Guess who's Cummings for Dinner? The British media is gaslighting us about its friends, foes and ex-girlfriends...

British hacks expose their self interest as they pen alternative histories to excuse their best friends, damn their worst enemies, and creep over their ex-girlfriends. Hi Harry!

Yesterday on The Spectator’s podcast Coffee House Shots, Isabel Hardman, Katy Balls and James Forsyth put out their second episode in a row discussing claims by their colleague’s husband1 about a former Spectator editor’s handling of the pandemic.

In the first of those episodes on Wednesday, Forsyth — whose wife’s boss is that very same Spectator editor turned Prime Minister — also talked about his best friend from school and best man who just happens to be the Chancellor.

Of course none of The Spectator trio referenced the multiple elephants in the room, preferring instead to tread gingerly around the increasingly large piles of dung, pretending all the while to be incredibly impartial observers.

Forsyth is a past master of this trick. Every Friday he contributes a column to The Times that attempts the high-wire trick of talking about the government without ever nodding to the fact that his wife works within it and his best friend is Chancellor. And every week multiple people in the comments push him off the tightrope by pointing out the blindingly obvious: He’s got more conflicts of interest than the guy in the meme.

Not sure which one? Just ask meme lord Dominic Cummings, he’ll Spiderman point you in the right direction.;

In today’s Times, Forsyth's column — headlined Boris Johnson is the master of chaos and confusion — inevitably addresses Dominic Cummings’ evidence to the parliamentary select committees but manages, as ever, to contort itself into a yoga pretzel of praise for the faux-bumbling blob.

Forsyth disdains quotes, even anonymous ones, in this latest column. Instead, he uses a novelist’s omnipotent tone to assure his reader that he knows what the key characters were thinking:

As time passed, their differences grew and Cummings’s desire for control increased. He felt exasperated at how often Johnson failed to follow his advice. When Cummings complained that he just wanted to have his hands on the wheel of government, a friend told him that Johnson was the only prime minister who would let him anywhere near the steering wheel.

For Johnson, this was too much. He was beginning to resent the idea that the only agenda in Downing Street was Cummings’s. Which of them had won an election? Isn’t power traditionally exerted by the prime minister via his advisers and not vice versa? He came to believe he had signed a Faustian pact with Cummings: yes, he had hired a gifted man with a radical agenda. But there couldn’t be two masters in No 10.

How can Forsyth write with such confidence? Did Johnson tell him this? Or do his insights flow from conversations with his wife — Allegra Stratton — who was until recently a senior press aide and is still yoked to the government as the spokesperson for the COP-26 climate talks? Perhaps he just rang up Rishi Sunak, his school friend and best man at his wedding.

The reader doesn’t get any insight into how Forsyth comes to his ‘conclusions’. Instead, they are expected to take his analysis at face value; to assume that he is an honest broker and analyst at work even as he discusses allegations put by a colleague’s husband about his own wife’s boss concerning the conduct of an administration that includes his best friend in the second most powerful role.

I have written about on multiple occasions but this stuff bears repeating. In US journalism where most newspapers operate a system of declarations of interest, Forsyth would either not be assigned a beat where his wife and best friend are often central to stories or have a very large statement appended to his columns on topics related to them. But this is Britain where nepotism, cronyism, and near-criminal closeness is just accepted.

While Forsyth is a glaring example of how conflicts of interest are just ignored in the British press, he is far, far, far from alone.

Yesterday — as it often is — the byline of The Sun’s political editor Harry Cole appeared on a story about his ex-girlfriend Carrie Symonds. And today, Forsyth’s editor, Fraser Nelson — who is, remember, Cummings’ wife Mary Wakefield’s boss — contributes his weekly column to The Daily Telegraph on his employee’s husband’s confessions to the select committees.

Under the headline, The crucial facts Cummings left out tell a very different story of lockdown, Nelson offers up a column explicitly designed to bolster The Telegraph’s ‘sceptical’ — or in the case of Allison Pearson outright conspiratorial— line on lockdowns. It also uses a common columnist’s trick: Focusing on one small aspect of a vast tranche of evidence in an attempt to persuade the reader of an argument.

Nelson writes, after running through a selective buffet of bullet points, that:

… what sets Britain apart now is having one of the highest vaccination levels in the world, the lowest Covid levels in Europe and being three weeks away from a full reopening. For those judging Johnson’s record, this also counts.

Cummings’s genius as a campaigner lies in his ability to paint in primary colours, to portray everything as stark choice.

Take back control. Lockdown vs “let it rip”. But in this crisis, there never were easy options – and as the data rolls in from around the world, lockdowns are becoming harder, not easier, to justify. Johnson’s hesitancy may well start to look like the far more rational approach.

This is the ‘forget the 130,000 dead, feel the quality of the vaccination campaign’ argument and it rings hollow. But that doesn’t matter in the world of The Daily Telegraph and The Spectator. And while Nelson’s argument might make running his next appraisal with Wakefield awkward, he’s listening to his master’s voice — both The Spectator and The Daily Telegraph are owned by the remaining bastard Barclay brother, Sir Frederick — which is whispering: “We still back Boris.”

After all, once he’s done with the distraction of being Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, Boris Johnson will get back to his real calling — writing offensive horseshit in The Daily Telegraph for double the dosh he gets for saying offensive horseshit on behalf of the nation.

And until that happens, The Telegraph will stay solidly behind its deliberately messy-haired Manchurian candidate. That’s why its leader column yesterday declared Dominic Cummings' testimony was a display of vengeful score-settling and Nelson’s column in today’s paper is joined by one from Annabel Fenwick-Elliot headlined Ignore Cummings: Boris's open border approach was right all along. It comes with a lede — “It's time the Prime Minister's libertarian spirit is allowed to rule again” — which I’m sure will come as enormous comfort to the families and friends of the 130,000 dead and the many others suffering from ‘long Covid’ after-effects.

Over at The Daily Mail, which is still solidly behind the Conservative Party but would rather like to see Boris Johnson bounced for a more reliable ghoul, has got hold of a letter that it says Carrie Symonds wanted the Prime Minister to send to The Times. Once again, poor innocent Dilyn, a canine captive in the barking court of King Boris, is dragged into the press.

Beneath a curiously restrained headline by Mail standards — The note to a newspaper that put Carrie Symonds in the doghouse — Simon Walters writes:

Boris Johnson refused to back fiancee Carrie Symonds' complaint to The Times after it claimed the couple wanted to get rid of their pet dog Dilyn.

He objected on the basis that the proposed complaint, drawn up at the start of the Covid crisis, was 'a nonsense'.

A copy of the draft letter was leaked to The Daily Mail after Dominic Cummings told MPs on Wednesday that Miss Symonds went 'completely crackers' over a report claiming the couple hated Dilyn.

What convenient timing.

The note itself is a treat, full of self-satisfied, hypocritical cant of the kind you would expect to emerge from a relationship between two absolute cants, themselves living in a building stuffed full with world-class cants.

The leaked draft, allegedly written by Symonds and Johnson, is a thoroughly deranged defence of Dilyn:

Dilyn is and always will be a much-loved member of our family. He is a happy and healthy dog and making a claim to the contrary is entirely without foundation.

The article also makes a number of highly inaccurate damaging allegations about our home and private life.

These are not only false but a gross invasion of our privacy.

It goes on to threaten a complaint to IPSO — the toothless press regulator — which does not seem to have happened and is signed “Boris and Carrie”, which sounds like one of those cafés that look suspiciously like money laundering operations given their constant lack of customers.

The Mail claims there’s a very good reason that the letter (and threatened complaint) were never sent:

According to a well-placed No10 source, there was another reason Mr Johnson did not complain about the report. 'It was essentially true,' said the source. 'At one stage there was talk of getting rid of Dilyn. Carrie loves the dog but Boris has never been a fan. It drove him round the bend.'

There’s one thing Dominic Cummings and the Prime Minister still agree on.

While the general Mail line is anti-Boris, it still can’t resist the opportunity to attack anyone who gets near it. Dan Wootton, still the holder of the Most Odious Man in British Media championship belt and soon to provide a televisual emetic with his GB News show, squeezed out a column yesterday headlined — Boris, Carrie and Hancock all took one hell of a battering from Dominic Cummings but the reputation he really destroyed was his own. In it, he writes:

I'm sorry, I can't help but think Dom's main motivation today was more about settling scores and trying to drive Boris out of power, than helping the country learn important lessons.

In my eyes, that makes him a traitor and a turncoat – a man who was seeking personal vengeance under the cover of speaking out in the national interest.

And Dan, who spent months attacking ITV after Lorraine ditched him as its in-house gossipmonger and cried the scaliest of crocodile tears after the death of Caroline Flack, is an expert on personal vengeance and self-interest.

Elsewhere in The Mail’s murky output, Sarah Vine slipped her view on Cummings’ evidence out at the end of her column earlier this week, before he even took his seat. The single paragraph came after vital observations about dentistry, private equity — the Daily Mail’s latest big bugbear — Prince Charles’ gardening clothes, Maureen Lipman’s battle with Equity, and… uh… Kim Kardashian.

Vine wrote as if it were an after-thought but in words she’ll have sweated over, perhaps with her faulty animatronic husband Michael Gove lurking at her shoulder, that:

When it comes to the fallout between Boris and his former political Svengali, Dominic Cummings, it strikes me that the latter is being a bit of a Prince Harry about it all.

No doubt Dom's 'truth bombs' will create ripples at today's hearing; but apart from getting a few things off his chest and settling some old scores, it's hard to see what purpose this psychodrama could possibly serve.

What’s missing from that insight? The fact that Cummings was an advisor to Gove at the Department of Education and remains an ally. Perhaps she’ll have nicer things to say in her Mail on Sunday column given how easy dear old Dom went on Gove in his testimony.

Finally, over at The Sun, home of Britain’s premier cuckold Harry Cole, Cummings’ allegations are dismissed. It seems Rupert Murdoch still finds Boris Johnson useful and that the multiple meetings he and his top executives had with the Prime Minister and senior ministers last year — the most recent ones disclosed in government releases — were productive.

The Sun’s leader column today continues its commitment to helping the powerful avoid any shred of accountability. Beneath the headline Case for immediate Covid inquiry is mostly made out of naked self-interest and the subhead No Show Trial, it slimes:

THE case for an immediate Covid public inquiry is bogus and mostly made out of naked self-interest.

It would not bring swift “justice” for those grieving lost loved-ones. It would merely distract politicians, scientists and medics from saving other lives right now. And that remains their focus. This virus is not done yet.

What an odd position from a paper that keeps running front pages about how the pandemic is almost over and we can now all drink ourselves to death instead. Still, Rupert Murdoch and the editors of The Sun are notoriously against naked self-interest so I’m sure this is all written in good faith…

The leader column continues:

Public inquiries, with witnesses ­laboriously questioned and millions of documents pored over, can take years to conclude anything. Besides, many crucial ­lessons have been learned already.

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jonathan Van-Tam says — and we agree — that an inquiry will be vital in due course but “Please, not now. We are far too busy.”

Labour ignore him. They and their allies are simply desperate for a show-trial they hope will damage the Tories.

And, let’s face it, Labour minds are already made up. Deputy leader Angela Rayner now says “100 per cent, Jeremy Corbyn would have done a better job” than Boris Johnson on Covid. So much for Labour having changed. The hard Left are merely biding their time.

The Sun has conducted its inquiry and the person most to blame for all those deaths is… the imaginary Communist Corbyn in their heads and the evil Hard Left who… uh… run the Conservative Party? [subs to check]

The same deranged, gaslighting, history distorting, Boris backing bullshit is dealt out by Trevor Kavanagh in his column — Voters are looking ahead to Freedom Day not back at last year’s mistakes. Translation: “Never mind the 130,000 dead! You can plebs can eat in a Harvester again.”

Kavanagh, with his face like a disgraced local councillor, discovered shitting on a political rival’s car bonnet, writes:

Britain’s position as a global hub, with the fattest, most crowded population in Europe, made it especially vulnerable. Most who died were indeed in their 80s.

Another translation: “It was you, the public, who were to blame. And most of the people that died had it coming anyway.” It’s grotesque and unsurprising at the same time. Kavanagh was The Sun’s political editor for 22 years for a reason — he exists to comfort the powerful and criticise the weak, it’s his speciality.

The vast majority of the British press is telling us how partial Dominic Cummings was in his appearance in Parliament, how self-interest and selfish he is, while spinning and skewing their over coverage to promote their favoured characters and shade their enemies.

And we’re expected to pretend that this professional wrestling farce isn’t happening, that the people commenting on the action aren’t also married to the wrestlers or old school friends or exes or former colleagues who still come together at the same cosy little dinner parties.

You’re reading their truths which are nothing like the real thing.

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Mary Wakefield is a commissioning editor and columnist for The Spectator. She’s also married to Dominic Cummings.