Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

The ‘Affaire Cummings’ becomes an organic crisis of government.

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“I have constituents who didn’t get to say goodbye to their loved ones; families who could not mourn together; people who did not visit sick relatives because they followed the guidance of the government. I cannot in good faith tell them that they were all wrong and one senior adviser to the government was right.”

The December Conservative Victory was followed, on the left, by many people thinking about the reasons how and why a section of the Labour vote, and a larger group of working class ballots fell in behind Boris Johnson’s Get Brexit Done campaign. Some, of the pro-Brexit and would-be populist left took the Tory triumph as proof that there position was right, and followed it with the not unexpected claim that pro-Second Referendum campaigners betrayed the masses by not taking up the anti-EU ideas which they had helped to legitimise.

There is a serious debate on how, in Gramsci’s terms,”At a certain point in their historical lives, social classes become detached from their traditional parties..” (1) Comparisons between the former Red Wall and the former bastions of socialism and Communism in Northern France would be made by referring to Didier Erbion’s autobiographical and sociological and literary masterpiece, Retour à Reims (2009. new edition 2018). You can read the introduction to the English translation, 2018, and some of the text here.

Much of Erbion’s book is about growing up gay. The broader political message deals with the way national populism, (the Front National, now the Rassemblement National) has garnered support in areas that were formerly left wing. In the UK, a brief surge in the Brexit Party support in last year’s European elections, perhaps bolstered by its own’red-brown’ wing, was followed by the Tories, aided by the ‘strategist’ Dominic Cummings, successfully gathering up the national populist constituency for itself, and restoring traditional Conservative rule.

One message of  Retour à Reims captured is not that the left needs to articulate, give voice to, the prejudices of the electorate. That is, to give a British context, re-casting anti-immigration demands as a a slogan, “workers’ control of migrant labour” (as, say the Socialist Party or the Morning Star have put it in various forms). Nor that the left needs to organise protests that will make the right melt away – indeed they spectacularly did not disappear, but were present and influential in the Gilets Jaunes movement. It is that we need to change the conversation to areas in which the populists, nationalists, and far-right, are unable to offer answers.

Some of this seems shunted to the side by the Coronavirus pandemic. This has deeply affected everybody, across Europe, across the world. Faced with the gravity of the issue few wished to play political games.

But now we can see the  development of another ‘Gramscian crisis”, a major crisis of authority with the Johnson cabinet’s failure in a “major political undertaking”.  National populist slogans, hostility to the EU, alignment with the gibbering Trump,  have been shown as empty.

Above all Johnson’s cabinet is visibly unable to deal with what has become the Affaire Cummings.

It is tricking down, from the Cabinet’s loss of authority, to the uncertainly and confusion  about state governance of health and loosening the lockdown.

At the heart of the matter is the figure of Dominic Cummings.

The New Statesman Martin Fletcher wrote on the 24th of May an acid summary of the way the newly elected Prime Minister had dealt with the issues raised

He stated,

Under no other prime minister in living memory would Cummings be allowed to stay in his post, but this scandal has ripped the mask off this government’s face. It has exposed its true nature – its shamelessness, its arrogance, its deceitfulness, its contempt for “the people” that it claims to champion, the utter cravenness of its ministers.

Cummings himself has displayed not a jot of contrition, though he has built his career on bashing the sort of metropolitan elitism of which his behaviour is a prime example. He seems happy to pose as the “champion of the people” so long as he does not have to live like them. Using pliant journalists on rival papers he has sought to dismiss the revelations in the Guardian and Daily Mirror as “fake news”, though they were manifestly true. He has mocked suggestions he might resign in a manner that suggests the Prime Minister has no say in the matter.

Things have got a lot worse since that time.

Here are some of the countless tweets that followed the Cummings Press conference yesterday – for which the Special Adviser was 30 minutes late.


This stands out:

The way the remaining Ministers are carrying on will only add fuel to the flames,

Coronavirus: Dominic Cummings was ‘wise’ to test his eyesight with trip to Barnard Castle – Gove

Mr Gove said Mr Cummings was “wise” to make the trip with his wife and child from Durham to Barnard Castle as he wanted to “make sure he was comfortable behind the wheel” before driving back to London.

In these conditions we do not need rhetoric, Counterfire style, about the ” worst peacetime disaster in modern British history.” or the People’s Assembly’s grand claim to create, a ‘People’s HQ’ on Covid-19.” aligned around pro-Brexit forces who helped the Tories into power.

Something a lot more serious should be on the cards.

It looks as if this crisis is not going away, it is deep rooted, and needs a Labour Party not just to protest (as the People’s Assembly asserts)  but to develop its own internationalist projects for the ‘major undertaking’ of facing up to the pandemic and its aftermath. 



(1) Page 210. Selections from the Prison Notebooks. Antonio Gramsci. Lawrence & Wishart. 1973.





4 Responses

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  1. O’Toole touches the rawest of nerves:

    “f Cummings were half as smart as he is supposed to be, he would have shown in his press conference some glimmer of understanding that this kind of betrayal is of a completely different order to the one he and Johnson engage in so routinely. The ordinary treachery of saying one thing and doing another – there will be £350m extra every week for the NHS; there will never be a border in the Irish Sea – is mother’s milk to them. Perhaps because it is so habitual or because they are so used to getting away with it, their sense of how it works has become dulled. They missed the crucial fact that this time it’s different. This time it’s personal.”

    “As the Catholic church found in Ireland, people don’t forgive this violation of the sense of meaning that gives dignity to their own sufferings. They don’t forgive because they can’t forget. This kind of betrayal is not just an event out there in the public world of media and politics and power. It is an experience that happens to every citizen individually and privately. It is not possible for people to think about it without thinking of love and loss, of the grief they have felt and the intimacies they have foregone. To do so is to hear, as the soundtrack to the images stored from these months in the mind and the heart, an unpardonable snigger of elite condescension.

    Andrew Coates

    May 26, 2020 at 6:29 pm

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