A week is a long time in politics, so the saying goes. And what a week we’ve just had.
First, Joe Biden was announced as the next President of the United States of America, having won control back from tantrum throwing Donald J Trump.
Secondly, in the news that I think we’ve all been waiting for more than anything: a potential vaccine for Covid-19 has been found. Of course, it has been developed by one of those massive pharmaceutical companies, Pfizer, so we can expect to be charged an arm and a leg for it: Tim Berners-Lee they most definitely are not.
Now I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade, but as it happens, I have some experience of Pfizer products. Back in the mid-2000s they manufactured a course of tablets designed to assist people wishing to quit smoking, as I did. I’d heard about this magic pill, asked my GP about it, and he prescribed me some. I was instructed to continue smoking my normal amount everyday for two weeks, taking half of one of the tablets for that same period. Then, stop smoking and increase dosage to take a whole tablet each day. The pill would, so the bumph said, quash the desire to smoke.
I utterly failed to give up as a result, soon sliding back to my bad old ways. To be fair, I don’t think that Pfizer had reckoned with quite how dedicated to smoking I was back then.
One of the reasons I failed to quit on that occasion was because the tablets made me feel really nauseous. Ordinarily, when I’d had a few too many drinks and felt pukey, I rarely reached for a cigarette, so I did wonder if that was the masterplan all along: make the patient feel unwell so they don’t want to smoke.
Shortly after this latest of many falls off the wagon, I decided to give them another go, and returned to my GP to ask for a new prescription, only to be told that they no longer prescribed this course of tablets. He was a little evasive as to the reasons, but I was told by a friend who worked in the NHS that there had been reports of multiple people, almost exclusively men, who had been prescribed the same drugs as I, and who it later transpired were vulnerable in terms of their mental health. Placed on a course of these pills, the rumour went, they either had violent, psychotic episodes or they committed suicide, or both. Although (I hasten to add) no link was formally identified, I gather there sufficient concern to lead GPs to refrain from continuing to prescribe them to anyone.
Now, I am not for one second saying that the Covid vaccine is going to have the same effect, in fact it seems extremely unlikely that it would, given the (anecdotal) history I’ve just outlined. I’m sure we’ve all noticed a much greater focus on people’s mental health during lockdown than I can ever remember happening before, and that’s to be welcomed; but – as with any new drugs rushed on to the market – we need to make sure all testing is done to ensure that there are, if not none, then very limited side-effects.
I guess what I’m saying is we should be cautiously optimistic. Let’s not all go wild and drop our guard: we should continue as I hope you all currently are: wearing our masks, socially distancing, washing our hands, and only leaving our homes for essentials. In other words: don’t get carried away, or, if you prefer, just play it cool :
Speaking of getting Carried away (see what I did there? No? Ok, we’ll come back to this…), thirdly, this:
I wrote in my recent post about the American elections that suddenly both social and the mass media appeared to have developed spines, and this seems to have spread to the UK as on Friday night Prime Minister Honey Monster booted out his right hand man and architect of all things dastardly Dominic Cummings.
I’ll admit that when the kernel of this story first surfaced on Thursday, I assumed it was a No 10 tactic to divert attention away from the most unwelcome news that the UK was the first country in Europe to pass 50,000 Covid-related deaths.
Yey! Go Us! Number 1!! Whoo-hoo!
It seemed such a non-story, a bit of in-house cat-fighting as Lee Cain quit after having his promotion from head of communications to chief of staff was blocked by Johnson’s fiancee, Carrie Symonds (OK, now do you see what I did there??).
First things first: who the heck is Lee Cain, and why should we give a monkey’s about him quitting? Well, he was the former Vote Leave campaign official who started out as a tabloid journalist with The Sun. After a short period of employment with The Mirror where he was employed to dress as a chicken to taunt David Cameron (surely a pig would have been better…), he went on to work for the Vote Leave organisation in the run-up to the 2016 Brexit referendum. He was the Head of Broadcast for the successful push to quit the EU, working closely with campaign director Dominic Cummings.
Let’s back up a moment here. I’m sure you noticed it. He worked for (right wing rag) The Sun and the (left wing rag) The Mirror. This is not a man whose CV screams “consistent political allegiance”.
Let’s back up a bit more and just remind ourselves that Vote Leave, under Cummings and Cain’s supervision, were fined £61,000 and referred to police for breaking electoral spending laws.
At this point, I have to say I’ve made my mind up about Cain: he’s a flim-flamming charlatan, a law-breaker, seemingly more interested in progressing his own career than, say, doing what is best for the country. To me, he is absolutely not someone that I would want to have anywhere near power.
Not a view shared by those in actual power, it seems.
Having made the switch into Conservative politics, he then found PR roles at the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs under Spitting Image-puppet made flesh Michael Gove – presumably because he wasn’t one of those ‘experts1 Gove announced we were all so tired of – and very briefly at Downing Street under Dancing Queen Theresa May.
In 2017 he left to join Johnson as his spokesperson at the Foreign Office. When “Boris” walked out of the cabinet – he’d run out of countries to offend, if memory serves – Cain walked out with him, even working without pay for a short period, telling journalists that “the boss would come good”. What a martyr.
Note: if you can afford to work for a period, no matter how short, without pay, you were probably being paid too much to do the job you left. Just saying.
When Johnson made it to No 10 last July, Cain landed a key job – Head of Communications – in the inner circle. He was identified as the “evil genius” who put his old mate Cummings forward to become the PM’s most senior adviser.
His exit from No 10 followed Allegra Stratton’s appointment as the government’s spokesperson for new White House-style TV briefings. Cain is said to have had a hissy-fit and flounced out several days ago, insisting that he must get the job of Chief of Staff since he would be side-lined on communications by the arrival of Ms Stratton.
In a bid to keep Cain in a job, it was rumoured that Cummings had threatened to go too. And here’s the problem: after Cummings’ infamous drive to Durham, followed by a further drive to check his eyesight when the rest of the country was in Lockdown 1, in the face of popular public opinion, Johnson decided to stand by him. Consequently, the man thought he was bullet-proof.
Much as I love the Poppies, it’s incredible to think that band member Clint Mansell is now one of the most respected film score composers.
But I digress. Now in the middle of Lockdown 2 (“Corona’s Back…and You’re Still Dead”) it all kicked off again on Friday, when Cummings and Cain were summoned to Downing Street to explain themselves, Johnson having evidence – in the form of text messages sent by unidentified whistle-blowers to his partner Carrie Symonds (you’ve got it by now, surely?) – that they were briefing against him.
Who could possibly have foreseen that a pair with histories the likes of Cummings and Cain carried with them would prove to be scheming, duplicitous shits? Budding Iago’s, the pair of them (there, that’s a cultural reference you weren’t expecting!).
Of course, Machiavellian mastermind that he is, Cummings spoke to the press on Thursday night/Friday morning, saying that that it had always been his plan to be become redundant by the end of 2020.
And to support this, he says that he says that he wrote about it on his blog back in January 2020.
We’ve been here before, haven’t we?
You’ll recall that after his little jaunt up to his illegally built farmhouse earlier this year, he gave an interview where he said this: “For years I’ve warned of the dangers of pandemics. Last year I wrote about the possible threat of coronaviruses and the urgent need for planning.”
But according to Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine (which is a lot more credible than it sounds), sometime between 8 April 2020 and 15 April 2020 – just before his trip – Cummings’ 2019 blog on pandemics was updated to include a paragraph on SARS (which, along with Covid-19, is also caused by a coronavirus).
This is also confirmed by the website’s sitemap information. This shows that this particular blog post appears to have been edited on 14 April 2020. Prior to this, his blog made no mention of coronaviruses.
I wonder: has anyone checked whether his statement about wishing to be largely redundant by the end of the year made via his blog wasn’t added at a later date too?
And that’s where we are now: Cummings and Cain both booted out of Number 10 a month or so earlier than they say they intended to leave anyway. It’s like when you got dumped as a teenager, and were desperate to wrestle back control of the narrative: “No, I finished with her…”
Now: why would Cummings and Cain both want to extricate themselves from positions of power within the Government before the end of the year? You got it: because on January 1st 2021, we leave the EU and everything is pointing to that being an absolute shit-show. Nobody is going to buy the Covid excuse that will doubtless be rolled out, because that has been handled so ineptly too. Best you distance yourselves from it, eh lads, just as most of them did after the referendum.
Look, don’t get me wrong: I’m glad he’s finally gone. It’s the first thing Johnson has done in his feeble premiership that I’ve agreed with, as it goes. But I think it’s a case of too little, too late.
I have a nasty feeling that Cummings and Trump will be back, though.
But for now, cautious optimism is recommended.
And at the very least, a chorus of this:
I wish Ray had recorded a song called “Don’t Let The Door Hit Your Arse On The Way Out.”