Dominic Cummings – the controversial adviser to Boris Johnson who is in the eye of the storm for bending if not bypassing the UK lockdown regulations he imposed on the country – has a gift for pithy phraseology.
He famously crafted the winning slogan of the 2016 referendum: “Take Back Control”. Then, to provide the Conservatives with a landslide win in the 2019 election, there was “Get Brexit Done”. Powerful and concise statements which resonated with core voter concerns.
But with demands for his political head on the proverbial platter growing louder, he might soon enough change his surname from Cummings to Goings.
Years back, when Cummings was advising cabinet minister Michael Gove, then-prime minister David Cameron described the hard-driving adviser as “a career psychopath”.
Cummings returned the insult to the ideologically chameleonic prime minister by noting that Cameron was “a sphinx without a riddle”.
The 10-week lockdown saw his political stock soar at its commencement when he entered the stratosphere of public approval with highest marks for the swift, bold and – against character – decisive decision to close the country to flatten the curve.
But once he allowed his motley crew of ministers to tramp on his message, fixate on ideology and acquiesce in his emasculation on the cigarette sale reversal, he went from secular saint to Sunday Times Mampara in 50 days.
There is of course no data or WHO suggestion that opening places of worship is better science than keeping restaurants and cinemas closed. Here, CR is channelling his inner Donald Trump. The US president, with an eye on the votes of Christian evangelicals, had pushed the same line. Despite the already clear evidence that religious services were super-spreaders of the coronavirus. Exactly what was witnessed with just one church event in the Free State in March.
This of course has everything to do with politics and nothing at all with epidemiology.
Ramaphosa was elected in the fond belief by many in the business community that he would be pro-reform and change the business-bashing narrative of the Zuma era.
Yet in his May Day address this year, with a paragraph plucked from the JZ playbook, Ramaphosa called for “radical economic transformation” post-Covid. Of course, the fact that the dread “white monopoly capitalists” have been the backbone of the Solidarity Fund announced by Ramaphosa went unmentioned in that speech.
This week I participated in a webinar (our new normal) curated by South Africa-born philanthropist Wendy Fisher. My chosen topic, “Political leadership in time of great crisis – South Africa from De Klerk to Ramaphosa”, bore out this truism in spades.
All our presidents in that bracket started with clean slates in part because they were not their predecessors. And, of course, “Not Zuma” was CR’s most compelling calling card.
But two years and three months into his presidency, Ramaphosa learns that political capital, just like our diminished savings base, is quickly spent.
And it is not about “following the science”, in which on this terrible virus the opinions wildly diverge. It is about choices. “To govern is to choose,” said Pierre Mendes France. What are Cyril’s choices? And will he stick to them?
Leon, a former leader of the opposition, now chairs Resolve Communications.
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