Will Dominic Cummings’ departure reboot Boris Johnson’s premiership?
Controversial senior adviser set to leave as senior Tories aim to restore trust in government
A turbulent week in Downing Street has ended with the apparent departure of Dominic Cummings, the prime minister's right-hand man.
He “was seen leaving No. 10 a short while ago carrying a box”, reports the BBC, which says he has left his post “with immediate effect”.
Speculation had been growing about Cummings’ future following the resignation this week of a key ally - No. 10’s head of communications Lee Cain - but he was expected to remain until after Christmas.
His exit will give Boris Johnson the opportunity to reshape his senior team after a period of turmoil at the top of government.
Why is Cummings going?
Cummings took matters into his own hands “after a brutal reckoning that saw his closest ally Cain fall on his sword, having failed to secure the key role of Johnson’s chief of staff”, the Daily Mail reports.
His “exit date is not set” but is expected to fall after “Brexit is delivered and his work on mass testing is completed”, the newspaper adds.
While Cummings is suggesting that his imminent departure is part of a long-term masterplan, some political pundits believe that the former Vote Leave campaign director has little choice in the matter.
The Times reports that Times Radio’s chief political correspondent Tom Newton Dunn has discovered that Cummings’ departure was finalised during a meeting with Johnson yesterday, after the prime minister grew “tired” of the constant infighting at No 10.
And an insider told the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg that Cummings “jumped because otherwise he would be pushed soon”. Johnson had recently come to see that Cummings’ band of “Brexit Boys” was just “in it for themselves”, the source claimed.
And the reaction?
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has told Sky News said that Cummings will “be missed”, but added that “advisers come and go”.
“As he wrote right at the beginning of the year in his own words, he planned to make himself largely redundant this year with the big thing that he worked on, of course, which was Brexit, coming to an end at the end of the transition period,” Shapps added.
In contrast to Shapps’ muted tone, the reaction from Cummings’ detractors within the party has mainly consisted of thinly veiled jubilation.
An unnamed member of the Cabinet told Kuenssberg that Cummings’ exit was a “blessing”. Meanwhile, a “senior Tory” told The Times that Cummings and Cain had caused frustration by operating “in stupid ways”. Another added: “There is an acknowledgement that we need to reset relationships.”
Not everyone is happy to see Cummings go, however. A government aide told The Times’ deputy political editor Steven Swinford that Cummings “is not everyone’s cup of tea, but he’s a winner. I worry that without him we will regress to being a party for rich southerners. He genuinely cares about working-class communities.”
Unsurprisingly, there are no such concerns about the Conservatives’ Cummings-free future among their opposite numbers. In a tweet referencing Cummings’ lockdown breach during the first nationwide shutdown, Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner wrote: “I have no interest in Dominic Cummings’ apparent ‘legacy’.
“In the middle of a pandemic he shattered public trust and undermined lockdown & our fight against Covid. His cross-country road trip, long distance eye test, dishonesty & arrogance was an insult to the British people.”
Shadow Justice Secretary David Lammy added that Cummings “has been one of the most malign influences on the British government in modern history. His legacy is one of bullying, deception, hypocrisy and hubris.”
Will his departure change Johnson’s governing style?
The going of Cummings and Cain “mark the end of the Vote Leave clique’s iron grip on government”, the Daily Mail says.
Senior Conservatives have become increasingly “frustrated at their aggressive approach, ‘incompetent’ handling of the coronavirus crisis, and clumsy U-turns on issues such as free school meals during the holidays”, the paper continues.
Roger Gale, the Tory MP for North Thanet, told The Times that Cummings’ departure was an opportunity for a fresh start, adding: “We need a good chief of staff in Downing Street. Someone [Johnson] can trust and see as a friend.”
That sentiment was echoed by Charles Walker, vice chair of the influential 1922 Committee, who told BBC Two’s Newsnight that if “the prime minister, gets the chief of staff position right... he will plant his standard firmly back in the middle of the Conservative parliamentary party”.
“We feel we’ve lost him for the last year,” Walker added. “We want him back – he belongs to us, he doesn’t belong to the advisers, he belongs to the parliamentary party that elected him and he got elected at the last general election.”
Media commentators have also speculated that the departure of such a key adviser could change the trajectory of Johnson’s premiership.
“If what emerges from Cummings drama is government that works better (due to less ‘punch in the face’ approach to everyone), agenda appealing to soft Tories wooed by Starmer (more green stuff, less culture war) then it’s got huge electoral implications,” The Guardian’s Gaby Hinsliff tweeted.
The Independent’s John Rentoul goes a step further, tweeting that Johnson is “safer now Cummings and Cain, geniuses who waged war on journalists, civil servants, remainers and Tories, are going”.