by Nathaniel Tapley
On Eurovision night Dominic Cummings released a chunk of his long tweet-thread (as I write this it stands at 55 tweets and he’s still adding to it) on the Government’s mishandling of the early stages of the pandemic. While half of Twitter rapturously watched a series of ever-more-improbable and ridiculous moments, delighted to have some glitz and glamour back in their lives, the rest of us were watching Eurovision. It was exciting to watch this exercise in Cummings’ rewriting of the truth, like a solipsistic Stalin trying to airbrush himself from history, because it’s not something we’ve watched in real time before.
We’ve seen him edit his own blog posts so he could claim to be more prescient about the coronavirus than he was. We’ve seen him pretend that Vote Leave swerved the idea of immigration so it wouldn’t become a festering issue in the referendum campaign – selectively forgetting that a large part of Vote Leave’s campaign was its insistence that Turkey was imminently joining the EU.
While it’s fun to see Cummings testify – and no one will be more pleased than I if he manages to topple Johnson like a lard-filled profiterole off a croquembouche of shame – it’s interesting to watch how many of us are willing to accept probable untruths as long as they serve our purposes.
Cummings, after all, is the man who, with a straight face claimed that he put his kid in the back of the car and drove around to test his eyesight. Presumably, he’d toss his child into a pit of adders to test his reflexes if the adders were at a local beauty spot and it was his wife’s birthday.
So, what are we to expect from Cummings’ testimony? We’ll definitely get evidence given in a voice that sounds like a dial-tone with a chip on its shoulder, or Morrissey’s mother calling him in for a tea that will be eaten in contemptuous silence. We’ll probably get some of his trademark philosophy: that politicians are venal, self-serving idiots, incapable of grasping the mechanisms needed to fix the country, and also that when they become the Government they should be given unlimited power to do whatever they like.
We should also be prepared to be told things that we know are untrue, and then watch the media behave as if they were. Remember last year, when the Government and the Chief Science Officer said that the Government policy was herd immunity and then someone did the maths and they all (including Cummings) pretended it hadn’t been the strategy and sat around saying: “What was that again? Herd… Immunity? No, I’ve never heard of that. Are you sure we weren’t saying ‘Bird Immunity’? That would be good. For birds.”
Now, Cummings has conceded that it was government policy, and he and others were complicit when the Government said that it wasn’t. He says that was a mistake.
Cummings is the man who with a straight face claimed that he put his kid in the back of the car and drove around to test his eyesight. Presumably, he’d toss his child into a pit of adders to test his reflexes
To many of us it looks like an untruth. The sensible commentariat will lap this all up with the feverish glee of people who are going to describe this as “the next act in the Michael Gove story” at parties to make themselves sound interesting and complicated.
So, by the time you read this issue, we’ll have been asked to accept the testimony of someone who has had a surprisingly fungible relationship with the truth, who will have given that evidence scowling like he’s been told off for putting his feet up on the back seat of the bus. It’s difficult to conceive of what might make Dominic Cummings genuinely smile. Hearing that child benefit will be administered on the block-chain, perhaps, or finally getting his hands on the One Ring and outwitting those thieving hobbitses.
It will be yet another moment of performative untruth that we’ll all have to pretend to take at face value because the UK became unmoored from reality around the time of 9/11 and has been flapping angrily in the Age of Grift ever since.
No one is telling the truth, we all know no one is telling the truth and yet we all have to pretend to believe in the untruths temporarily and discard them, laughing, when their untrueness becomes undeniable – claiming only naive simpletons could have taken them at face value. All this because a significant chunk of the population found out that social media made it easy to monetise fantasy worlds.
We don’t really think one-eighth Turkish Boris Johnson was upset about Turkey joining the EU, but we had to pretend we thought he was for a month in 2016. We don’t really think Robert Jenrick believes the size of the flag you display is important, but we have to pretend we think he does. If Robert Jenrick cared about tradition and history and world-beating British industries, he would have used the called-in planning decision to save the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, which had been continually in use since the sixteenth century. Big Ben was cast there, the Liberty Bell was cast there, and there was a proposal on the table to allow the casting of bells to continue there. But instead he’s allowing it to be turned into a luxury hotel, while having to be restrained from forcibly fellating any flagpoles he sees lying around.
We’re in an age of performative dunceitude, where there’s more money to be made in the anti-woke grift or anti-immigrant grift or pro-Brexit grift or the anti-Brexit grift than in taking any principled action whatsoever.
By the time you read this you will have watched a man you won’t believe saying things you already know curated to give a selective version of the truth to a committee pretending to want answers more than short-term political gain, all reported by a media that will say whatever seems most likely to deliver clicks.
And you will have loved it, because it’s the perfect metaphor for the UK today.
Nathaniel Tapley is a comedy writer and performer on the TV shows you hate