Would now be an appropriate time to remind everyone that this country does actually have a prime minister?
Now that the chancellor has resigned in chaotic fashion, it’s worth considering the possibility that the prime minister might have had something to do with it.
This, I know, goes against the received wisdom. When things start to look pear-shaped, we’ve come to think we must all descend into a hushed reverence, to ponder over the latest move in the great game being played on us by the Svengali that is Dominic Cummings. Boris Johnson, meanwhile, is barely considered even as a pawn.
This is the latest front in Cummings’ perpetual war with everyone. First it was his war on lobby journalists; then on the BBC; then the civil service; then his own breakfast; and now, Sajid Javid – a war I am apparently meant to type out that Cummings has won.
It’s not perpetual war, though, is it – it’s perpetual chaos. Boris Johnson did not, for example, want to be publicly humiliated by the Supreme Court last October, to have to quietly offer an apology to the Queen. He also did not want to have his chancellor resign on him in yet another very public political pyrotechnics display. It didn’t need to be this way – indeed it wasn’t meant to be.
With Rishi Sunak now in post, we are led to believe that we will have “cohesion” between Number 10 and Number 11. That we are about to return to the days of “Dave and George”. Yet the relationship between Cameron and Osborne was anomalous. Brown waged war against Blair because he wanted his job. Hammond stubbornly tried to prevent Theresa May from delivering a Brexit deal that would sabotage the economy (he succeeded in a way. It’s just that we have Johnson’s deal now, which is far, far worse). Cameron and Osborne were close because they had done the difficult years together in opposition. They had worked together as young men. They were a team. Equal partners, almost. Each had complete trust and confidence in the other.
The same cannot be said about Johnson and the new guy, Rishi Sunak. Sunak has earned Johnson’s respect the easy way, not the hard way – by doing precisely as he is told. It is a relationship not of cohesion, but of compliance.
Last summer, when Johnson was campaigning to be Conservative Party leader, he chose to place himself under house arrest, and instead have a series of proxies go on the TV and the radio and answer the various difficult questions he himself could not. Have you ever taken cocaine? How many children have you got? That kind of thing. They queued up to do it. Johnny Mercer put a shift in. Liz Truss did her best. But Sunak was the star. At one point, he even told the BBC’s Emma Barnett that it was “silly to suggest that Boris Johnson isn’t subjecting himself to scrutiny” – in an interview he was doing in Boris Johnson’s stead, more than a week since the prime minister had been sighted. He has earned Johnson’s respect, in other words, through a willingness to humiliate himself by defending the transparently indefensible.
Things don’t always end well for those whose principal skill is a willingness to do as they’re told. They’re as easy to find as they are to lose.
And when Dominic Cummings breaks Britain in an attempt to turn the civil service into some kind of tech start-up – in the end it will not be his name, but Boris Johnson’s, above the door.