And then there were none.
Last week saw divisions at the heart of Number 10 culminating in Boris Johnson’s two most trusted and senior political advisors being given their marching orders.
Lee Cain, Director of Communications, was dismissed on Thursday night, with self-described super-forecaster and Brexit architect Dominic Cummings following him on Friday. Given Cain’s propensity to dress up as a chicken and Cummings’ shining, bald bonce, we do finally have an answer to who left first at least – the chicken, not the egg.
While Cain’s exit was somewhat subdued, Cummings took the opportunity one last time to make the story about him. Specifically, him in the role of down-and-out hero at the end of the third quarter of a Disney film, just before his narrative arc completes itself and he realises that, “It wasn’t Britain what needed fixin’, it was me all along.”
And then, just to top it all off, Johnson announced that he is self-isolating for two weeks, having come into contact with someone who tested positive for coronavirus.
Put your feet up, Mr. J. It’s not like we’ve got a looming Brexit deadline, collapsing Test-and-Trace programme or upcoming vaccine rollout to organise.
LEAVE MEANS LEAVE, PREFERABLY NOWISH
Say what you will about Dominic Cummings, but he has had an astonishing level of influence over British politics for the last few years.
The beating heart of the Vote Leave campaign, Cummings’ ability as a campaigner is not in doubt. He tapped into the heart of something that the rest of the political world had decidedly overlooked for quite some time – namely, the electorate. Where politicians had been aloof and distant, he plugged the gaps. Where the left-behind and the desperate had been abandoned, he gave them hope. Where the people were ignored, he listened.
His campaigning for Brexit was nothing short of revolutionary and he deserves the utmost respect for what he achieved. It’s a shame, therefore, that Cummings’ output as a political advisor, rather than as a campaigner, has been an absolute shower of hot garbage from the outset.
The problem has always been that the actual day-to-day of running a government relies almost entirely on compromise. In order to get anything done, you have to listen to opposing views from the Opposition or Civil Service, form alliances, and have a willingness to be flexible.
Cummings is, by his very nature, as flexible as a stale Weetabix. A campaigner will take the issue that they believe in and find the best way to sell it, with no room for compromise. A campaigner at the heart of government, therefore, is probably going to ruffle a few feathers.
And “Dom” has clearly ruffled more feathers than a fox let loose at Birdworld. With a natural distrust of the Civil Service, a history of less-than-sympathetic views of the Conservative Party and a general willingness to blow things up to piece them back together again, it is unsurprising that he found his allies few and far between last week.
Having doled out millions of pounds to private consultancy firms, pushed an unwavering “No-one likes us and we don’t care” message to Tory MPs and the electorate alike and, lest we forget, breaking lockdown rules to have an eye-test on the A688, Cummings was never going to last forever.
Cain, a long-term ally of Cummings and fellow Vote Leave bigwig, caused quite a ruckus about Allegra Stratton’s appointment as the government’s new press chief, and ultimately made his position untenable. Cummings could have stayed, but chose to leave with him.
Thus ends the Vote Leave faction at the heart of British politics.
…Just as we reach the final (probably) deadline for agreeing a deal with the EU, or leaving with no deal.
A NEW DAWN?
Unfortunately, we can only really speculate as to the timing of Cain and Abel’s departures.
Was there a serious, damaging rift in No. 10? Almost certainly.
Would this be enough, on its own, to see Johnson’s two closest allies leave? Probably not, especially seeing as one has already broken the law and stayed put.
Does this week’s Brexit deadline has anything to do with it? Maybe.
Have they actually gone? Probably, though Cummings is still doing work on Operation Mooncup or whatever the hell it is until Christmas.
One Nation Tories who remember Johnson as being the affable, more collaborative Mayor of London are praying that the Vote Leave team’s departure means that the Prime Minister can revert back to being “2012 Boris” again. Some are speculating that Trump’s downfall across the pond has shaken his trust in populist rule. Some believe that he might go for a softer Brexit without Cummings in his ear and accept a deal.
Don’t be so sure.
While Johnson might, at his core, be a more progressive Tory than he appears, he hasn’t forgotten the “Red Wall” seats that he gained at the last election. While Joe Biden is no fan of Brexit, as he has made abundantly clear, Johnson cannot renege on his promise to the Northern voters he gained last December.
With or without Cummings, Johnson has set a tone for his premiership. Yes, he might be able to repair some of the damage done to the Tory party and yes, he might be less combative when challenged. But do not think for one moment that we are suddenly going to get a brand-new, pumped-up Johnson (ew) just because Cummings and Cain have gone.
The one clear message coming out of multiple Westminster sources is that Johnson is gaining a deep-rooted reputation as being indecisive. The direction his government has tacked to since taking office might have been largely influenced by “Classic Dom” Cummings, but much-needed leadership at No.10 will not simply appear by magic now that he’s gone.
Additionally, Johnson’s two-week isolation period could not have come at a worse time. With Brexit negotiations expected to be completed, one way or another, in the coming days, an absent Prime Minister does not a good omen make.
That being said, the circumstances might be fortuitous – should the coronavirus vaccine be rolled out quickly and effectively, should the economy bounce back strongly, and should Brexit be negotiated without catastrophe (arguably more likely with the PM sidelined), then Johnson will undoubtedly get some of his swagger back.
And frankly, a confident, happy Boris Johnson at a time where we’re celebrating the end of the pandemic might just be something of a tonic for an embittered nation.
Until the next scandal comes out, at least.