Dominic Cummings, tosser of pretend hand grenades: you’re no war hero | Marina Hyde

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What a pleasure to hear once again from Dominic Cummings, the Conservative government’s Prince Harry, who on Wednesday appears in exile to kick off his searing new select committee series, The Me You Didn’t See.

In recent days, Dom has already been speaking his truth at vast and seemingly interminable length on a Twitter thread in which his inner turmoil is laid bare time and again. Hugely poignant now to look back on the brave face he wore during events of last year and to know that inside he was actually falling – falling apart. Attempts to reach out to people who ran the government, such as himself, seem to have met with total neglect. You can see why ultimately he had to do what any man would do, and move his family to a place of safety: hurtling in a car towards Barnard Castle, wondering if the black circles are sharper on the red background or the green background.

I should say that this is not remotely the look Westminster’s most self-styled hardman has ever been going for. One of the more excruciating things I’ve read about Dominic Cummings – tough field – came last November in the Sunday Times account of his final days in No 10. A colleague told the paper: “Dom’s favourite gesture at the moment in conversations is to pull the pin from an imaginary hand grenade and then throw the grenade over his shoulder as he leaves the room. Everyone is braced.”

Needless to say, in the weeks and days leading up to Cummings’s appearance tomorrow there has been so, so much more war talk. “[Dom’s] basically going to try and napalm him,” was one ally’s warning of what lies in store for prime minister Boris Johnson. “He will shoot to kill,” postured another associate. Even Cummings’s bazillion-word blogs are regarded as one man’s grizzled martial quest, or maybe one of those bear movies that find a lone Hollywood actor fighting for survival on the frontier, and which are basically about the vast waste spaces inside every American dad who cries on the way to the office in his Chevy Tahoe.

Still, back to Cummings, if indeed we ever left him. Here’s another ally on the tough guy’s tough guy: “When we were having all the Brexit battles in parliament he used to compare the remainers who wanted to reverse Brexit to the Japanese soldiers who kept fighting in the jungle decades after the end of the second world war. But now he’s the Japanese soldier in the jungle.” Except, hang on, because he’s also the Viet Cong in the jungle. “It’s like the Americans going into Vietnam,” explained another of Cummings’s friends of the government’s attempt to counter him. “They may be able to drop big bombs, but in a war of attrition, the rebel always wins.” Ooooooooh!

Men are wild, aren’t they? I mean, no offence or anything. But let’s face it. Even so, you’re going to have to settle an argument for me. Which are the biggest dickheads: guys in your workplace who like to think they’re in ‘Nam, or guys in your workplace who like to think they’re in the mafia? Because I need hardly tell you that there is also a wealth of mafia-related imagery currently clustering around Cummings, though if I reprinted even half of that too we wouldn’t have space here for anything else.

Why in the name of their sagging trackie bottoms do all these chaps speak like this? It’s about as convincing as a Guy Ritchie movie. Or to put it into terms Cummings would reflexively understand: do you reckon they were all giving it this big talk on your precious Manhattan Project? I’m trying to imagine Robert Oppenheimer briefing a journalist that actually he was a lot like Al Capone and that his latest paper was going to be the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre. Cummings’s Twitter feed is topped with a photo of John von Neumann, Richard Feynman and Stanislaus Ulam in conversation at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Gotta say it’s quite difficult to imagine any of them leaving the chat by standing up and doing the pretend grenade thing. Then again, maybe you don’t feel so obliged to compensate for this or that when you’re building the first atomic bomb as opposed to bullying Sajid Javid’s spad.

For so long now, the level of self-mythologising indulged in by Cummings and his capos has been off the scale. If we must have machismo, must it be so very poorly essayed? The overwhelming impression is that we have been led by a bunch of raging inadequates. While hardnut talk is sadly understandable in the sort of disadvantaged lost souls who end up being drawn into gangs, it’s uniquely pathetic in the men who have the privilege of running the country.

But to my eyes at least, it does constantly point up a telling absence: there aren’t exactly many parts for women here. My thanks in advance to Those Guys who’ll turn up to go “what about Boris’s policy chief, Munira Mirza?” Like she’s Scarlett Johansson in the Marvel movies. And no doubt Cummings and co would cite Johnson’s partner, Carrie Symonds – or Princess Nut Nuts, as they so artlessly nicknamed her. Incidentally, it must be said that Cummings’s briefing war against the prime minister these days is very “If I can’t have you, then no one can.” Certainly not your fiancee, a woman I’m always half expecting our cosplaying street tough to start referring to as Johnson’s babymama.

As for the key decision-makers during the various stages of the pandemic last year, it’s funny how the blokeishness always becomes most particularly clear when something has gone very badly wrong. Eighteen years ago, I remember watching the parade of thrusting guys from Tony Blair’s inner circle who were summoned before the Hutton inquiry, and wondering where all the women were. And then wondering whether where we found ourselves wasn’t in some part related to the fact that there didn’t seem to be any.

Similarly, one of my overriding memories of the pandemic last year will be the Downing Street podium being taken every single night by a parade of men who know best, broken only on one solitary occasion in many months by Priti Patel. I’m sure there’s some favourite quote from The Godfather or The Deer Hunter that explains why brothers-in-arms are more heroically preferable. But since no one’s winning any Oscars for how it all turned out, maybe it’s worth our wiseguys turning their galaxy brains on that.

Hafta Ichi
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Dominic Cummings, tosser of pretend hand grenades: you’re no war hero | Marina Hyde

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