. However I do think he is right about lots of things.
Regarding reforming the useless House of Lords, I do think it useful to not have an elected other chamber. I cannot imagine anything worse about having to have elections about something else. If there are 800 HOL members, why not assign voting rights on a random basis to 100 each year and leave it at that. Change up each year so all HOL members get a chance. May make the whole process more manageable and get over the stupidity of the periodic politically driven honours lists.
Regarding career politicians which is what we have now, why not take a leaf out of another successful civilisation; the Romans. They had a minimum age requirement of 40 for holding public office. Feels about right to me. Not saying the quality was any better but the people would have had to have actually done something in life by then.
Not planning to hold my breath on anything though.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
9 months ago

x

Last edited 9 months ago by UnHerd Reader
Elvis Quinn
Elvis Quinn
9 months ago

Does anyone know what this guy, Dominic Cummings, actually wants to accomplish? Because I’ve been baffled since day one.

Kolya Wolf
Kolya Wolf
9 months ago
Reply to  Elvis Quinn

He wants to make the machinery of government more democratically responsive, functionally agile and forward looking. He considers substantive policy programmes to be secondary to those goals.

Elvis Quinn
Elvis Quinn
9 months ago
Reply to  Kolya Wolf

That doesn’t explain anything.. but I’m guessing that was your point.

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
10 months ago

Arrogance on stilts:
“ … these people, our establishment, are manifestly incompetent, credulous, of middling intellectual capacity at their very best — he didn’t even try to disguise his contempt for them while he was working with them, as Laura Kuenssberg’s new documentary series shows — and yet they beat him.”
No, they did not beat him – Cummings is a weirdo, and beat himself by hitching his wagon to a chimaerical project like Brexit.
When you’ve run out of scapegoats, perhaps you might someday accept that Brexit was a farce from start to finish, cheered on by daydreamers (such as the writer), fomented by cynics (Johnson, Farage) and ridden over a cliff by dunderheads (Davis, Frostie, Trussed-up)
I so enjoy these lachrymose Brexiters, and their long after-life of self-pity and furious, scatter-gun blaming.
With success like yours, nobody needs failure, mate 

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
10 months ago

How are Dom’s eyes these days? Still driving up and down the countryside to make sure he can see?!?!?