16 Jun 2014 at 10:34
“My biggest mistake”, said Norman Tebbit about Margaret Thatcher, his voice aching with irony, “was leaving her to the care of her friends”. Cabinet ministers take note. The moment your SPAD goes on a frolic of their own in madcap briefings to ‘assist’ their charges by denouncing their perceived enemies it is time for them to move on. Fiona Cunningham, May’s in house sieve, paid the price for loose cannonry.
But what of Dominic Cummings? As Churchill might have said, “some bull, some china shop”. He is chewing up newsprint for making a personal attack on David Cameron. “He has a picture of Harold Macmillan on his wall. That says it all”. God, the sheer wickedness of it. Or maybe dear old Dom was taken out of context. Perhaps he really said Harold Shipman. I suspect that the lederhosen wing of the Tory party might have secretly approved of the good doctor’s plans to slim down the Health Service and cut waste.
But as insults go this one rather backfires. Under Macmillan, we had low unemployment and a booming economy. And record house building. He also believed that social welfare was like a game of snakes and ladders. When someone slides down the snake the state should be there to give them a ladder of opportunity. I think that I should have his picture on my wall too.
The cruellest jibe was meant to be the remark attributed to Bismarck about Napoleon III, “a sphinx without a riddle”. Actually apart from a little bit of repression to begin with the old boy was rather enlightened. He modernised the French banking system, encouraged savings, gave workers the right to strike and was a supporter of popular sovereignty. And now for the delicious irony, he introduced a national curriculum involving the teaching of Geography, history, the arts, modern languages and sport. Rather radical for those days.I think that I will get a little picture of him for my wall too.
But what is so remarkable about the story is that Cummings is no longer Gove’s representative on earth or anywhere else. He fell off the perch a while ago. It has long been reported that his spell in Whitehall was ‘divisive’ which is code for a ‘bloody nightmare’. Yet although he may well be a devotee of team Gove he is not doing his former boss any favours. And he has form for it. He was alleged to be responsible for briefing against the LibDem plan (which admittedly is well meaning but a little bonkers) for free school meals. Cleggy hit the roof and was considering (not for very long) having the boy arrested for breach of the Official Secrets Act. Ever so slightly over the top. And then Cummings went all swivel eyed about Cameron asking Gove to write a joint article with David Laws singing the praises of state funded Spam fritters for the many and not the few. But if you really want to know where the real antagonism to Cameron comes from look no further than Andy Coulson’s refusal to countenance Cummings’s appointment as a SPAD. Gove slipped him in under the radar after Coulson’s departure.
I would imagine that Gove is utterly mortified that Cummings has become a low level Lord Oakshott. He really is going to give the boy a public smacking. Such strange Cummings and goings.