Dirty Dom's OnlyFans: Cummings' paywall is enraging hacks because columns are just blogs with fancy bylines
As the great philosopher Nelson Muntz once said: Ha haah!
There’s a tried and tested route for former political advisors once they leave government or opposition: You get a book contract, sign on to write a newspaper, or get yourself a presenting gig on LBC or worse Times Radio.
That’s the ‘respectable’ way of doing things — taking coin from Murdoch, the Barclays, or Global to squat behind a paywall and explain at length, week after week, why you were right all along.
Dominic Cummings hasn’t done that (yet). Instead, he’s decided to set up his own paywall via Substack, charging for posts and Q+As that aren’t directly about the UK government’s Covid-19 response. And it’s boiling so much piss among the Lobby and wider Westminster press pack that the steam is forming permanent clouds above SW1.
Cummings should be no one’s hero. At best he’s a Lidl bargain aisle Loki, stripped of the good hair, the abundant charm, and the winning looks of Tom Hiddleston, but in possession of the inherent desire to cause trouble. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Dominic Cummings would transform himself into a snake to scare Boris Johnson if he had the chance.
Cummings choice to use Substack to write directly to those who are interested in his views riles the commentators and columnists so much because it makes the pride they have in their own bylines look even more ludicrous than it already was whilst simultaneously reducing their role as intermediaries.
On Times Radio yesterday, Matt ‘Chuckles’ Chorely introduced a discussion of Cummings’ latest post — a sharp dissection of the Prime Minister’s psychology as his former advisor sees it — by sneering:
Dominic Cummings has been ‘blogging’ again…
We’ve read it so you don’t have to.
The implication is that without the seal of approval conferred by the masthead of The Times or The Daily Telegraph, Cummings’ views are less worthy of scrutiny. He is just ‘blogging’, while Matthew Parris explaining why he thinks GRT people should have fewer rights, Melanie Phillips howling angrily into the void, or James Forsyth faithfully jotting down praise for his wife’s boss are doing something far worthier because they have columns.
Everything Cummings says should be taken with such a large pinch of salt that your doctor will lecture you on your diet but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have things worth considering. The fact that he’s choosing to charge people who want to read his views directly is galling to the professional media class because they cannot understand why anyone wouldn’t take Murdoch’s money.
Cummings running his own show doesn’t suddenly imbue him with credibility or heroic purpose, but neither does it mean he’s engaged in a grift. Signing up to his Substack and paying to read what he writes is a clearer transaction than reading his thoughts in a column paid for by a proprietor and pushed through a prism of a paper’s existing editorial line.
Mary Wakefield — Cummings’ wife — is an editor at The Spectator and he knows many people within the media he castigates so often and so furiously. If he had wanted to get a column, a spot as a TV pundit, or a stint on one of the talk radio stations it would have been easy.
A complete lack of broadcasting chops has not stopped such star turns as Dan Wootton, Giles Coren, and Ayesha ‘hipster analysis’ Hararika from soiling the airwaves. Coren in particular is so unsuited to radio that listening to his show feels like the audio equivalent of waterboarding, so relentless is the torrent of ill-informed, self-aggrandising, name-dropping bibble.
Besides his continued criticism of the media, Cummings — who once managed to get the whole of the British political hack pack talking about the children’s show PJ Masks for an entire morning — cannot help but troll journalists. The top of his latest post warns…
This is subscriber-only like your paywalls. If you screenshot something please link to original. If you behave unreasonably by posting large chunks of copyrighted material (which you complain about when others do it to you) I will invoice your boss. I also won’t do interviews with you / your organisation!
This is a draft and after feedback I may make an updated version free some time…
… and he followed through with that position, admonishing the BBC political correspondent Iain Watson for failing to link to his post in a story and using a future interview as leverage:
Oi — there’s no link to my blog in your online piece — please insert or I’ll cancel my imminent interview with BBC! Quoting is ok, but must link to original…
Watson apologised and a link was added. The SEO goblins of the internet looked on with grumpy awe at Cummings’ link-building exploits.
On the same day that Cummings post his latest piece and conducted his second Q+A, another former prime ministerial advisor, Nick Timothy, dropped his latest column in The Daily Telegraph. Timothy, with Fiona Hill, sat-navved Theresa May into squandering a poll lead and losing her majority.
Timothy is objectively a less successful advisor than Cummings — at least ‘Classic’ Dom actually achieved some of the things he set out to do — but writes as if he’s an all-conquering warrior king rather than a 41-year-old man with a face like a crumpled sleeping bag. He is living proof that being a Tory is devastatingly ageing.
Timothy’s piece, headline England has been denied the voice it deserves by elites who would rather Englishness didn't exist, reads like We Didn’t Start The Fire if it had been composed by a real ale wanker, a recounting of history that is whiter than the Dulux dog and features fewer women than a monastery’s ill-advised nude charity calendar. He writes:
But that is not how identity works. It is an organic thing, encompassing history, language, traditions, collective memories and shared places. English identity is about much more than the trite nonsense often described by politicians, who hide behind platitudes about the NHS, clichés about fair play and openness, or assertions about values, many of which might be shared by people from other countries, and some of which might be disputed by many within England…
England is the mother of parliaments. It is the land of Shakespeare and Dickens, Elgar and Holst, the Beatles and Stones, the Cotswolds and Cumbrian hills, London and Liverpool, Oxford and Cambridge. It is Stonehenge and St Paul’s, football and cricket, the local church and village pub, Isaac Newton and Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
It is cream teas and Cheddar cheese, a pint of bitter and a cup of tea, farms and factories, honest coppers and straight judges. It is the Wars of the Roses and the Reformation, Roundheads and Cavaliers, rebellions and strikes, Industrial Revolution and a Glorious Revolution. It is the home of Magna Carta, Locke and Burke, Churchill and Attlee, and long lines of kings and queens.
In Timothy’s Love Actually as reimagined by Ayn Rand speech, the only women who make the cut as unnamed queens and an anthropomorphised building, though I’ve no doubt that he’d tried to literally fuck parliament if he could. He certainly figuratively did it as a member of Theresa May’s top team.
The first European parliament was probably the Cortes of León in 1188. The word ‘parliament’ comes from Old French. Drinking tea originates from customs in southwest China, was brought to the west by Portuguese priests and merchants in the 16th century, and didn’t become popular in Britain until the 17th century.
The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were hugely influenced by the music of black American musicians. Churchill was half-American. The Glorious Revolution was a coup that installed Dutch monarchs on the British throne. Holst was half-German with a healthy dose of Swedish and Latvian heritage. Brunel was half-French and was educated in France.
But the most egregious part in Timothy’s rancid roll call is when he talks without caveat or irony of “honest coppers and straight judges”. Nick Timothy was 11 years old when the Birmingham Six were finally acquitted in a case that revealed widespread police deception and evidence fabrication. He was… [let me check my notes] 41 years old when the Daniel Morgan Independent Panel report was released this year, casting light on police corruption and media collusion.
I could fill many more newsletters with examples of bent coppers and judges so twisted they’re practically human pretzels.
It’s no surprise that the man who was by Theresa May’s side when she rolled out the ‘Go Home’ vans as Home Secretary has such a whitebread, monocultural idea of what ‘English’ identity is and should be. That he’s just 41 seems to be no impediment to indulging in wistful nostalgia for a 1930s England that never even existed. He argues:
…for many English elites, England’s identity is something best denied. It is, they believe, too dangerous, too embarrassing, or too exclusive. Even those now debating what they call “Englishness” are doing so, they admit, with reluctance.
This is a particular disease of the English newspaper commentator; castigating some mythical elite while being by any measure part of the elite themselves. Timothy writes for The Daily Telegraph, as establishment a paper as it is possible to get despite its constant claims to be terribly rebellious, and does so only because he was a political advisor to the Prime Minister. His only qualification to be a shit commentator is he once gave shit advice to the most powerful person in the country, making her less powerful in the process.
It comes as no surprise either to find Timothy concluding his column with some ham-fisted, football-enabled populism:
For in the week ahead we should shake off our very English doubts and enjoy what might become a championship-winning England team. If only the manager would pick the squad’s most creative talent, the captain of the club I support, Jack Grealish.
He was always going to single out a white guy for praise, wasn’t he?
I didn’t come here to praise or to bury Dominic Cummings, but to point out the shrill, tabloid hypocrisy of people like James O’Brien delivering moralistic monologues about dirty Dom’s OnlyFans. On his show yesterday, O’Brien said:
Dominic Cummings has now posted a blog about just how awful Boris Johnson is and, not for the first time, it reads possibly like the transcript of one of my morning monologues.
Except, of course, for the fact that Dominic Cummings helped put him in Downing Street, helped him stay there, and helped achieve the epic con that created an environment in which Boris Johnson could become Prime Minister… it’s an astonishing attack upon his former boss, so utterly devoid of self-awareness that it’s almost performance art… a man who did more than any arguably in the history of these islands to denigrate objective truth…
No one cares, Dominic, because you created this place where experts don’t matter, where facts got shouted down by ludicrous foghorn project fears, you created this place where a man who you describe in the most castigating of terms could become Prime Minister and be free to act with impugnity.
But what I thought you’d find amusing or enraging is the idea that if you want to read the full account… you have to pay him. It’s got a paywall on it. If you want to read it, you have to pay him. That would be the unelected bureaucrat that Brexit put in the very, very heart of power, now he’s telling you how awful it is, how rotten that heart of power is, but he wants you to pay him for the privilege of reading what he discovered while being paid by you to make an absolute pig’s ear of the most important job in government.
This is how O’Brien works — goodies and baddies, heroes and villains — and he was among those on the Remain side (I also voted Remain by the way) who kept scrabbling around for “good” Tories who’d stop Brexit. In his world — and since his heel-face turn from being a centre-right shouter in a bad suit fronting O’Brien, an ITV debate show — Dominic Cummings is one of the big bads, almost uniquely responsible for the demolition of the wonderful UK that apparently reached its apex around the time of the London 2012 opening ceremony.
Cummings no doubt carries a great deal of the responsibility for the deceptions and distortions used by the Vote Leave campaign, but he didn’t march all those voters into the polling booths, nor was his Barnard Castle eye test trip even in the top 3 most egregious acts of the pandemic. It suits Boris Johnson and the Conservatives to have Cummings as the nosferatu of Number 10. And, in some respects, it suits Cummings too.
Commentators like O’Brien give Cummings too much power while at the same time suggesting that nothing he says is worth listening to and that no one really cares. Like Chorley, O’Brien turns the word ‘blog’ into a sneer, tossing it aside with contempt he’d never have for a column. After all, without newspapers to mine, O’Brien’s show would be awfully empty.
When he howls that Cummings “did more than any arguably in the history of these islands to denigrate objective truth”, O’Brien once again reveals how myopic he is when it comes to history and how easily he can forgive people like Alastair Campbell because a) they were on the FBPE team like him and b) the Iraq War is one of those things that happened ‘a long time ago’, to other people, and during the glowing post-Brit Pop pomp of Tony Blair.
Re-read that O’Brien rant, spot all the times he uses tabloid trick and rhetoric — “unelected bureaucrat”, “what I thought you’d find amusing or enraging”, “epic con” — and remember he cut his teeth as a gossip hack for the Daily Express. There are many more monstrous figures in British politics than Cummings but somehow he’s the one who shouldn’t charge for his opinions?
I welcome the chaos but then I haven’t got a radio show I’m desperate to cling on to or a byline that I believe makes me better than the next person. Columnists are the philosopher kings and queens, you see. You, me, and dastardly Dominic? Well, we’re just bloggers…