Dominic Cummings On Boris, Brexit, Immigration

The architect of the Leave campaign has a rare podcast discussion with me.

  
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How to introduce Dominic Cummings? I’d say he has a decent claim to be one of the most influential figures in modern European history, whatever you think of him. He innovated Brexit, led the Leave campaign, then guided Boris Johnson into a stinking election victory in 2019. The two allies then fell out, Cummings quit — and he is now “having a think.” He almost never gives interviews — let alone chat for an hour and a half. So this is a bit of a Dish coup.

You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player embedded above, or right below it you can click “Listen in podcast app,” which will connect you to the Dishcast feed. For two clips of my conversation with Dominic — on the reasons he resigned as top aide at Number 10, and on what US politicians can learn from Brexit on immigration — head over to our YouTube page.

And be sure to sign up for the Dominic Cummings Substack.

Halfway down this page are five reader dissents over my criticism of the MSM, continued from our main page, but first, some reader commentary on British politics. Here’s a disgruntled Dish subscriber responding to my passing reference to how I “like” Boris Johnson to some degree:

I find I’m more and more uncomfortable, as a paying subscriber, to underwrite, even in the smallest way, your acceptance of Mr. Johnson’s con of us, the British people. Granted, he’s not a grifter in the same league as Mr. Trump, but nevertheless the thought of supporting him in any way — albeit indirectly through your journalism — has become something I can no longer tolerate. 

Perhaps you weren’t around in the days when the BBC (unwittingly I think) gave him for all those years a platform on “Have I Got News for You,” when naive middle-of-the-roaders like myself were mildly charmed by this apparently harmless but funny, over entitled Tory buffoon.

Little did we realise he was lining himself up to kill off our warm and productive relationship with Europe and all its benefits for ordinary citizens. He did it partly by getting us to know him as “Boris” — like he’s our friend, which he isn’t. It’s a mechanism that draws in people who are even more naive, and it means he gets forgiven for his absolute incompetence. He isn’t fit to be prime minister, and there is so much evidence out there that confirms it that I can’t really understand how you buy it. Ok, so you “like” him, whatever that means. 

Another dissent comes from a UK reader over my recent column, “The Boldness of Biden and Boris”:

It seems I only ever email to complain about your coverage of Boris Johnson. You write that it’s “the image that mattered” in Boris’s dealings with the French over nuclear subs and on the vaccine. The problem with much of what Boris is doing is that it’s all image. EU countries have overtaken the UK in vaccination rates and we have soaring infection rates compared to our neighbours.

Boris’s latest “Global Britain” is announcing bringing back pounds and ounces. Imperial measurements are only used by two countries (the US and Myanmar), and anyone under 50 was taught metric at school. Armando Iannucci wouldn’t write this stuff; it would look too bonkers.

This steady stream of jingoistic nonsense is just the usual background noise under Prime Minister Johnson — but it’s not the main reason I’m writing. The rise in National Insurance isn’t the bold “Red Tory” move you hail it as. It isn’t an injection of desperately needed new money into social care.

For readers outside the UK, I’ll explain. At the moment, if someone goes into long-term care because they are unable to look after themselves, the cost of that is recouped from their assets (over a certain threshold) when they die. This often means selling their home. (We had to do that when my Nan died in 2010.) What Johnson is doing is capping that limit (which wouldn’t have mattered in my case) and trying to recoup it with a raise in National Insurance — a tax that almost all workers pay. This means that care staff, who earn minimum wage or thereabouts, will be losing money to pay for the care of the people they’re looking after. 

If Johnson really had “the balls” you give him props for, he would have introduced a tax on assets. Others have been quick to point out that those paying rent are losing money while their landlords have avoided any new tax. Anyone over retirement age is also exempt from National Insurance.

I consider myself a centrist, I don’t belong to a political party, as I prefer to advocate ideas from the political left or right if they have merit. We have the worst of all worlds in Johnson — someone willing to raise taxes from those who can least afford it to fritter away on meaningless gestures and dodgy contracts to his friends. If that’s Red Toryism, you can keep it.

Another reader who doesn’t like Boris:

I’ve been a Dish supporter for many years and have loved the recent content and podcasts. I’m generally pretty aligned with your views, but there is one area where we diverge sharply: Boris Johnson. Everyone knows he’s a liar and a cheat, but maybe what’s flying under the radar is how consistently the Tory government is undermining democracy in the UK. You rightly call out the Republicans for their assaults on democratic institutions, but you turn a blind eye when Boris does something comparable.

In the podcast with Cummings, I raise the issue of pro-roguing parliament in 2019, which worried a lot of constitutionalists. You can hear his response.

A pro-Brexit reader thinks I overplayed the impact of mass migration on the Brexit decision:

I have to disagree with you about this sentence: “Elsewhere in the West, mass migration has empowered the far right, and taken the UK out of the EU.” It seems to me that you should agree with the decision to leave the EU, if for no reason but that the nation-state seems the best way for people to balance freedom and community. Perhaps I don’t know enough, but my understanding was not that the far right prevailed, but rather normal people revolted against their elite’s attempts to tell them that lowered wages and swift, important cultural changes due to immigration were to their benefit, when clearly they were not.

Certainly, elites benefit from mass migration — why pay more for an English house cleaner when you can pay less for a Romanian? — but the non-elite English had had enough of being told that Englishness was a racist construct and they had to bow to their diminished circumstances while the people asserting their moral superiority grew richer and more powerful. London is a world city, but it was also a haven for sketchy Third World actors with apartments they never used and whose values did not coincide with that of the average Brit. 

I don’t know if “The Great British Bake Off” is anything but an imaginary England, but it seems to honor racial and cultural diversity while also exporting a uniquely British grit, common sense, and attention to reality — someone does get kicked off every week — in a way I love to watch.

For more Dishcast on UK politics, check out our episode with Tim Shipman, the best political reporter in Britain. Below is his take on how Boris the Etonian won over the working class:

Here’s another clip on the vindication of Brexit when it comes to the Covid vaccine, and here’s another on whether the monarchy could will the death of Her Majesty. As always, please send us your thoughts on the Dishcast and potential guests: dish@andrewsullivan.com.


Because we ran out of space to include these on the main page, here’s the first of many readers to criticize my criticism of the mainstream media:

So wait, let me get this straight: you’re railing on the MSM for appearing to have a narrative and an agenda, you — a guy who has a very clear narrative and agenda, who joined Substack so you could be free to present your narrative and agenda without the constraints of fact-checking and editorial oversight that the MSM provides, constraints which, by the way, allow them to adhere to some semblance of journalistic standards and ethics, which also includes correcting mistakes when they happen, as they do, although apparently not corrected to your liking, often because the reporting didn’t conform to your narrative and agenda in the first place.

Tell me: what is your method for immediately owning up to and correcting the mistakes you make? The misinterpretations you make? The times when your narrative is way off? The times when the “tsunami” of CRT evidence you refer to amounts to some hand-picked anecdotes on your Twitter feed that your audience is supposed to find and then be suitably in awe of? What kind of standards or ethics does Substack expect you to follow?

Then again, maybe you don’t think of yourself as part of the media, and therefore somehow above it all.

And by the way, your cheap line trying to indict the MSM on Trump’s terms is low, and I think you know this. You know exactly who Trump is and what he does (lie). You know what journalism stands for and what it tries to do, however imperfectly. And you already know the cycles of examination and re-examination the press does to itself as a dynamic field in a dynamic society, which it is constantly doing, and which makes your rant entirely unproductive.

Oh please. There is a distinction between opinion and news, and my objection is not that the NYT, say, has leftist opinion columnists, but that it skews reality, and now does so to conform not to factual objectivity, but to “moral clarity” defined by the far left. Here, we always publish factual corrections immediately (but they are extremely rare), and we constantly air dissent over the opinions. We fact-check ourselves and Bodenner is gimlet-eyed.

Another dissenter looks at something specific:

Your conflations regarding the MSM have a heavy dose of hyperventilation. One example: “But notice how the narrative — embedded in a deeper one that the Blake shooting was just as clear-cut as the Floyd murder, that thousands of black men were being gunned down by cops every year, and that ‘white supremacy’ was rampant in every cranny of America … ”

Give me one example in the mainstream media where anyone ever hinted, much less said, thousands were being gunned down every year? Please try. It’s a ridiculous exaggeration, not really worthy of argument. 

Also, let’s look at a comparison: Lynching was a huge tool in white people suppressing African Americans. If you look at websites that document lynching, there were about 3,500 documented lynchings of black people over maybe 60 years, an average of about 60 per year. The point I’m making is that an act, such as police shootings of unarmed black men, can be a statistically rare event in a country of 330,000,000 people but still have an outsized impact on people’s perception of fairness and of their safety in the hands of those who are supposed to protect us all.

The MSM rarely include context in their stories about police violence, but the impression they gave was that such killings were ubiquitous. A recent public survey asked Americans to guess how many unarmed black men were killed by cops in 2019. The stats say 27. A recent study suggests that’s an undercount, so let’s posit 50 max. Money quote:

Overall, nearly half of surveyed liberals (44 percent) estimated roughly between 1,000 and 10,000 unarmed black men were killed whereas 20 percent of conservatives estimated the same. Most notably, the majority of respondents in each political category believed that police killed unarmed black men at an exponentially higher rate than in reality.

This next reader has quite the opener:

Andrew, I love you more than I love my own dick, but your essay on the MSM and its misdeeds left me cold. It was all to do with your last line: “And someone has got to stop it.” How can you write an essay like that and end with no actual input about WHO is supposed to stop it? “Someone” has got to stop it! OK. How does the stopping happen? More fact-checkers at NYT? Fewer partisan hacks at Fox? 

I come from a family that owned and published a daily newspaper. Breakfast and dinner was a conversation about news, what is it, and what are its ethics. My dad and grandfather railed against something I’m now convinced was a saviour for this sort of BS: the Fairness Doctrine. After it was abolished, discourse and fact-gathering and news all went downhill.

First off, congratulations on your dick. Second, the Fairness Doctrine only applies to broadcasting, and was abused. But I definitely think we should have a debate about bringing it back. As for who stops this crap, the answer is editors, who should not pushed around by woke Leninists, and should want their papers to be treated as reliable sources of information, rather than as a way to “teach” readers how to absorb the lessons of critical race theory (which is literally how the NYT executive editor explained his support for the 1619 Project and every story in the paper).

This next reader is hoping for help:

I work at a major news broadcast network, so please do not use my name or share my affiliation. Do you have any advice for producers and reporters in house to speak up and push back when you see these narratives go awry — to ensure our reporting is accurate and doesn’t make these baseless claims? I fear losing credibility among my peers and superiors or worse: facing an office awokening/contrived cancellation. I could elaborate at length and provide examples, but I know you must be so inundated, so I’ll keep it brief and hope you have a few minutes to share any advice on how to improve things on the inside.

Here’s my advice: take a risk in defending objectivity. Someone has to. All the energy is with the woke bullies. Find allies; make respectful factual arguments; lobby editors; talk about the credibility of the enterprise; argue for actual diversity of opinion in the newsroom.

Another reader has a mixed dissent:

Andrew, I get it. The MSM does tilt left and, indeed, can be faulted in many instances for jumping on the bandwagon before the band even arrives. And I understand that this week’s Dish was primarily aimed at the MSM — with justification. But two points:

#1. All you have to say about Rittenhouse is “He had no business being there with an AR-15”? For me, this is the essential story. We’ve simply come to accept that anyone can sling an automatic weapon over their shoulder and the best you can say is that he had no business being there? Your outrage should be far more targeted at our crazed gun culture, and that a juvenile like this one openly carried this weapon, than about how the MSM got it wrong. 

Which, of course, is Point #2: I’m assuming your rant on the MSM doesn’t include Fox News, because you don’t mention it in your essay. But distorting facts and intentionally putting out blatant mistruths (as opposed to “tilting” right) is a more appropriate target for outrage about the media.

Well, the thing is, Rittenhouse was reacting to widespread rioting, arson, looting and mayhem that the authorities seems unwilling to handle and many in the national press actually cheered on. Ultimate responsibility lies with those who started the rioting and the authorities that didn’t stamp it out. But Rittenhouse was a fool for taking the law into his own hands.

Another reader, another dissent:

You state, incredibly, that the Steele Dossier “dominated the headlines” for three years, insinuating that it was the primary basis for the Trump/Russia scandal. This take is false. The Steele Dossier was always a fringy bit of wishful sensationalism that had nothing to do with the mountain of verifiable connective tissue between Trump, Wikileaks, Putin, and his intelligence services that led to dozens of indictments, convictions, and guilty pleas from top Trump officials. Saying it “dominated the headlines” is a carbon copy of the Trump government-in-exile’s weak propaganda effort in light of the dossier’s plunge into disrepute. You tend to be totalistic in your criticism, and your hatred of the New York Times (which I largely share) has led you to embrace a completely false and revisionist history about the former president’s collusive relationship with Russia.

I have never disputed and do not dispute that Trump’s dealings with Russia were as corrupt as his dealings with everyone else. I do not dispute that Russia tried to tilt the election to Trump, and that Trump had no problem with that. What I never bought was the tale of an elaborate conspiracy theory about Russia’s Kompromat on Trump, or that his love affair with Putin could only be explained that way. I was open to it — but Mueller showed how thin that case was, and Trump’s substantive policy decisions on Russia simply cannot be regarded as pro-Putin.

The obsession with the Steele Dossier, as a kind of talisman for the entire conspiracy theory, was not minor. Simply the term “Steele Dossier” has 134,000 hits on Google News. I think the MSM lost perspective on this, fueled by their intense shock that Trump won.

Like the previous reader, this one shares a hatred of the NYT:

Not sure if you heard about this heinous crime last week, but a young woman (jogger) was attacked and sexually assaulted in Central Park last week. At around 7:20 am, a perp put the woman in a chokehold and then raped her.

The NY Post and NY Daily News, along with other local stations, were on the story and released photos of the suspect to assist with the NYPD manhunt. Surprisingly (or unsurprisingly), the NY Times didn’t cover the story at all — not initially, and they still haven’t reported the rape. On their website, if you search the suspect’s name “Paulie Velez,” you’ll get zero results. In contrast, search “Amy Cooper” and you’ll get almost 30 different articles and opinions of what was apparently a more notable and newsworthy “aggression” in the park. How’s this even possible?

Fortunately the suspect was caught with the help of the tip line, but I just can’t fathom how the NY Times is actively ignoring one of the most heinous crimes I’ve heard about in NYC in the past decade. It’s a major stain on the integrity of the paper. 

One was a rape; the other a micro-aggression. We all know where the MSM emphasis now is. Another reader looks back at a much older story than made national headlines:

As for when all this slippage between the facts on the ground and the MSM narrative really began to get bad: I’ve thought a lot about this. I remember the Duke lacrosse “rape” case in 2007 as the first moment when I realized that I’d bought into a false narrative. I had been teaching on a university campus in the South for five years, had been married to my African-American wife for three years, knew and liked two of the Duke professors publicly raging against the “rapists,” and was primed in every way to hate those white lacrosse players for what they’d done to the as-yet unnamed black dancer, Crystal Mangum.

Then Lucy, as it were, pulled the football away. The facts came out; the white DA’s perfidy was revealed; Mangum’s own black female associate said she was lying about rape because she got pissed off at the callow frat boys … and I realized that I’d been played, badly. That stung.

That was the watershed moment for me. From then on, whenever racial melodrama reared its head, and especially with Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown in 2012 and 2014, respectively, I held off making any judgment in the heat of the moment. It killed me to do this, frankly. I WANTED to believe the continuing narrative about the machinations of Evil Whiteness. But the facts, when they came out, always embarrassed that narrative in one way or another, or in many ways.

Here, I’d like to offer a well-earned nod to one particular MSM commentator who actually manifested ethical bravery in the face of all this: Jonathan Capehart, whose 2015 column, “‘Hands Up, Don’t Shoot’ was Based on a Lie,” dared to say out loud what none of his peers would acknowledge. It shows that occasionally the truth breaks through the narrative in a powerful way, even within the tainted purview of the MSM. The Michael Brown / Darren Wilson affair strikes me as the Left’s equivalent of January 6 denialism on the Right: thanks to the DOJ’s long and exhaustive investigation and report, we pretty much know what happened between those two men, but public memory on the Left insists on misremembering.

Capehart gets a retroactive Yglesias Award for that.