Last week, we identified four tasks for Boris Johnson during August: visiting Scotland, fishing for autumn support among Opposition MPs, delivering campaign pledges on policing and the NHS…and answering a question that we couldn’t: who will run an autumn election campaign?
A mystery near the heart of the matter was the vanishing of Lynton Crosby into his commercial work. Why had one of Johnson’s oldest-time supporters apparently thrown in the towel?
Today, we seem to know the answer. Dominic Cummings, the Campaign Director of Vote Leave, is returning. This is an unambiguous sign that Team Johnson is hunkering down for a likely autumn election. But it also means a whole lot more.
Cummings is the ultimate all-or-nothing merchant, and would not be going to Downing Street/CCHQ without, to coin a phrase, “taking back control”. He represents what Nick Timothy was for Theresa May, and George Osborne, ultimately, was for David Cameron, after the departure of Steve Hilton. Cummings will be the new Government’s hands-on strategist and campaign director, in effect – linking up with another former Vote Leaver, Lee Cain, who will direct communications.
This is a reckoning, and more. Continuity Remain and Leave EU alike will never, ever forgive Cummings for masterminding Vote Leave – and winning. We think of the former not so much as an elite as an ascendancy: a sub-class that believes its rule is the natural order of things. Its plumped-up outrage, its sense of thwarted entitlement and wounded esteem, the blow that the referendum result was to its very sense of self: Cummings is a focus, even more than Boris Johnson or Michael Gove, for its rage agaist all these things.
Cummings’ appointment will refire the passions of Brexit, either way – and ensure that any autumn election is seen in effect as a second referendum: a chance for the ascendancy to expunge its sense of defeat and humiliation. No-one knows this better than the man himself. Eddie Lister will keep Johnson’s Downing Street machine ticking over; Cummings will give it cutting edge, a sense of direction and ruthless focus. It’s a high-risk appointment, but undoubtedly the right one. For get the Nietzschian flavour of the man, read his blog.
ConservativeHome knows Cummings well. For months, he has been raging against the present machine – strategy, tactics, civil service and all: Mark Sedwill can expect fireworks. Expect to hear all Cummings’ favourite tunes played fortissimo: more money for the NHS, a points system for immigration, tax cuts for lower paid workers.
These are his focus group-honed signature tunes. We wrote earlier today that this premiership will either be a triumph or, more likely, a disaster. This news swings the balance back towards the former.
The biggest question of all about Johnson has been: is he serious? Will his administration decay into a court, which competing flunkeys bring to a standstill? Cummings’ appointment appears to resolve the point. Some very senior MPs will hate it, as will much of the ERG, for which part he has contempt. It is a bold move by Johnson.
And it seems to show that he is indeed serious: the most convincing evidence to date that the incoming Prime Minister is set on leaving the EU on October 31. Do or die it is.