In today’s Whitehall farce, Boris Johnson doesn’t wear the trousers


Dominic Cummings’s trust-breaking trip to Barnard Castle has become this government’s Black Wednesday moment

For many years, the phrase “Whitehall farce” denoted long-running comedies at the Whitehall theatre, a stone’s throw (or two) from Downing Street and assorted government departments. One of my favourite stories is of the time my friend the economist Lord Peston – father of the broadcaster Robert – returned unexpectedly to the office he shared with Lord Rix, once a star of Whitehall farces, and expressed his embarrassment at the sight of Rix changing for dinner with his trousers down. “No need to be so shocked, Maurice,” said Rix: “In the old days people used to pay to see me like this.”

Well, the lockdown may have closed theatres, but the Whitehall farce is alive and well, and has been taking place at least twice daily in Downing Street. We are undergoing the worst economic depression in memory – some believe in history – and we have as a prime minister a man who is all at sea and so dependent on his key adviser, Dominic Cummings, that he could not bring himself to sack him even though Cummings made a laughing stock of the government’s entire lockdown policy with his trip to Barnard Castle “to test his eyesight”.

How do they confront these enormous events? They decide to conduct a war on the civil service whose loyalty and trust they require

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