Analysis Special Reports Politics

Dominic Cummings and his rise to No. 10

How did Mr Anti-establishment gain the role of Chief Special Advisor to Boris Johnson?

Article Thumbnail

Image Credit: BBC News

In his words to the Commons explaining his resignation, former Chancellor, Sajid Javid, quipped that he would not go into the "comings and goings" of the matter. Clearly his jibe was aimed at the man who has risen to the Prime Minister's Chief Special Advisor, Dominic Cummings. However, how did the man behind Vote Leave gain this position?

An unlikely candidate for the role of Mr Anti-establishment, Cummings went from Durham School to reading Ancient and Modern History at Oxford. He has had an elite education and is known to continue to mix in aristocratic circles. However, throughout his staggeringly diverse career, he has relished challenging the status quo.

Cummings’ Eurosceptic tendencies were well founded in the 1990s as he became campaign director at Business for Sterling; a campaign against Britain joining the Euro in 1997. He first became involved in politics when recruited by Iain Duncan-Smith in 2002 as Director of strategy for the Tory party after their 2001 election defeat to Labour. Though the appointment was short-lived, he left the post after 8 months, labelling Duncan-Smith as “incompetent.”

He returned to the political arena as Michael Gove’s chief of staff in 2007 and then special advisor in the Department for Education until his departure in 2014. In the meantime, he had led a successful campaign against establishing a regional assembly in the North East in Campaign success certainly appear to be Cummings’ forte. His undeniable success in “getting things (e.g .Brexit) done” separate him from (what he sees as) the slow-moving processes of debate and government bodies.

It is well-documented Cummings’ has never been a member of a political party. His ambitions to implement his radical ideas seem the main driving force behind his taste for politics. In his own words “I’m not Tory, libertarian, “populist” or anything else. I follow projects I think are worthwhile.” In that lies his power, he pursues what he believes in. He is the antithesis to playing politics and obeying the rules of the game set by political parties and the civil service.

His role in the Vote Leave campaign epitomises Cummings’ ability to shake up the establishment and deliver against all the odds. Arguably his greatest personal achievement to date, the 2016 referendum result demonstrates a coalescence of feeling between those left behind by the London-centric politics of the past 10 years and someone equally disillusioned and frustrated with the establishment. Writing in his blog 3rd July 2016 after the referendum result Cummings hailed that “The campaign did not win because of support in Westminster- it won because of support in the country that has forced Westminster to listen.” Now he has returned to the Westminster hub it will be hard for Cummings to separate himself from what he has so despised.

As chief special advisor it has become more difficult for Cummings to operate behind the scenes. He recently caught the attention of the public eye after a blog post calling for “assorted weirdos” resulted in the appointment of Andrew Sabisky; a white extremist with views that believe race is linked to intelligence. The resignation of Sajid Javid on 15th February only deepened controversy surrounding Cummings’ intentions inside No 10. Rishi Sunak’s rapid appointment as a Chancellor was made under the conditions of submitting financial policy to Cummings via a joint team of advisers. A willingness to lose a Chancellor shows Prime Minister Johnsons’ current loyalty to his relationship with his special adviser, however if questions continue to arise over who really runs No 10, there’s every chance it may turn sour.

Cummings’ most successful projects have always been in opposition againstsomething, whether that be the status quo or others’ new policy ideas. Now, as Chief Special Adviser he has the opportunity to support what he believes. Time will tell how Cummings' will find this role where he has the power to propose policy, not only oppose.

Latest in Analysis