How Cummings chooses to throw the grenade of hard truth into the blancmange of Johnson’s Downing Street remains to be seen.
This looks very promising, can’t wait! – Owl
Reports suggest it is in his mind. Asked about future plans, the prime minister’s former chief adviser makes a mime of pulling the safety pin out of a grenade and lobbing it with intent at some unspecified but easily identified object. He seems to be the sort of personality who likes to have the last word, and does not let go easily.
When, for example, in 2014 he was special adviser to Michael Gove at education, the prime minister David Cameron fired Cummings, so troublesome was he. Yet he still turned up at the department and made no secret of his contempt for Cameron and most of his party (Cummings has never been a Tory member). Cummings detailed and lengthy blogs, and the equally meticulous briefings he sometimes offers journalists also point to his taste for explication and analysis, often through the prism of military or managerial strategy.
Cummings has the great distinction of being sacked by three Tory leaders (he was also briefly and unhappily Iain Duncan Smith’s chief of staff) and banned by a fourth, Theresa May, who banished him and Gove from her sight for a while. Cummings has also made enemies of the likes of Sajid Javid (who tried to resist a takeover of the Treasury), Bernard Jenkin and Nigel Farage and has been held in contempt of parliament for effectively refusing to turn up to a select committee hearing to give evidence on the Vote Leave campaign.
There is now plainly no love lost either with Carrie Symonds, the prime minister’s fiancee and known as “Princess Nut Nuts” to Cummings and his associates. Nor with Allegra Stratton, newly appointed spokesperson for No 10. It’s in fact tricky to find anyone to put on the list of Cummings’s allies.
Despite some vague talk from Johnson about a return for Cummings and the ex-press secretary Lee Cain in time for the 2024 election, Cummings has little to lose from telling his side of the story. In truth it would be much more than gossip and score settling – though that might add to the gaiety of the nation in rough times. Indeed Cummings has something of a duty to report on the dysfunctionality of the Johnson administration and No 10 as it has faced and mismanaged the two overwhelming challenges of the Covid crisis and Brexit. Since the referendum campaign of 2016, and especially since Johnson became premier, Cummings has had a unique vantage point from which to observe and analyse what went wrong and what, if anything, went right. Has the PM lost his powers of communication since he had Covid? Does Carrie distract him with text messages and trivial media stories? Could Britain have made Brexit work? Would herd immunity ever have been the answer to covid? Is the Treasury too powerful? Is most of the civil service useless? How does Johnson make policy? Why did Johnson expend so much political capital on retaining him after the Barnard Castle incident, but ditched him so easily now? Is Gove running the country? Or Rishi Sunak? Or anyone?
You’d suspect that, despite some temporary confluence of personal career and political interests, these men are not natural soulmates, in style or outlook or values. Cummings is constant in his beliefs, industrious, decisive and analytical. He has remarked publicly that he has no time for the public school bluffers so often found around Westminster and Whitehall. Johnson, by contrast, has wobbled around like a three-wheel supermarket trolley on Europe, likes his leisure time, dithers, and runs on instinct. He is a public school bluffer; some would attribute the classical references and long words to an Eton education and a gift for saying whatever it takes to get himself out of a tight spot. Both, arguably, though, are better campaigners than administrators.
How Cummings chooses to throw the grenade of hard truth into the blancmange of Johnson’s Downing Street remains to be seen. There may be a very “hard rain” of multiple bombardments – the blog, interviews, columns, briefings… He might even, belatedly, accept the invitation to visit the House of Commons to give evidence on the role of the prime minister’s office. Funnily enough, the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee is taking evidence currently. It would make a fine sequel to the show he gave in the Downing Street garden last summer. If he doesn’t then what is left of his reputation will be shredded by the new gang. Always remember the night time is the right time to fight crime.