Cummings: Maverick mastermind of Brexit and power behind the Johnson throne
The influence of Boris Johnson’s most senior adviser Dominic Cummings is being shown in the Prime Minister’s high-stakes gambles.
Boris Johnson’s controversial aide Dominic Cummings was already a hate figure for many pro-EU politicians and the purge of Tory rebels will entrench that status.
But that is unlikely to concern the Prime Minister’s senior adviser, who has built a reputation as someone who does not play by the rules of conventional politics.
A Brexit battle bus daubed with much-criticised claims about the cost of EU membership, being found in contempt of Parliament after refusing to appear before MPs investigating misinformation and calling David Davis “thick as mince” are testament to his approach to a political system he views with some disdain.
In the six weeks since Mr Johnson became Prime Minister, Mr Cummings has clashed with ministerial aides – he was instrumental in sacking Chancellor Sajid Javid’s special adviser Sonia Khan – and been credited, or blamed, for the Prime Minister’s hardline approach to Brexit rebels.
The high-stakes approach adopted by Mr Johnson has seen him strip the whip from rebels backing moves to block a no-deal Brexit on October 31 and call for a snap general election.
He despises politicians, presumably despises the process of democratic politics, only sees it as a vehicle to use Alistair Burt on Dominic Cummings
Former minister Alistair Burt, one of the rebels who has been thrown out of the Conservative Party in Parliament, told the PA news agency he had deep concerns about Mr Cummings’s influence.
“He despises politicians, presumably despises the process of democratic politics, only sees it as a vehicle to use,” Mr Burt said.
“I think that’s an extremely concerning situation and the Prime Minister will need to look as to how to address that.”
But as the rebellion was unfolding on Tuesday, Mr Cummings appeared unconcerned as he watched Downing Street colleagues brief journalists on the Prime Minister’s plans.
Born in Durham and educated at Oxford University, Mr Cummings, 47, rose to notoriety in politics first as an adviser to Michael Gove and then as campaign director at the official Brexit group Vote Leave.
He was portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch in a Channel 4 drama about the Brexit campaign which played up his role in covering a red bus with the disputed claim that EU membership costs £350 million a week which could be used to fund the NHS.
Mr Cummings said the £350 million/NHS argument was “necessary to win” the campaign.
Sam Freedman, who worked alongside Mr Cummings at the Department for Education, said: “Cummings isn’t the omniscient ubermensch that some of the Tory spin is making him out to be.
Cummings isn't the omniscient ubermensch that some of the Tory spin is making him out to be. He does however have an intuitive understanding of true populism which is very rare in Westminster. I fear some of his opponents are underestimating him again.— Sam Freedman (@Samfr) September 2, 2019
“He does however have an intuitive understanding of true populism which is very rare in Westminster. I fear some of his opponents are underestimating him again.”
Mr Cummings was once labelled a “career psychopath” by former prime minister David Cameron, according to widely reported remarks.
But Mr Cummings is no stranger to an insult either.
He described Mr Davis, then the Brexit secretary, as “thick as mince, lazy as a toad and vain as Narcissus” in July 2017.
And, earlier this year, he criticised a “narcissist-delusional subset” of the influential European Research Group (ERG) which he said needed to be “excised” like a “metastasising tumour”.
Chairman Damian Collins accused him of having shown a “total disregard” for Parliament’s authority by failing to appear before the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee.
In one of his lengthy blog posts explaining his approach to politics, Mr Cummings drew on experiences from spheres including extreme sports and the military about the need to adapt quickly to changing situations – before your opponents can make their move.
“If you can reorient yourself faster to the ever-changing environment than your opponent, then you operate inside their ‘OODA loop’(Observe-Orient-Decide-Act) and the opponent’s performance can quickly degrade and collapse,” he said.
“This lesson is vital in politics.”
That philosophy may help explain the breakneck speed with which events have unfolded since he took up his role in Number 10.