The key for modern unscrupulous politicians is to get between their critics and the electorate. Trump, Corbyn and Cummings have all spent hours talking about how the media is fake, bias and sitting in ivory towers laughing at the little people. It’s a potent siren song for any voter and Cummings clearly counted on it when he marched out of his front door saying to the waiting journalists ‘remember Brexit? You got that wrong too.’
But he’s been caught in the populist’s trap – suddenly becoming into the arrogant, elitist enemy that he had always attacked. Every act, from the banning of the Mirror to the scruffy appearance has been to project an image of power and superiority to everyone else. Well if you are arrogant on the way up, it’s savage on the way down. Brewdog have released the ‘Barnhard Castle Eye Test’ beer and a population online are seeing memes endlessly repackaging the same jokes, until the rage subsides.
It didn’t have to be this way. He could have delivered a dignified statement about mistakes and the panic of a parent. He could’ve left the impression that he visited the castle because he and his wife had promised that if they both made it they’d go for her birthday. Or that they worried about their son without them. Disappearing into a Number 10 backroom with a pearl-handled revolver, he would have been respected – and would have been back.
This should have been about dignity, and it should have been about common sense. He must still believe that the public will forget it and move on. But if this doesn’t stick, if the power of grief and the skype-funerals, the thousand of families who couldn’t be with their loved one as they died and the collapse of millions livelihoods don’t stick then what does that say about our democracy and its ability to dislodge those undeserving of leadership.