Has Cummings killed populism in the UK?

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Let’s ignore the personalities of the current political debacle for a moment. The ‘who knew what’s?’ and ‘who was where?’ are not the really big issues of this moment, even if they will need to be resolved.

The current political crisis was going to happen at some point. It is an almost necessary event. It is the point when the neoliberal assault on government by a privileged, populist few comes face to face with the population. And the population is shocked by the revelation.

Populism has always been about an act of political deception. Those from an elite pretend to be anti-elitist to attack ideas that the democratic mainstream has decided to ignore because of their obvious practical, economic, social and ethical unacceptability and do so by playing to base instincts, claiming that common sense is on their side and if only those in power were swept from it then those who feel their opinions are ignored will get the government and country they want and deserve, which just so happens to be what those in the elite promoting these ideas think those people should have.

There is sham, fake and condescension written all over populism. If ever there was a form of politics that dismissed the interests of people more resoundingly, it has not been given an airing for a while. This is the new arrogance of those who in previous eras built the dictatorships, saying they did so for the people, without necessarily bothering to check that this was the case.

In every such case there was a reckoning. The people realised that they had been conned. Usually there was some pain involved in the process.

My suspicion is that the pain of Covid-19, coupled with the eye-opening actions of Cummings and Johnson, has given rise to that awareness amongst people that they have been conned.

The Tory Party is not the one they voted for in the past. It has culled that past.

The actions of this Party are not those of the one-nation Party many who vote for it think it to be.

The decency and honesty that is the public perception of the gentle Tory, that has been used to successfully challenge the brusque Labour candidate, is not now seen.

The idea that trickle down worked, which the Tories promulgated and which many believed and were willing to tolerate is not seen when those in power consciously play by different rules that they deny to everyone else.

These things are now being appreciated. What is left is the revelation of a leader in hock to an utterly self-interested sociopath with a loathing for almost everyone and a dedication solely to his own self interest, who treats rules and law with contempt as they are inapplicable in his case. And alongside this there is the awareness that the government is made up of people of quite extraordinarily low calibre whose sole quality is obedience.

This revelation shatters the myth of populism that was, so recently, sold. The myth was of liberation. The delivery is the opposite: it is a requirement of compliance whilst the master shall play. And that is precisely the model that those who subscribed to Cummings’ populism had already had more than sufficient of.

It does not take much effort to find widespread anger about what has happened. It is not party political to say it. This anger is being expressed across the political spectrum, from the Anglican bishops onwards, to the very core of the populist cause in the flag waving Daily Mail. Cummings’ contempt is being reciprocated by the bucket load.

Dies that mean the end of populism? Who knows?

Will it spell the end for Cummings? I really cannot see how not: no adviser has ever survived such a crisis before now, from Alistair Campbell inwards.

Will that mean Johnson goes? I suspect it does. He is already crumbling, as his dire media performances (and long absences) make clear. The very real possibility that he is without the ability to be prime minister is becoming daily more apparent.

And how long will this take? These things grow exponentially, faster than pandemics.

And then what? The Tories still have a thumping majority. But I doubt anyone close to Johnson would be remotely acceptable to the Party or country now. I go back to Hunt.

But more important, I suspect a very strong backlash against populism. And that puts Brexit in play. And then a new political era.

264 miles may have never have mattered so much.