Cummings’ departure shouldn’t be the end of “Vote Leave” Conservatism

The resignation of the government’s director of communications, Lee Cain, and Downing Street’s chief special adviser, Dominic Cummings, has brought to an end Vote Leave’s grip on Number 10.

The Prime Minister is now expected to alter his government’s approach and rather than continuing with the “abrasive strategy” of his Vote Leave allies, he will instead pivot to his “liberal instincts” seen during his time at City Hall.

Johnson is rumoured to want to recoil from the ongoing debate on the culture wars, push on green issues and have a less “dogmatic” approach to the Union. 

The Vote Leave gang are said to have pushed the Prime Minister to fight back against the cultural liberalism of the BBC and other organisations.

An unusual coalition of anti-Cummings Conservatives and ardent Remainers now appear to rejoice in the departure of two of Boris Johnson’s most controversial aides. 

Nevertheless, Johnson’s move away from “Vote Leave” conservatism may not quite yield the political capital that the Prime Minister expects.

In fact, by reverting back to the liberal agenda previously set by fellow Old Etonian David Cameron, Johnson may yet again fall out of step with the ever-evolving mood of the pandemic-hit British public.

Given the ongoing crisis in government you could be forgiven for forgetting just how loathsome the over-polished, Westminster-based politicking of previous decades had become. 

Change was minimal. Politics became about appearance rather than governance. And much of this fuelled a growing desire for something new.

Whether people like him or not, Dominic Cummings was a man that saw it as his personal mission to deliver such change and even when working alongside Michael Gove in the education department, Cummings sought to tackle the so-called “blob” and make Whitehall more effective.  

However, by moving away from this reformist course, the Prime Minister may, as his Tory predecessors did, neglect some of the major problems facing Britain.

Not only will this prove disastrous in his “One Nation” bid to “level-up” Britain, but it will also damage his popularity with the Brexit-united alliance of socially conservative voters in the north and south of England.

These problems will be made much worse by the economic fall-out of the coronavirus.

With increasing levels of unemployment and financial hardship set to hit British households, I cannot help but think that the Prime Minister’s liberal messaging – including the end of diesel and petrol cars – will fall on deaf-ears for those he could previously rely on to back him. 

This is not to say that the Vote Leave faction were perfect. The current direction of Downing Street, in the midst of the pandemic, has raised questions over the government’s handling of coronavirus.

Nor is it to argue that the Vote Leave contingent were not controversial. They certainly were. 

But I found it quite refreshing to see a group in Downing Street committed to making radical changes to government – even if much of this was to be delayed by the pandemic.

If Johnson, directed by the Symonds squad, is going to move away from the Vote Leave crew and, more importantly, away from their agenda, then I think the Prime Minister is making a grave mistake. 

The course of action that the Symonds squad champion is outdated and out-of-step with large swathes of the British public. 

If this was happening ten years ago then maybe, just maybe, it would have proved electorally popular and politically successful. 

But even then David Cameron could only govern in either a flimsy coalition with the Liberal Democrats or with a small and often ineffectual majority government.

And the United Kingdom has changed so much since then. Brexit, the culture wars, and even new economic thinking has transformed the way in which the British people vote and live.

Whilst Britain has become more socially conservative it has simultaneously appeared to pivot to the centre on economics – preferring an unusual concoction of economic patriotism and state intervention over the old Conservative consensus of free-markets.

Last December, the Vote Leave crowd’s new approach to conservatism proved decisive in re-drawing the nation’s political landscape. 

It has enabled the Conservative Party to command their largest majority since 1987 but the Prime Minister’s party also became a mouthpiece for many, politically disengaged voters in Westminster.

Cummings’ stint in Number 10 has thus far helped to unite traditional Tory voters in the English shires and former Labour supporters in the post-industrial heartlands to elect a new government, a Boris government, that promised long awaited change to Britain.

And the desire for change should not end now. 

Yes, the United Kingdom has finally left the European Union and let’s hope the government holds firm in the ongoing UK-EU trade talks, but Brexit should be the start, not the end of political evolution in Westminster.

With the genie of change now out of the bottle, the Prime Minister’s rumoured move back to a complacent and metropolitan approach cannot give the people of this country many of the changes it so desperately needs.

I cannot help but think that the image of Cummings leaving Number 10 for the last time is symbolic of the new approach from the Vote Leave crew being replaced by a far less transformative, tried-and-tested style of governance.

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