As the merriment of the festive period dissipates, it is perhaps more easy now than ever to feel pessimism about the year ahead. The dominant news headlines of 2020 so far have been anything but cheerful. If terrifying climate catastrophe and the possibility of a war weren’t on your mind last decade, they almost certainly are now.
Even things that are ridiculous enough that they ought to raise a smile have taken on a rather sinister quality. One of those is Dominic Cummings’s rather bizarre job advertisement, which appeared on his personal blog last week. Asking for an ‘unusual set of people’ to apply for a range of positions in number 10, including one to be his personal assistant, the rambling job post was both strange and alarming.
Full to the brim with idiosyncratic name-drops, contradictory statements and poor prose, the blog is ripe with opportunities for mirth. It asks for rather grand-sounding but ultimately woolly accomplishments such as ‘deep expertise’ from prospective applicants. It appears to ask for recent economic graduates who have worked all of their university summers in impossibly high-flying internships, and yet dismisses work experience as ‘overrated’. It is scathing about ‘public school bluffers’, despite the fact that Cummings himself attended Durham School, a private boarding school.
And yet, it is perhaps precisely because of its ludicrousness that this advert is worrying. As much as it is a tour de force of linguistic rambling, Cummings’s post contains several overt and covert indications of changes afoot both in government mechanisms and possibly in the UK at large.
For example, in a particularly badly-written listicle section, Cummings casually states that the new Conservative government won’t have to worry about ‘short-term unpopularity’, presumably because he believes that the reign of Boris Johnson will last a significant length of time. But the indication here is also that inflicting rather unpleasant policies on the British people is now something that can be done with impunity.
Indeed, Cummings’s attitudes throughout the blog betray no small degree of disdain. He is dismissive of ‘gender identity diversity blah blah blah’ and calls for ‘true cognitive diversity’ instead – failing to recognise that cognitive diversity comes from allowing people with a vast range of lived experiences to come together. This discriminatory statement additionally tells us all we need to know about Cummings’s attitudes towards inclusive workplaces – and this bodes very badly for us as a country likely to overhaul employment law in the near future.
Cummings is also keen to show off his own supposed expertise. His blog represents a marked shift from the days when Michael Gove’s pronouncements that ‘Britain has had enough of the experts’ held sway. Indeed, Cummings attempts to present himself as a widely-read kind of genius with an eclectic array of knowledge, ranging all the way from ‘the frontiers of the science of prediction’ to ‘the apex of government’. But as New Statesman points out, a lot of what Cummings says is simply ‘word salad’, designed to (speciously) present Cummings as an enlightened thinker as much as it obfuscates.
And yet with his overt call for ‘weirdos and misfits’, Cummings is doing something distinctly Govian. Experts may be back in fashion, but not experts in a traditional mould. Despite asking for very high standards of rather traditional academic achievement from mathematicians and economists, Cummings is quick to emphasise that these people must nevertheless be ‘unusual’, and ‘weirdos and misfits’. It is hard to work out what Cummings means by this – does he actually want experts who are different from those who have come before, or does he simply want to replicate the old order, with a smattering of new eccentricity?
But out of all the jargon and strangeness, perhaps the most chilling thing is the utter entitlement to his own authority that Cummings displays. It is not just his swaggering prose which is frightening, which gives him a disarming veneer of intellectual authority, but the way that his language suggests that he can do just as he likes.
The entirety of his tract suggests a high level of disregard for other people, in particular the unfortunate soul who is to become his personal assistant, who he warns ‘will not have weekday date nights’ and ‘will sacrifice many weekends’. He ends with a threat that if the person he selects isn’t right for the role he will ‘bin them within weeks’. Again, Cummings seems to be on the verge of subverting employment law, and as Will Stronge notes, his attitude towards employee burnout is both blasé and dangerous. His arrogance and disrespect for the rights of prospective employees shows an overall callousness towards others that is unlikely to manifest itself in compassionate politics.
It is easy to see Cummings’s words as ridiculous, and the unconventional medium through which they are delivered as undermining his credibility. Even number 10 has distanced itself from his missive. But whether or not this blog yields the candidates Cummings wants, it is a warning sign.
For a government which is unquestionably heavily influenced by someone who is so dismissive of diversity, ruthless about employees and disarming with his language can unfortunately only be characterised by these things. And this does not bode well in world which is experiencing changes and traumas like ours is at the moment.
But then again, I suppose Dominic Cummings wouldn’t value my opinion much. In his words, people like me are just ‘Oxbridge English graduates who chat about Lacan at dinner parties with TV producers and spread fake news about fake news’. Rich coming from an Oxford history graduate like him, isn’t it?
But it doesn’t really matter, because as long as Cummings can pull the strings he pulls, all the while scorning those who attempt to challenge him, both confusing and dazzling with his overwrought rhetoric, his attitudes will successfully invade the politics of our times.