If Dominic Cummings had been nonetheless operating No 10, would now we have given up on Ukraine? | Nick Cohen

Play the “what if” historical past sport and it’s straightforward to see the west betraying the folks of Ukraine. What if Donald Trump had received the 2020 US presidential election? You don’t want to return and skim of his envious admiration of Vladimir Putin and each different quasi and precise dictator, when he’s presently condemning the Biden administration for sending $40bn to Ukraine as a substitute of placing America First.

What if Jeremy Corbyn had received the 2019 UK normal election? We don’t want to recollect his appeasement of Putin after Russia’s nerve agent assault in Salisbury now that the nice anti-imperialist has determined {that a} conflict of colonial aggrandisement by Europe’s final empire is precisely the proper second to say that he needs to see Nato “ultimately disbanded”.

And what if Dominic Cummings nonetheless managed Downing Street?

The reply takes us to the center of a misreading of the previous 30 years. The standard knowledge holds that proper and left had been dedicated to liberal democracy and free markets. Their principled/complacent/ corrupt (delete in keeping with style) worldview was shattered by the arrival of strongman nationalist leaders within the 2010s, as if from nowhere.

Nothing comes from nowhere. The perception that democracy must be defended solely when the system permits the proper to win was there lengthy earlier than 2016. As was the contempt of reactionaries for liberal rights, and their conviction that the progressive elite was destroying the ethnic essence of the nation by cynically importing migrants who would vote for centre-left politicians. Resentment and paranoia stewed not solely on the far proper however within the supposedly elevated minds of Tory intellectuals, and pushed them ineluctably to authoritarian conclusions. As Cummings has been busy exhibiting us.

The man who campaigned for Britain to take again management from the EU is arguing towards Ukraine’s proper to exist as a sovereign state. He says the US and UK have “deliberately discouraged peace talks” – as if Putin has proven the smallest curiosity in withdrawing his forces. “Much of Ukraine is wrecked, thousands dead and hundreds of billions in damage,” he continues. Agreed, however who did the wrecking and killing? Cummings is simply too tongue-tied to say. He airbrushes away Russia’s accountability for its crimes after which sinks decrease by asserting that Russian propaganda accommodates greater than a grain of fact. “Some” of the help we ship to Ukraine is “going to actual Nazis, as Putin claims”, Cummings opines. While precise mass murderers are indulged, Volodymyr Zelenskiy is denounced as a self-obsessed warmonger. He is “happy to escalate”. He has a “PT Barnum-feel for manipulating the media, and is loving it”.

If Cummings’s recommendation had been adopted, no British anti-tank and surface-to-air missiles would have been despatched to Kyiv, and the Ukrainian resistance would have felt their absence.

As it’s, Cummings is diminished to exhibiting us the smoulderings from the fag finish of the British imperial mindset. Great powers can do as they please. We shouldn’t point out their unprovoked crimes towards humanity, however acknowledge that they’re proper to say that, among the many mounds of corpses they depart behind, are “actual Nazis”. Meanwhile, the Ukrainians and their ridiculous chief should cease escalating a battle Russia imposed on them and settle for that their destiny is to submit.

Long earlier than Trump, Conservatives had been following the trail that ends on the grim terminus of dictator worship. Leftwing critics of the final Labour authorities discovered it an insipid, Tory-lite affair. We would have understood it higher if we had registered how fervently rightwing opinion hated Blairism. They now not understood their nation. The multiculturalism, the sexual tolerance and the actual fact Labour was in energy for 13 years induced disgust and a despairing willingness to embrace any white, Christian regime that proclaimed itself the enemy of liberalism. Cummings’s mentor at Oxford, Norman Stone, an honest historian till the drink did for him, ended his days penning apologias for Hungarian authoritarianism. Viktor Orbán was so impressed by the flattery that he attended Stone’s funeral. Roger Scruton, who continues to be considered a considerate thinker amongst unthinking Conservatives, and Margaret Thatcher’s speech author John O’Sullivan additionally bent the knee to Orbán of their previous age. It isn’t solely the Fox News wing of the American proper that can’t resolve whether or not it prefers Hungarian or Russian autocracy.

When they had been associates, Cummings and Johnson had a good crack at turning authoritarian idea into follow. They purged the Conservative social gathering of critics, unlawfully suspended parliament and assaulted each unbiased establishment that may examine them. A severe authorities, mentioned Cummings, was “not cowed by officials and their bullshit ‘legal advice’ ”. It might dispense with legal guidelines that stood in the way in which of a real Brexit.

As it turned out, Cummings was the bullshit that was disbursed with. Luckily for Ukrainians, Johnson fired him. Johnson himself is now as removed from a strongman as it’s attainable to think about: a bloated, enfeebled chief, in concern of his backbenchers and with out an concept about how to deal with immediately’s disaster, he ricochets from one buffeting to the following like an overgrown little one on a bouncy citadel.

You might be relieved at our democracy’s escape till you look at the element. The Tory social gathering rebels towards Johnson to cease the constructing of recent properties or the imposition of anti-obesity measures however it by no means objects in adequate numbers to the assaults on the BBC and Channel 4, or to the threats to the independence of the civil service, or to the liberty to protest, or to the Human Rights Act.

Conservatives resent comparisons between Johnson and Trump, not to mention Johnson and Putin. But on one level there may be equivalence. Johnson took Britain out of the EU as Putin invaded Ukraine, to say nationwide greatness. Both enterprises have been disastrous as a result of neither chief had the smallest concept of how one can make their adventurism work.

We are left with “what if” questions of our personal. What if the following election sees voter suppression so endemic that two million are denied the franchise? What if a cowed BBC dare not problem the ruling social gathering? What if the failure of Brexit sends the Conservatives right into a spiral of revanchism and stab-in-the-back conspiracism?

We don’t know the solutions but, solely that our “what ifs” aren’t a sport.

Nick Cohen is an Observer columnist

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