As the Remainers discovered, Cummings is a clever and ruthless opponent and a brilliant campaigner who is expert at exploiting the weaknesses of his adversaries, and delivering a result against the odds.
In the bruising Battle of Brexit a small and under-funded Leave campaign took on the might of the establishment – government, media, big business, unions and academia – and scored a famous and unexpected victory, largely thanks to Cummings’ influence, changing the course of our history.
But campaigning is not the same as governing, and once he was brought back as an adviser by Boris Johnson to Downing Street, his abrasive and disruptive style quickly made him enemies among civil servants and Ministers.
When Cummings decided to leave Number 10, the best the Government could hope for is that he would quietly scuttle off to County Durham to write his memoirs.
After all, he had been at the very heart of government during one of the biggest crises in modern history, and knew in detail all the mistakes and controversies as a deadly pandemic threatened to overwhelm our country. To use a phrase from the film Citizen Kane: “He knows where the bodies are buried.”
All was quiet for a few months – or as quiet as it is likely to get in a Johnson government – then someone decided the best thing to do was to go and poke the wasps’ nest with a stick, with predictable results.
Journalists were apparently briefed that Cummings was responsible for leaking private text messages between the Prime Minister and the businessman Sir James Dyson during the desperate hunt for ventilators at the height of the crisis.
Cummings not only denied he was responsible, but he also declared all-out war on his former allies and now seems intent on destroying Johnson and bringing down the Government.
The release this week of expletive-laden WhatsApp messages is just the latest skirmish in what is likely to prove a long conflict. Cummings has plenty of ammunition and will fire it off at intervals to cause the maximum damage to his enemies.
In the messages – not denied by Number 10 – Johnson apparently described Hancock as “hopeless”, said the situation surrounding personal protective equipment was a “disaster”, and discussed replacing the Health Secretary with Michael Gove.
Cummings further alleged that Johnson wants to step down after the next election “to make money and have fun” and that when chairing emergency meetings he “told rambling stories and jokes”.
One passage in Cummings’ blog stuck me as particularly telling: “As soon as things get a bit embarrassing (Johnson) does the whole ‘let’s take it offline’ shtick before shouting ‘forward to victory’, doing a thumbs-up and pegging it out of the room before anyone can disagree.”
From what I have seen of the Prime Minister that sounds authentic and it made me laugh because I have worked for one to two bosses like that.
Will the latest revelations hurt Johnson? Well, let’s see, but none of the previous, equally damaging allegations against him have done much to dent his commanding lead in the opinion polls.
The frustrating thing for the “Tories Out” brigade is that the Prime Minister’s eccentricities and moral failings are already “priced in” by the electorate, and voters like him despite these obvious flaws.
And I think that Cummings’ personal hostility, particularly against Hancock, weakens his case. He would be more effective if he toned it down a bit.
While the vaccine rollout continues to be successful and the country opens up out of lockdown, I expect the man known simply as Boris, by both friends and enemies alike, will continue to ride a wave of popularity.
But one day a reckoning will happen, as it does for all politicians, and if Covid makes a comeback in the autumn, it could happen sooner than expected.
I am reminded of the famous quote from Enoch Powell: “All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure, because that is the nature of politics and of human affairs.”
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