Dominic Cummings’s main concern as he appears in front of MPs is to identify the failures of government and ensure everyone knows they weren’t his failures, but those of the fools who refused to listen to him.
It’s rather a tragic final act, for the truth is that Cummings did fail (and, to be fair, he has admitted some of his failings in front of the committee). Not so much as regards the pandemic (although given his influence, it is hard not to assign some culpability to him) but in his stated desire to improve the overall performance of government. For those of us who admired his intellect, his drive and his ambition to use data and technology to improve the decision-making that affects millions of people, it is a crushing disappointment.
The fact is that Cummings did have the opportunity to fundamentally re-shape the British state. Johnson has relatively few principles and little in the way of solid policy prescriptions for the problems of the country. By bringing in Cummings as his consigliere, the PM gave him the greatest opportunity of his life. He could have been to the British state what Robert Moses was to New York (for good or for ill): a mighty disruptive force pushing a modernist future. All he had to do was to be willing to work with other people, even those he privately disdained, and he could have been in post for a decade or more.
When it proved impossible for him to remain, though, he could have gone quietly, in good humour. Instead the way in which he now attacks his former employer, his striking willingness to dish the dirt, revealing conversations and events that most people would have been expected to remain private, means that even those people who still admire his abilities and energy must surely think twice about employing him.