Dominic Cummings’ style says he is at home in Downing Street
All politicians in the public eye deliver fashion statements. Cummings’ sense of style non-verbalizes the person he wants to be.
Top journalists gathered on Downing Street rose garden on May 25 to witness what was supposed to be the first statement of the one and only Dominic Cummings. The Prime Minister’s counsel was to explain to the media whether he was ready to resign over his trips to Durham and Barnard Castle while the country was on lockdown. He did not. With Boris Johnson backing him up, he did not apologize and brought up a loophole in the rules (he helped design) legitimating his decisions. However, this press conference was only second to his several fashion statements made on the previous days. He had already said everything without a single word.
On May 23, on the day his face became the cover star of most newspapers in the UK, he was photographed right in front of his place of residence in Islington (North London). Images of him putting his son’s bike, helmet and Finding Nemo ball in the boot of his SUV, casually asking agitated photographers to respect the social distancing rules, captured what looked like a sunny day-off. While eyes were on him and his comfortable attire made of blue sweat pants, an orange T-shirt and regular black trainers, Number 10 was nothing but relaxed. Cummings’ colleagues had to come up with a strategy while the media, MPs and even Conservative figures were raging.
The day after, on May 24, things only got worse, and more people asked for Cummings to be sacked. Boris Johnson then called for his aid at Number 10. Can you imagine? What would you wear on your way to see your boss, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, knowing that you might leave this meeting unemployed? Don’t dare ask Dominic Cummings; he wouldn’t have any idea. He put on the exact same clothes he wore the day before. Going to Downing Street for this crisis meeting was, to him, as casual as enjoying a sunlit afternoon with his son outside. He knew his job was never in jeopardy with a nonchalance translated into a pair of Sunday sweatpants, a lousy orange t-shirt both worn the day before and a forest green puffer jacket. He might have a house in both London and Durham, but it seemed like Downing Street was home to him too.
After Johnson and many others endorsed Cummings and branded his trip to Durham as a normal father’s reaction, the adviser himself had to tell his version of the story to the public. As any populist would do, he had to commit to his actions blaming it all on the media and their fake news. The set was as theatrical as his outfit. Everything was to single him out from the “real politicians”. Both the community centre table on the grass and the water jug were his character’s accessories. Him being thirty minutes late only proved, just once more, his disdain for journalists.
A white shirt with rolled sleeves, dad black jeans and trainers were supposed to be his white middle-class man uniform. Indeed, running the campaign to leave the European Union in 2016, they are the ones he convinced. As a real populist, he claims to embody these people. Truth is he knows nothing about them.
As an Oxford graduate owning a £1,6 million townhouse in London and co-owning his father’s farm including its private woods and “spare cottage”, he has zero in common with middle-class Britain. He knows all about blazers and ties. Refusing to wear a formal suit and to blend in with Whitehall etiquette is his way of shouting: “Look at me, I’m not like them. I’m not a part of the system”. Claiming the media wrote fake news about him and reducing the scandal to a politician elitist storm in a teacup is his way of doing politics. And so far, it has worked quite beautifully for him. So far, his uniform worked. He thought dressing down in comparison with his politician counterparts would make him anti-establishment. Some kind of poorly dressed puppet master operating from the shadows. But how can he be a rebel in a system he’s been working for for 21 years?
The same people he wanted to seduce playing the “normal card” are the ones who could not say goodbye to loved ones within the past few months. The real ordinary people obeyed the rules for the safety of the country as a whole and suffered. For Cummings, once the crisis happened, all he had to do was to run away to his second home and private woods dropping his non-elitist persona and narrative behind him. As always, populists will try to act the part but will go back to their life of privilege when in need. His costume looks as fake as his excuses for breaching the rules.