A simultaneous eyebrow-raise shifted the space-time continuum in Westminster on Wednesday Morning. As broadcast journalists struggled to update their outlets’ visual graphics in time for the repeated breaking news of cabinet appointments, one personality managed to halt the rolling news cycle. Editors, producers and pundits alike shook their head in astonishment upon the appointment of Dominic Cummings as Boris’ senior advisor.
Realistically, Brexiteers in Bolton, Bradford and Bolsover will not be quivering in their boots. In fact, as Former Campaign Director of Vote Leave, Cummings's appointment is easy to sell as a ‘Brexit Victory’. Cummings is the credited mastermind behind the infamous campaign slogan ‘Take Back Control’. He has described Theresa’s Brexit as a ‘train wreck’ and likened triggering Article 50 to ‘putting a gun in your mouth and pulling the trigger’. Most importantly, he’s been vying for the removal of May as PM since Spring of last year, and has dubbed the ‘May-Hammond brand of stagnation’ as ‘incompatible’ with leaving the EU.
Cummings’s kamikaze assault on the political landscape is more recognisable in context of BBC’s docudrama ‘Brexit: The Uncivil War’ which screened earlier this year. His role was portrayed by national treasure Benedict Cumberbatch. The devilish shadow of Cummings is documented reaping political turmoil: it’s 92 minutes of Cummings exploiting concerns over immigration and employing the widely-discredited claim that Brexit would deliver an extra £350m a week to the NHS.
Most importantly, it documents Cummings spending £2.7m of campaign funds buying targeted Facebook advertising from Cambridge Analytica (then, AggregateIQ). Vote Leave was fined £61,000 after Electoral Commission ruled it broke Brexit spending limits in 2016. Further, Dominic Cummings was found to be in contempt of Parliament earlier this year for refusing to give evidence to MPs investigating ‘fake news’. The subject of criminal investigation generates exponential Brownie points with no-dealers.
It might then be surprising to learn of Cummings’ assortment of attacks upon Brexiteers residing within the Conservatives. If Cummings is to get his way, the banana-split that is the current Tory party will look more akin to an Eton mess. On his blog, Cummings has been scathing about the ‘narcissist-delusional subset of the ERG’, namely, Tory Eurosceptics such as Bill Cash MP, describing them as “useful idiots for Remain”. He has also called for the entire ERG to be ‘treated like a metastasising tumour and excised from the UK body politic’. If his feelings have not quelled since March of this year when he wrote the piece, then half of Boris’ loyal supporters will be in line for the chop.
And it’s not inconceivable he will get his way: In 2013, The Guardian described him as ‘One of the best-known and most controversial of many special advisers working in government’ while working for then Education Secretary, Michael Gove. His infamy was in part due to his inability to fall in line behind his minister: a few weeks prior to leaving his post as Special Advisor, he published a 251-page manifesto explaining why Gove had got almost every policy wrong. The doctrine was largely predicated on the assertion that ‘the education of the majority...is between awful and mediocre’. In part, it even echoed Toby Young’s views on Eugenics. He wrote that most governmental talk is ‘dominated’ by ‘issues such as social mobility [which] entirely ignore genetics and therefore their arguments are at best misleading and often worthless’. Gove had set out to even out the education-playing-field; Cummings had slapped him with his own cane.
As we ride the tumultuous waves of the Brexit-pullout, his appointment will only stoke the fire. For anyone seeking stability, his appointment will prove inconsistent. As recently as last month, he wrote a 10,000-word blog post calling for a Whitehall ‘revolution’. He has also criticised the “Kafka-esque” influence of senior Civil Servants on elected politicians, as it limits the potential for immediate reform. Cummings seeks to close the bunker and limit the range of discussion. To successfully leave on the 31st October, Boris Johnson will have to override the house, and with Cummings as his advisor, it’s plausible he may just do it.