In the neighbourhood in which I grew up in Pune, there was, at the end of Synagogue Street -- you guessed it -- a synagogue! Made entirely of red brick with a Gothic tower it was known locally as Lal Deval.
Our immediate neighbour was a Parsi gentleman who, among other things, published an anonymous rag sheet imaginatively called Synagogue ni Searchlight -- that’s Parsi Gujarati with two English words.
It was a gossip sheet with articles about which girls were seen cycling with boys of a different religion, which family was going bankrupt because the male breadwinner was earning no bread and still gambling on cotton figures, which couple had a foul shouting match over the wife’s certain adultery… etc.
My grandfather, the head of our household, declared himself against the Searchlight and against all gossip and, I suppose, instilled in me a suspicion of it and an inclination to shut my ears and mind to it.
But now, gentle reader, after decades of following mamawaji’s banning principle, I am eagerly enjoying a very public, very significant political row based entirely on gossip. I excuse myself with the contention that this gossip holds the future of the government of the UK in suspense, if not in peril, and it embarrasses persons I regard as on the opposite side to myself in every ideological divide.
So, listen closely:
When Boris Johnson won the leadership of the Tory Party, or wrested it from Theresa May, he called upon one Dominic Cummings to prepare his election strategy. This Dombo is a weird character and was a leading ideologue and strategist of the 2016 campaign in favour of Brexit. He carried this strategic stance into BoJo’s election campaign with the simple slogan “Get Brexit Done”. Among other factors, including the fumblings of the Labour Opposition on the issue, this propelled BoJo to victory and into 10 Downing Street. Into this august address the twice-divorced BoJo introduced his pregnant fiancé, Carrie Symonds. As PM now, he appointed Dominic as his chief adviser.
The Covid crisis came. BoJo, the government and his health secretary Matt Hancock faltered in several ways -- lockdowns were introduced too late, the equipment for keeping hospital staff, including doctors and nurses, protected was not commissioned and distributed as it should have been, contracts for testing and tracing the plague were handed out to cronies of the government without adequate scrutiny or being subject to tender. The test and trace programme was an abject failure, if not a complete non-starter… and the bodies just piled up.
One assumed at the time that Dombo was part of all these plans and failures as he was BoJo’s right-hand man. In this role he had, before and during the plague, exhibited his weirdo tendencies. He publicly said that he was recruiting advisers and operatives to the government who were, in his own words “weirdos and misfits”. (So why didn’t you apply? --Ed. Sirji, Kyon garib aadmi ki mazaak ouda rahen? --fd)
It now transpires, or did a few months ago, that the two unelected adjuncts BoJo had imported into 10 Downing Street were -- how to put it -- incompatible? Carrie was whispering in one ear and Dombo in the other -- and they were, one can now deduce, saying opposite things. Dombo introduced his own team into the fray and Carrie likewise prevailed on BoJo to import her friends into influential positions at the helm of the government. Dombo’s team referred to Carrie as “Ms Nut Nuts”. Carrie’s term for Cummings, if she has a derogatory one, remains undisclosed.
Matters, so to speak came to a head, or at least to the metaphoric decapitation of one or two. Dombo lost out to Ms Symonds, known to the press after her demand that the PM’s flat be redecorated to the tune of over £200,000, as Carrie Antoinette.
Dombo packed his bags and left Downing Street. But he didn’t just take his bags. He took his documents, his exchange of phone texts with the Prime Minister and others, his notes of meetings at the heart of the British government, his memories of what went on in committees into which he had intruded and a pailful of vengeful bile and intent.
He told the press that BoJo had, against urgent advice, delayed the lockdown, using the phrase “let the bodies pile up!”
He was called then to give evidence to a parliamentary committee about his take on the preparations for Covid-19. He spoke to them for seven hours, repeatedly saying that BoJo was not fit for the job and that Matt Hancock had repeatedly lied to Parliament and ought to have been sacked for deceit, if not for total incompetence. Mr Hancock denied all of it and demanded written proof from Dombo.
This week Dombo released the content of several WhatsApp exchanges with BoJo, who replies to him calling Mr Hancock “totally f--- ing hopeless!” In a later exchange, again fatally critical of Mr Hancock, BoJo says: “I can’t think of anything except taking Hancock off and putting Gove on.” Mr Hancock remains.
There are 6,984 more words to Dombo’s released text. He threatens more devastating revelations from his time at the heart of Britain’s government. Please, can they be juicily, fatally about other ministers? Can’t wait!