It was meant to be a screenshot of beauty

The Modern Dometheus

Draw near, children, as I tell you the tale of a genius cursed by his own success. It is a strange and terrible fable, a warning to mankind never to meddle with things in the realm of the Almighty.

This is the story of Dom Cummingstein. A brilliant historian, he became fascinated by the dark science of superforecasting. Driven to the brink of madness by civil servants insisting that he had to obey the law, Dom determined to free Britain for ever.

Late into the night, Dom slaved in his laboratory, aided by his freakish assistant, Govgor. Finally their creation was complete. The Monster was a huge, shambling beast, assembled from whatever the pair had been able to get their hands on. Its hair was a dead cat stolen from an Australian pollster they knew. It had learned English from Molesworth books. It was hideous, with insatiable, unspeakable appetites. The sight of it at once horrified and thrilled them. Its first utterance was full of terrible boding: “Cripes!”

Late into the night, Dom slaved in his laboratory, aided by his freakish assistant, Govgor. Finally their creation was complete

In the months and years that followed, the Monster wrought Dom’s terrible revenge against his enemies. David Cameron, the European Union, civil servants, Parliament, pundits, Conservative MPs – no one was safe. But increasingly, Dom felt uneasy. The Monster demanded a Bride. The Bride demanded a dog. The dog humped Dom’s leg. This had never been the plan. Dom fled with what he could carry, plus an awful lot of screengrabs. Now he roams the ice floes of North London, hunting his own creation and touting for consultancy work on his Substack.

Who will triumph in this epic struggle? It’s hard to say. Boris Johnson, as the Monster has come to be known, currently appears unassailable. On Wednesday Cummings released a brief 7,000-word stream-of-consciousness blogpost setting out 40 or 50 things that everyone should know. The highlight was a midnight WhatsApp message in March last year from someone who is in Cummings’s phone as “Johnson Boris” and described the situation as “Totally fucking hopeless.” This suggests more tactical insight than many of us had given the prime minister credit for.

Much of the blog was an attack on Matt Hancock, who stirs in Cummings an extreme version of the visceral hatred that he seems to feel for all Tory MPs. But plenty of it was directed at Johnson.

The prime minister, Cummings is appalled to have discovered, is a fairly dishonest type of fellow who would abruptly end difficult meetings “shouting ‘forward to victory’, doing a thumbs-up and pegging it out of the room before anybody can disagree”. This strikes the sketch as not so much a shocking revelation of Johnson’s  character as a banal confirmation of what many of us thought.

The Monster has never tried to conceal his nature. Shortly after the Cummings Epic dropped, he was up in Parliament for Prime Minister’s Questions. Keir Starmer asked if the delay in stopping flights from India was in some way related to the high levels of Delta variant Covid in the UK.

“Captain Hindsight needs to adjust his retrospectoscope, because he is completely wrong,” Johnson burbled, to Tory delight. Starmer called this “absurd”, but it was no good. Everyone present knew that the prime minister had delayed an Indian shutdown for weeks because he was hoping to make a trade trip. But when Cummings was assembling Johnson in the lab, he left out a sense of shame.

The Labour leader asked again if it would have been better to stop flights from India when it was first clear that there was a major outbreak there, three weeks earlier. Johnson replied by accusing him of wanting to stop all travel, which would mean the country would starve.

The Monster is impervious to pathetic reality-based barbs. He lumbers on his course, knocking puny humans out of the way

Starmer tried exasperation: “Is he really suggesting that the 20,000 people who came in from India were bringing in vital medical supplies or food?” he asked. “It is absolutely ridiculous.”

But the Monster is impervious to pathetic reality-based barbs. He lumbers on his course, knocking puny humans out of the way.

Might a group of furious villagers make their way to Downing Street and overwhelm it? There were some pretty angry Tories in the Commons later on, as they debated the latest lockdown extension. Sir Desmond Swayne looked close to exploding. “I could understand it if we were a Communist Party,” he raged. It would be interesting to see what he would do if armed with a pitchfork.

Sir Charles Walker wanted a crackdown on mad scientists, suggesting that members of the SAGE advisory panel should be elected. This would be magnificent, although the public may quite like their epidemiologists to have actual PhDs. Tighter regulation might be appropriate. Perhaps some kind of supervisory group: OFBOFFIN.

Steve Baker said the country had tipped into exactly the kind of dystopia he’d feared last year, with lockdowns driven by polls showing public concern about the virus. We were living, he said, in a “doom-loop”. Maybe, but the Sketch prefers to think of it as the Dom Loop.

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