Euan McColm: Cummings and goings can’t mask truth that Boris is to blame

Dominic Cummings had barely left the building before the spin began. Having dismissed his principal adviser, went the story, the Prime Minister was going to drag his government back to the moderate centre ground. We were about to witness the return of the old Boris Johnson.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson's top aide Dominic Cummings leaves 10 Downing Street, London, with a box. Picture: Yui Mok/PA Wire
Prime Minister Boris Johnson's top aide Dominic Cummings leaves 10 Downing Street, London, with a box. Picture: Yui Mok/PA Wire

This may not have come as the comfort to you that those spinners hoped.

Yes, the removal of Cummings – a stupid person’s idea of a clever person – from the heart of government is a good thing, but the idea that Johnson can somehow reset his premiership is utterly fanciful.

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Allies of the PM want us to believe that the Johnson who became London mayor twice after winning over the support of voters who would never normally have considered backing a Tory is back in the room.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson answers questions during a briefing on the current coronavirus pandemic, in Downing Street. Picture: Leon Neal - WPA Pool/Getty Images

But that version of Johnson – like all versions of Johnson – was nothing more than an act that suited the moment. The only authentic thing about our Prime Minister is his inauthenticity.

Of course, Cummings should have been sacked seven months ago when, fearing he had contracted coronavirus during the national lockdown, he travelled from London to County Durham. Instead, Johnson stood by his adviser who went on to troll the nation with the ludicrous claim that he had driven to the town of Barnard Castle in order to test his eyesight.

So, yes, there may have been some satisfaction in seeing Cummings – formerly director of the Vote Leave campaign that prevailed during the 2016 EU referendum – finally shown the door, but the damage he has wrought on our politics and this government will linger.

In the end, it is said, Johnson gave Cummings the boot because he believed his adviser had briefed against him and his fiancée, Carrie Symonds. This version of events is disputed by some government sources, but it is clearly true that the Johnson-Cummings double act, once considered rock solid, had fallen apart in dramatic fashion.

All that truly matters to Johnson is that he is loved. Behind that exhausting front of sub-Wodehousian rhetoric and studied dishevelment sits a needy man-child. Psychologists could spend literally minutes getting to the heart of the man and his motivations.

Cummings – both with his presence in government and with his departure – has made that Johnsonian aim all the more difficult for the PM to achieve.

Liberal Tories – whose scepticism about Johnson goes back some time – saw Cummings as an entirely malign force. When, at his adviser’s urging, Johnson removed the Tory whip from a number of pro-European Union MPs last year, their suspicions about their party leader were amply confirmed. That wing of the Tory party will not soon forget that brutality.

To those enemies, Johnson may now add a growing number of Eurosceptics who will see the defenestration of Cummings as a grave provocation. To the anti-EU mob, Cummings is a hero whose coining of the “take back control” slogan in 2016 is considered a moment of genius.

Cummings loses control at the point where the UK stands on the brink of a damaging n o-deal Brexit. Like all vandals, he destroys then flees.

If Johnson believes the scene is set for him to unite his party and the country, he is hopelessly deluded.

The Conservative Part y is famously unsentimental about its leaders. Its MPs can be depended upon to loyally back the incumbent right up until the moment when they most decidedly don’t.

It was notable that, on Cummings departure from Downing Street on Friday, former Ukip leader Nigel Farage tweeted that here was evidence “a Brexit sell-out is close”. There are many Tory Eurosceptics who will share this view. These, remember, are the same people with whom Johnson threw in his lot in order to secure the keys to 10 Downing Street.

Johnson decided to support Brexit not because he believed it was in the best interests of the UK (he very much didn’t believe this), but because he believed it optimised his chances of becoming Prime Minister. In this calculation, he was correct. We can scarcely deny that, can we?

But in choosing to take this path to power, Johnson could not help, but make himself a more divisive figure than he had once been.

Friends of the Prime Minister wish us to believe that the departure of Cummings from Downing Street signals the beginning of a new era. This suggestion invites us to believe that the adviser rather than Johnson himself was responsible for the chaos engulfing the UK Government.

But it was Johnson, not Cummings, who assembled a Cabinet of such thwocking mediocrity; the Prime Minister picked the Z-listers who now hold the great offices of state.

It was Johnson, not Cummings, who threw talented Tories out of his party because they dared speak their minds about Brexit. It was Johnson, not Cummings, who put personal ambition before all other considerations.

Spin from the Johnson camp asks us to absolve the Prime Minister of blame for the consequences of what were, when all is said and done, the decisions of the Prime Minister.

The UK is divided and fragile and that, though Cummings may have played his part, is ultimately on the PM. Boris Johnson is the architect of our national misery and no amount of spin about new beginnings and clean sheets can change that. Boris Johnson may have rid himself of Dominic Cummings but he cannot so easily rid himself of blame for the state we are in.

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