If Dominic Cummings was still number 10, would we have given up on Ukraine? | Nick Cohen

Play down the “what if” story game and it is easy to see the West betraying the Ukrainian people. What if Donald Trump had won the 2020 US presidential election? You don’t need to go back and read his envious admiration for Vladimir Putin and all other quasi-real dictators as he currently condemns the Biden administration for send 40 billion dollars to Ukraine instead of putting America first.

What if Jeremy Corbyn had won the 2019 UK general election? We don’t need to remember her appeasement of Putin after the Russian nerve agent attack in Salisbury, now that the great anti-imperialist has decided that a war of colonial expansion by Europe’s last empire is exactly the right time to say he wishes to see NATO “finally dissolved”.

What if Dominic Cummings still controlled Downing Street?

The answer takes us to the heart of a misreading of the past 30 years. Conventional wisdom holds that both right and left were committed to liberal democracy and free markets. Their principled/indulgent/corrupt worldview (delete to taste) was shattered by the arrival of strong nationalist leaders in the 2010s, as if out of nowhere.

Nothing comes from nowhere. The belief that democracy should only be defended when the system allows the right to win existed long before 2016. Much like the reactionaries’ disdain for liberal rights and their belief that the progressive elite was destroying the ethnic essence of the nation by import migrants who would vote for centre-left politicians. Resentment and paranoia simmered not only on the far right, but in the supposedly high minds of conservative intellectuals, and drove them inescapably to authoritarian conclusions. As Cummings has been busy showing us.

The man who campaigned for Britain to regain control of the EU is arguing over Ukraine right to exist as a sovereign state. He says the US and UK have “deliberately discouraged peace talks” – as if Putin has shown any interest in withdrawing his forces. “A large part of Ukraine is destroyed, thousands of dead and hundreds of billions in damage,” he continues. OK, but who destroyed and killed? Cummings is too mute to tell. He dismisses Russia’s responsibility for its crimes, then goes on to claim that Russian propaganda contains more than a grain of truth. “Some” of the aid we send to Ukraine “goes to real Nazis, as Putin claims,” Cummings believes. While true mass murderers are lenient, Volodymyr Zelenskiy is denounced as a self-obsessed warmonger. He is “happy to climb”. He has a “PT Barnum feel for manipulating the media, and he loves it”.

If Cummings’ advice had been followed, no British anti-tank and surface-to-air missiles would have been sent to kyiv, and the Ukrainian resistance would have felt their absence.

As it stands, Cummings is reduced to showing us the fumes of the fag end of British imperial mentality. The great powers can do whatever they want. We should not mention their unprovoked crimes against humanity, but recognize that they are right to say that among the mounds of corpses they leave behind are “real Nazis”. Meanwhile, the Ukrainians and their ridiculous leader must stop escalating a conflict that Russia has imposed on them and accept that it is their destiny to submit.

Long before Trump, conservatives walked the path that ends at the dark terminus of the dictator’s cult. Left-wing critics of the last Labor government found it a vapid, Tory-lite affair. We would have understood this better if we had recorded how fervently right-wing opinion hated Blairism. They no longer understood their country. Multiculturalism, sexual tolerance and the very fact that Labor has been in power for 13 years has induced disgust and a desperate willingness to embrace any white Christian regime that proclaims itself the enemy of liberalism. Cummings’ mentor at Oxford, Norman Stone, a decent historian until drink did, ended his days writing an apology for Hungarian authoritarianism. Viktor Orbán was so impressed by the flattery that he assisted Peter’s funeral. Roger Scrutonwho is still considered a thoughtful philosopher among thoughtless conservatives, and Margaret Thatcher’s speechwriter John O’Sullivan also bent the knee to Orbán in their old age. It’s not just the Fox News wing of the American right that can’t decide whether it prefers Hungarian or Russian autocracy.

When they were friends, Cummings and Johnson struggled to turn authoritarian theory into practice. They purged the Conservative Party of critics, illegally suspended Parliament and assaulted any independent institutions that could control them. A serious government says Cummings, was “not intimidated by officials and their ‘legal advice’ bullshit”. The laws that stood in the way of a real Brexit could be dispensed with.

In the end, Cummings was the bullshit to do without. Luckily for the Ukrainians, Johnson fired him. Johnson himself is now as far from a strongman as you can imagine: a bloated and weakened leader, in fear of his backbenchers and clueless about how to cope. in today’s crisis, it ricochets from one jolt to the next like a child invader on a bouncy castle.

You can be relieved of the evasion of our democracy until you look into the details. The Conservative Party rebels against Johnson to stop new homes being built or the imposition of anti-obesity measures but it never opposes in sufficient numbers the attacks on the BBC and Channel 4, nor the threats to the independence of civil service, or the freedom to demonstrate, or the law on human rights.

Conservatives don’t like comparisons between Johnson and Trump, let alone Johnson and Putin. But on one point there is equivalence. Johnson pulled Britain out of the EU as Putin invaded Ukraine, to assert his national greatness. Both ventures were disastrous because neither leader had a clue how to make their adventurism work.

We are left with our own “what if” questions. What if the next election sees voter suppression so rampant that two million people are denied the right to vote? What if an intimidated BBC dare not challenge the ruling party? What if the failure of Brexit sends the Tories into a spiral of revanchism and stabbing in the back?

We don’t know the answers yet, only that our “what ifs” aren’t a game.

Nick Cohen is an Observer columnist

About Ethel Partin

Check Also

Nearly 106-Year-Old WWII Veteran Recalls Top-Secret Project and His Run, Mending War’s Wires | Subscriber Content

World War II veteran and Penrose, Co. native John Sekulich will turn 106 next …