6th March 2020
When something new happens, there is often a lag in finding the right words to describe it or in forming the right thoughts to think about it.
And so we make do with old words and concepts.
Take for example the radical approach to government of the prime ministerial adviser Dominic Cummings.
One usual approach to reporting on Westminster is to focus on personalities and briefings: the lobby system.
Another is to treat parliament as a pantomime: the tradition of parliamentary sketches.
The lobby system has its merits, and many lobby journalists are first class.
And when there is drama or comedy, the sketches can be outstandingly insightful as well as funny.
But Brexit has brought many new things, and one of the new things it has brought is the appointment of Dominic Cummings to a position of political power.
And Cummings’ approach to power, and the use to be made of it, does not lend itself fully to either the lobby system or the sketch writers.
So we have had coverage of Cummings which is based on briefings, often taking the estimation of him as a “genius” and a “big brain” at face value.
There has also been a catalogue of his various tactical failings and mishaps which one can regard as all being “Classic Dom”.
There are elements of truth in all this, though Cummings is not a genius (as far as one can tell), he just thinks very differently to many in the political and media world, and his many mistakes and misdirections are part of a more interesting vision of how to gain and use power.
So Cummings, like Brexit itself, is showing the weaknesses of the old ways of covering politics.
Yet for every action, of course, there tends to be a reaction – and some journalists and commentators are combining fine political reporting with a grasp of the policy and structural issues that inform the ongoing struggles for power.
One of these pundits is Harry Lambert (who I do not know) who works at the New Statesman – and his piece this week on Cummings and what is happening (and not happening) in Downing Street is a fascinating read.
There are others – and the quality of analysis and reporting prompted by Brexit and its aftermath(s) is one of the good things to have come out of the whole botched enterprise.
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