One of Dominic Cummings’s strengths as a campaigner was his genius for a clear message – think ‘Take Back Control’ or ‘Get Brexit Done’. But the case that he was trying to make today was more complicated. He was trying to persuade people both that the Prime Minister was not up to the job and that the system has failed.
The problem for him is that these two arguments cut against each other. If, as he himself acknowledged, even a Bill Gates-style figure would have struggled to deal with the problems of the Whitehall machine then Johnson’s failings seem less important. Equally, if the Prime Minister and the Health Secretary are both not up to the job – an accusation that Cummings took every opportunity to make – it is hard to think that failings during this crisis condemn the system.
Talking to Tory MPs and ministers tonight there is a sense that this point, combined with the hyperbole in some of Cummings’s language, means that his testimony won’t have the seismic political impact that you might expect.
Cummings has always had a very different tone from the usual Westminster patter. That is one of the things that has made him stand out. But the sheer fury with which Cummings repeatedly went after Matt Hancock made the charges against the Health Secretary less potent than if they had been put more moderately.
Dominic Cummings and Boris Johnson’s fall out is spectacular. His testimony today made Geoffrey Howe’s resignation speech look like a paean of praise. But it is hard to see it having anything like the same effect. The Tory poll lead and the fact that the vaccines are allowing things to reopen will insulate Boris Johnson from most of the charges made against him.