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Editorial: Cummings's bombshells won't hurt the Tories until we have a real opposition

DOMINIC CUMMINGS has savaged the government he helped bring to power and humiliated the Prime Minister with today’s devastating testimony to MPs.

As Labour’s David Lammy observed, the PM’s former top strategist was dropping bombs “left, right and centre,” depicting chaos, dishonesty and callousness at the heart of government. 

Health Secretary Matt Hancock, he says, was “lying to everybody on multiple occasions.” The Prime Minister “changes his mind 10 times a day, and then calls up the media and contradicts his own policy.” “There wasn’t even a plan to bury all the bodies.”

The criminal irresponsibility described has had appalling consequences for the whole country. 

Most of Britain’s 150,000 coronavirus dead did not need to die. Most countries have handled the pandemic far more effectively than ours and seen far fewer deaths. 

If Britain had suppressed the virus as effectively as China, where fewer than 5,000 people have died from Covid-19 and which has 20 times Britain’s population, we would have recorded just 250 deaths. If that sounds like a fantasy, look at the actual number of deaths recorded in other countries that followed zero-Covid strategies like New Zealand (26) or Vietnam (44).

But we knew this already. The statistics were publicly available. As when we heard that Boris Johnson had said he was ready to “let the bodies pile high,” the inside story we are learning is hardly worse than the facts of which we were already aware.

The problem confronting the left is that these facts have not undermined the Tories’ political dominance. 

Polls at the weekend showed Labour 18 points behind. Sir Keir Starmer did his best to embarrass Johnson with the Cummings testimony at today’s Prime Minister’s Questions, but Johnson brushed off the attack, jeering that Labour was obsessed with looking in “the rear-view mirror.” In a country relieved by vaccination progress and cherishing the renewed ability to meet family and friends, Johnson’s bluster may work.

The whole Cummings episode has echoes of incidents during the Donald Trump presidency; the US leader’s fallings out with former close allies like Steve Bannon and John Bolton prompted furious public retaliation aimed at shredding his credibility. But if Starmer is tempted to take comfort in this he should think again. 

There is no evidence that such rows at the top affected Trump’s popularity. And the ex-president’s outrageous bid to deny the election result helped mask how narrow Joe Biden’s victory actually was. The US’s deep polarisation into pro- and anti-Trump camps is not mirrored here. 

British politics was similarly polarised from 2016-19, but this is not true now, with the Tories enjoying a huge lead in England and opposition to them fragmented both politically and along national lines. 

Will the public turn on the Tories because Cummings says they are a pack of lying incompetents? Many will simply shrug. Political lying has become so established since the Iraq war — ministers no longer even resign when forced to admit they have misled Parliament — that further examples are unlikely to shift voters from one party to another, though they continue to undermine confidence in the political system itself. 

The only way to surmount this is to address that lack of confidence directly, by challenging the political system. Labour’s 2017 vote surge and the huge expansion of the party under Jeremy Corbyn showed the appetite for a “different kind of politics” was sizeable. 

That a mass campaign delivered by hundreds of thousands of activists could cut through political apathy and a word-of-mouth movement for change could engage workmates, neighbours and friends.

The left will not land a punch on the Tories unless it can embrace the politics of mass mobilisation again, starting with showing support for a real alternative through maximum turnout at the People’s Assembly demonstration for a new normal on June 26.

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