“Look at me, I’m different,” Dom Cummings seems to say with his body language
This is the photo that could come to define the post of Prime Minister of Boris Johnson. Or what some have already started to call the Prime Minister of Dom Cummings. The new PM has just entered No. 10 for the first time.
He shakes hands with Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill. The helpers are placed in a guard of honor to his right.
But on the left – dressed in jeans and a scruffy light blue T-shirt – a figure leans conspicuously against the wall. “Look at me, I’m different,” Cummings seems to be saying with his body language.
“I’ve seen this before,” said one unimpressed minister. “David Cameron’s assistant Steve Hilton was walking around No 10 without shoes or socks. He thought it made him cool, but it just made him look like a jerk. The point of wearing a costume is that it shows that you are part of a team. Cummings doesn’t want that. He wants it to be about him.
And he gets what he wants because, over the past week, the Westminster narrative has focused only on Boris’ oldest and most controversial adviser.
His threat to remove all ministerial assistants who disobey his orders. His threatening warning on the air to Dominic Grieve. MPs taunt that they missed their opportunity to stop a No Deal Brexit.
His promise to barricade the gates of Downing Street if they dare to pass a motion of no confidence against the government.
EVEN some of Johnson’s oldest allies were alarmed. But before people get ready to throw Cummings on the sacrificial pyre that ultimately consumed Alastair Campbell, Andy Coulson, and Nick Timothy, there is one thing they should take note of. Whatever nerves he has started to shake in government, it is nothing compared to the abject terror he is sowing in the hearts of Boris’s opponents.
There is no doubt that man has his faults. One being that he’s nuts. A reading of his personal blog launches 1,000-word ramblings on topics such as “de-extinction, artificial intelligence, the search for extra-solar life, swarms of autonomous drones bombarding Parliament” or “causality, hypotheses and robots with free will & capacity for evil ”.
It is also clear that he was won over by his new status as a political celebrity.
Anonymous to those outside Westminster, he was recently played by Benedict Cumberbatch in the TV movie Brexit: The Uncivil War, which recounted his triumphant handling of the Vote Leave campaign, and his portrayal by actor Sherlock turned heads.
Unusually for a Conservative senior adviser, he is also a bit of an anarchist. Frustrated with his experiences battling the Whitehall bureaucracy during his time at the Department of Education, he decided that the best way to save government institutions was to essentially blow them up.
“Dom realized from day one that Boris needed a strong goalkeeper who could make decisions,” an ally told me. But Cummings doesn’t really see his role as that of a guardian. He considers that his role consists in breaking the door from its hinges, then putting an ax in it.
Chief of Staff Dominic Cummings (right) watches as new Prime Minister Boris Johnson is greeted by Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill as he first arrives inside No 10
However, in the last fortnight since taking up residence in Downing Street, it becomes clear that there is more to Cummings than the neglected and selfish caricature of Rasputin.
Despite the account that he is not a team player, he inspires an almost messianic devotion among those who have worked alongside him. “We would all have gone through a wall for Dom,” says a former Vote Leave colleague.
“Dom has brought everyone with him on this campaign and I can already see him with what he’s doing in Downing Street,” said another.
After the drift, stagnation and ultimate implosion of the prime minister of May, someone needed to grab Operation 10 by the neck. And even those who are not in the Boris / Cummings inner circle concede that this is precisely what is happening.
“May’s team was really nice,” said a veteran ministerial assistant. “But they had these meetings every two weeks where they would stay there for 40 minutes and tell us what just happened. With Dom, it’s all over in six or seven minutes. We have clear instructions on what to do, and we think we are in fact part of the government. It allowed everyone to concentrate.
There’s another reason Cummings has found himself at the center of so much hostile fire over the past week.
Dominic Grieve and his colleagues are starting to fear he is right. And that in a Downing Street operation that is poised to fight constitutional fire with constitutional fire, they have finally found their match.
The Dominic Grieve who berated Cummings on the airwaves for his flippant disregard for parliamentary convention is the same Dominic Grieve who slipped into the Speaker’s chamber in January and succeeded in upsetting a century of Commons procedure over who controls the parliamentary calendar.
He and his fellow MPs went on to boast that Parliament now controls Brexit. And until last week, they still boasted that they would find a way to stop No Deal from coming to Hell or Flood.
But this morning, they finally realize that the infernal Dom Cummings is about to call their bluff. They can moan and moan and they can plot and they can smooth.
But they know – just as he knows – that despite all their lamentations, if Boris Johnson chooses to pull Britain out of the EU on October 31 without a deal, there is little they can do about it.
Yes, Cummings made some mistakes over the past week. Advisors must operate in the shadows. By creating history himself – a story that can no longer be unwritten – he put the time of his tenure in Downing Street. It will end for him the same as it did for Campbell, Coulson, and Timothy.
But if, in the time available, he can win Brexit and a general election victory, Boris Johnson will see it as a job well done. And so will millions of Conservative voters.