Almost a year ago, MPs demanded that Dominic Cummings come to the Commons. Today, he finally did. Not unwillingly to the bar of the House, as they had urged. But voluntarily – to the dispatch box itself.
Cummings didn’t do so in person, of course, but through the medium of the new Prime Minister, in the form of the latter’s first Chamber appearance in that post.
Johnson prefers the orator’s perch in the podium, from which he can project to an audience, to the cut-and-thrust of front bench statements, during which others can come back at you.
None the less, he did everything he did today, pretty much, that his new post required him to do. He waved his arms. He expostulated. He thwacked the box and tousled his mane. (Or was it the other way round?)
Flanked manfully by Sajid Javid and Dominic Raab – the new First Secretary of State! – he raised his eyes to heaven, like a prophet seeking divine guidance.
The Labour benches, after a little light opening heckling, lapsed largely into silence. The reason seemed to be not so much the form of what the Prime Minister said, but the content.
Its centrepiece: that the UK will achieve Brexit by October 31. “I and all Ministers are committed to leaving the EU by this date, whatever the circumstances,” he cried.
Have you got that? The Labour benches certainly did. As if by some magical trick of mindread, you could see the thought bubbles forming above their heads.
“Christ!” “Wow.” “Oh no, he really means it.” “God!” “Oh f**k, I could lose my seat.” ConservativeHome apologises on their behalf for any offence.
We concede that some Tory MPs will have been thinking in the same way. And a few Labour ones will be confident of winning any general election that may come before or after a No Deal Brexit.
But that was not the sense that one picked up from the Commons yesterday. Rather, it was, after the muddle of the May Government, that Johnson really is prepared to “do or die”. As he hasn’t quite put it, “everything is changing”.
This site confesses to finding the change invigorating. What gives it conviction is the presence of Cummings. Twenty urgent hospital upgrades! Twenty thousand more police! An Australian-style points system [our italics].
Those italicised words are Cummings’ spoor – a signature phrase as distinctive as a Bansky wall stencil. But credit where credit’s due. After all, bringing him back was Johnson’s decision. The Prime Minister himself took the plunge.
And so it was that, as he zipped into a slightly flat Corbyn, Johnson / Cummings (Johnnings? Cumson?) won a cheer of “more!, more! ” from Conservative MPs.
On the backbenches, there was no Greg Clark. And no David Gauke (though there was Karen Bradley, who asked a question; it might have been better if she hadn’t).
Where were they? At Lords, that’s where – watching the cricket with Theresa May. They will be back in the autumn, with Jeremy Hunt, Philip Hammond, Penny Mordaunt, Uncle David Lidington and all.
But yesterday, they clearly thought it best to let Cummings, sorry Johnson, have his innings – and score runs. He may lose gloriously, but we have a match on.