Cabinet reshuffle: Why it’s wrong to blame Dominic Cummings for ousting Sajid Javid – leader comment
In days of old, when criticising an absolute monarch could be a deadly mistake, a much safer way to express dissent in public was to blame the royal advisers. The king or queen was, of course, noble, just and true, but they were being led astray by an over-mighty Mephistopheles, whispering poison in their ear.
Old habits die hard, it seems. For some, Alastair Campbell played this role during Tony Blair’s time in office; Steve Bannon was a lightning rod for some criticism aimed at Donald Trump during his brief stint as White House chief strategist; and Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill were forced out of Downing Street after they were blamed for Theresa May’s disastrous mishandling of the 2017 general election.
Boris Johnson’s aide Dominic Cummings already has a certain reputation as the chief architect of the successful Leave campaign.
Now there are rumours that tensions between Cummings and Sajid Javid led to the Chancellor’s shock resignation, just four weeks before the UK Budget. Sources claimed Javid had refused to fire his own special advisers and replace them with ones sent from Number 10.
Other high-profile casualties of Johnson’s reshuffle included Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom, once a Conservative leadership contender, Attorney General Geoffrey Cox and the Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith.
The latter’s departure was a particular surprise, given Smith had, as former Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar noted, “helped to restore powersharing in Stormont” among other achievements during just 204 days in the job. Varadkar even declared him “one of Britain’s finest politicians of our time”.
Smith, a Remain supporter who later backed Johnson’s Brexit policy, was reportedly prepared to stand up to Johnson in Cabinet. So he seems both capable and tough, which sound like qualities of a good Secretary of State.
The concern about such changes is that they suggest Johnson is no longer One Nation Tory that he has been in the past and that he is demanding loyalty to an excessive degree – a sign of weakness, not strength. Members of the Cabinet should be signed up to broad policy objectives, but they should not fear losing their jobs if they have specific disagreements with the boss.
And, to be clear, that boss is Johnson, not Cummings, and the buck stops with him.