I read Dominic Cummings' blogs so you don't have to – and they reveal a worldview that should worry us all

In this world of shoot or be shot, there is little role for institutions based on deliberation, cooperation and conciliation, nationally or internationally

Andrew Adonis
Friday 09 August 2019 00:00 BST
Dominic Cummings says he 'doesn't know very much about very much'

Now Dominic Cummings is joint prime minister, we have to take him seriously as more than a Vote Leave operative. I have therefore been reading all those interminable blogs on Bismarck, eugenics and American fighter pilots. I thought they’d be weird. Actually they are dangerous.

The weird bits are the obsession with physical combat and IQ. This explains his wild pugilism. And why Michael Gove, the first of Cummings’ minister-pupils, did so much to wreck England’s schools by decreeing that fewer and fewer teenagers should pass more and more exams.

It seems Cummings now plans to “Darwin-ise” the nation, not just the education system. Enter Otto von Bismarck, founding chancellor of the Second Reich. It is hard to conceive a more dangerous inspiration.

Bismarck’s motto was “blood and iron”. He hated not just socialists and the French but liberalism and European cooperation on any basis of human rights and conciliation. He believed in master and inferior races, the inferior being all but the Prussians, and distrusted Germany’s churches for their ethics and alternative authority. He disliked Britain as a hotbed of “parliamentaryism” and as an unreliable ally for reactionary conservatism.

It seems to me that Cummings laps all this up. Far from excusing Bismarck’s excesses, I think he applies them to Brexit Britain.

Bismarck’s one saving grace – his schemes of social insurance, intended to forestall the social democrats – is unmentioned by Cummings since it sits so uneasily with the Brexit project to, in Lord Lawson’s words, “complete the Thatcher revolution”.

Also telling is the fact that Cummings never mentions Bismarck’s liberal contemporary, William Ewart Gladstone, who propelled Britain and much of non-German Europe towards democracy and self-government. The “People’s William” championed constitutional liberalism, which he sound-bited as “trust in the people tempered by prudence”, in opposition to Bismarckian conservatism of “distrust of the people tempered by fear.” For Bismarck’s currency was fear and conquest to the absolute limits of a modern state.

“Politics,” said Bismarck, “is like visiting a country one does not know with people whom one does not know and whose reactions one cannot predict. When one person puts a hand in his pocket, the other person is already drawing his gun, and when he pulls the trigger the first one fires and it is too late then to ask whether the requirements of common law with regard to self-defence apply.”

In this world of shoot or be shot, there is little role for institutions based on deliberation, cooperation and conciliation, nationally or internationally. Bismarck never reconciled himself to parliamentary politics – at which Gladstone was a master, creating Britain’s modern parliamentary system. His rule was an extension of the power of the Prussian Kaiser, rebranded Emperor of Germany after unification.

When he eventually resigned in 1890 it was because he fell out with the erratic Kaiser Willhelm II, who went on to start the First World War and destroy European liberalism in a dark age from which Churchill, the most brilliant product of Gladstone’s parliamentary liberalism, ultimately rescued us.

Cummings appears to agree with Bismarck’s view that “as soon as parliamentary representatives assemble, they are dumb in the mass”. He praises China for its ability to “erect skyscrapers in weeks while Parliament delays Heathrow expansion for over a decade”. How hackneyed. Parliament last year voted by 10-to-one to expand Heathrow, and modern London is full of skyscrapers.

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Embellishing Bismarck, Cummings adds his own blend of rationality fetishism: “Parliaments do not necessarily or reliably perform the same alchemy as the wonders of successful information markets.” The wonders of The Great Hack and the reliable alchemy of the Russian state and the last Brexit campaign?

Surprise, surprise, Cummings already appears to be scheming to override parliament and this week “spat out his drink laughing” when it was suggested that parliament could force Johnson (and him) to resign if they attempt to force through a no-deal Brexit

Bismarck’s memorial in Berlin depicts him wielding a sword, surrounded by statues of Atlas, Siegfried and Germania. Gladstone’s statue on the Strand is encircled by Brotherhood, Aspiration, Education and Courage. I know which I prefer, and which is better for Britain and Europe.

Lord Adonis is a Labour peer. A version of this article appears in The New European​

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