Number 10 is bracing itself for an ‘explosive stunt’ by Dominic Cummings after he was kicked out for good following a dramatic confrontation with Boris Johnson, who showed him texts allegedly proving he briefed against his fiancee, Carrie Symonds.
The Prime Minister’s partner, reportedly referred to as ‘Princess Nut Nuts’ behind her back by Vote Leave loyalists put out by her burgeoning power, is said to have been the driving force behind the senior adviser’s dramatic exit last night.
Mr Johnson is understood to have ordered his once-trusted aide to leave having shown him incriminating text messages which had been forwarded to Ms Symonds, though these claims were denied by No10.
While Mr Cummings was set to leave at Christmas, it is understood it was Ms Symonds, who sources say regularly ‘bombards’ her fiance with as many as 25 texts an hour expressing her thoughts on policy, that convinced the PM he and former director of communications Lee Cain had to go.
However, those close to Mr Johnson are now fearing a backlash from the exiled adviser could see Downing Street come under fire.
‘I won’t be surprised if there’s an explosive stunt between now and Christmas,’ sources told the FT. ‘It’s not Dom’s style just to quietly drift away.’
The adviser left Government with a parting swipe at the PM, telling allies Mr Johnson is ‘indecisive’ and that it was often left to senior minister Michael Gove to fill the leadership vacuum, according to the Telegraph.
Former Brexit secretary David Davis told BBC Breakfast this morning many within No 10 had ‘turned on’ Mr Cummings.
He said: ‘It is said… people ranging from Allegra (Stratton) – the new spokesman for the Prime Minister – right through to his (Mr Johnson’s) fiancee, Carrie, turned against him.
‘The relationship with the Prime Minister fell off a cliff. And once that’s gone, it’s gone.’
Mr Davis, who was allegedly described as ‘thick as mince’ and ‘lazy as a toad’ by Mr Cummings when in the Cabinet in 2017, also branded the adviser’s style ‘confrontational’ but added the PM had ‘relied on him’ and ‘there are things he (Mr Cummings) was right about’.
Dominic Cummings arrived home clutching a bag of alcohol last night after Boris Johnson ordered him to leave Downing Street for good
The Prime Minister’s chief aide chose to walk out into the full glare of the Downing Street cameras last night carrying a large cardboard box
Boris Johnson had initially offered to promote communications Lee Cain to become chief of staff. But he dropped the plan following objections from his partner Carrie Symonds (pictured with Mr Johnson)
Mr Cummings outside his west London home last night , where he was pictured in tracksuits and trainers
Boris Johnson (pictured leaving Downing Street today) is believed to want to ‘reset’ his government with a new ‘softer’ image
A painting was also seen being loaded into a van in Downing Street yesterday afternoon
‘No man has done so much harm to this country in such a short time’: How politicians reacted to Dominic Cummings’ departure tonight
Senior Tory MP Sir Roger Gale: ‘I think the right thing has happened – I think it is belated. I have been saying for months that since Barnard Castle incident Dominic Cummings’ position is untenable.’
Tory former deputy prime minister Lord Heseltine: ‘I can think of no man who has done so much harm to this country in so short a time. He has left a generation to pay the price of Brexit.’
Shadow Lord Chancellor David Lammy: ‘Donald Trump defeated and soon out of the White House. Vaccine breakthrough. Dominic Cummings carrying boxes out of Number 10. The crisis we are living through is catastrophic, but my god, it is good to feel hope once again.’
Former Lib Dem leader Tim Farron MP: ‘Cummings may have gone, but let’s never forget that the worst part of the whole Barnard Castle affair was the way Conservative ministers shamelessly lined up to defend him saying ‘it’s what any loving father would have done’, while millions made huge sacrifices by staying at home.’
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said Mr Johnson’s senior advisers were ‘abandoning the Prime Minister like rats on a sinking ship’
Labour MP Bill Esterson joked: ‘Cummings leaving early to beat the traffic to Barnard Castle.’
It is understood that Mr Cummings and Mr Cain will be on gardening leave until mid-December. Mr Cummings may continue to work from home to tie up loose ends, but neither man is expected back at No 10.
A Downing Street source said Mr Johnson ‘wanted to clear the air so the Government can move forward’ amid fears the Brexiteer duo would ‘poison the well’ if they were allowed to stay until the New Year.
Downing Street said that Sir Edward Lister, a long-serving adviser to Mr Johnson, would become chief of staff ‘for an interim period pending a permanent appointment to the post’.
Former chancellor Sajid Javid was last night being touted to fill the highly-coveted role which will see him back in the upper echelons of Government after resigning in February.
Although a serving MP, he is a friend of Ms Symonds and is reportedly spearheading a shift from the aggressive campaigning politics practiced by Mr Cumming’s Vote Leave faction to a more cohesive No10 operation.
Carrying a cardboard box, Mr Cummings left Number 10 for the final time by the famous black front door in full glare of the cameras before travelling back to his west London home, where he was later pictured walking in tracksuits and trainers while carrying a bag full of booze.
His departure was cheered by Tory MPs who have grown frustrated with the ‘incompetent’ handling of the coronavirus crisis, and clumsy U-turns on issues such as free school meals during the holidays.
Members of the Cabinet have also complained that they have been excluded from decisions on handling coronavirus. Some policies have been revealed to them just minutes before they were announced to the public.
One senior Tory said last night: ‘Gosh, maybe we will now get to actually fulfil our roles as Cabinet ministers.’
Mr Cummings’ departure and the ongoing turmoil inside No 10 came as:
- Critics of all stripes lined up to cheer the departure of the maverick No10 adviser;
- There were claims in Brussels a less abrasive Number 10 could secure a breakthrough in Brexit negotiations;
- Nigel Farage said he feared the departure of Vote Leave veterans Mr Cummings and Mr Caine could result in a watered-down Brexit;
- Tory MPs cast doubt on whether Mr Johnson will lead the party into the next election amid the No10 revolt;
- Allegra Stratton, the new No10 aide to front televised press briefings, mysteriously tweeted, and then hastily deleted, a picture of former Middlesbrough manager Tony Pulis, who was sacked after failing to clinch promotion;
- Scientists warned Christmas could still be at risk even though the R rate has been brought down to 1.
During the PM’s meeting with Mr Cummings and Mr Cain he supposedly grilled them on the turmoil of the past few days.
He confronted them with hostile texts which had been forwarded to Ms Symonds, before telling them to get out and never return, according to several reports.
A source told the Sun: ‘Their behaviour in the last 72 hours was toxic and Boris said enough is enough.’
Hostilities between the warring camps inside No10 burst into the open this week with a slew of bitter briefings and counter-briefings.
Vote Leave loyalists inside No10 are reportedly put out by Ms Symonds’ burgeoning power and refer to her as Princess Nut Nuts behind her back.
Those close to the PM accused the outgoing Mr Cummings of passing blame, adding that he would often ‘pay no attention to something for months, then he will get interested in it and expect it to happen in two or three days’.
Others described Mr Cummings and Mr Cain as ‘squatters’ who had to leave.
Meanwhile, it was claimed the premier told Mr Cummings to quit amid fears they would ‘poison the well’ if they were allowed to stay in their positions any longer.
A senior Tory, speaking anonymously, expressed concerns Mr Cummings could attempt to ‘settle scores’ on his way out, while senior figures said there could be instability if aides appointed by the two advisers quit or were dismissed.
It was also claimed that the premier had lost his powers of concentration after coming down with Covid.
But Mr Cummings disputed accounts of a supposed confrontational meeting with the PM and said the pair had ‘had a laugh’.
Downing Street insiders dismissed claims that Mr Cummings would be offered another key role – such as a part-time job advising on technology. A No10 source said: ‘Once you are gone, you are gone.’
Others predicted the PM to gut No10 of remaining members of the Vote Leave clan which are loyal to Mr Cummings.
A source told the Times: ‘There will be a huge clearout. A lot of people were there only because of their relationship with Dom’.
Even last night Downing Street’s warring factions were briefing counter narratives to spin the tale of Mr Cummings’ departure.
One No10 source said he and Mr Cain had merely viewed the PM as an ‘instrument’ to deliver their priorities, while allies of the pair insisted they had been ‘totally loyal’ to their boss.
Despite several back exits available to him, Mr Cummings opted to leave No10 by the front door, where the press pack were positioned.
A former adviser said of Mr Cummings’ decision to leave through the front door: ‘Such an attention seeker.’
After a week of turmoil, the Prime Minister told his most senior adviser to go with immediate effect in a bid to end the toxic rows at No 10
Being seen holding a cardboard box was ‘entirely deliberate’ as he wanted to leave an ‘image’, the former Brexit secretary has said.
Conservative David Davis told BBC Breakfast that Mr Cummings could have left from a less visible entrance to avoid the waiting press, but chose not to.
He said: ‘Almost certainly Dominic decided he was going to leave an image.
‘That would have been entirely deliberate. Just so your viewers know, he could have walked out the back door, which is almost sort of underground, not visible, or he could have walked out of the entrance out of Whitehall. Out of the Cabinet Office. Either would have been possible.
‘He chose to leave that image walking out with a box. He could have perfectly well put his coffee mug or whatever else was in it into his rucksack, but he didn’t.’
Mr Davis added that the image will help Mr Boris Johnson ‘reset’ the Government.
‘The photograph will last the weekend and people will remember it, but it’s not the key,’ he said.
‘And at one level, as I said, Boris will want to reset Government and in a sense, that photograph does part of the resetting for him.’
Asked what the reset will look like, Mr Davis said: ‘Well the first thing is there are going to be some new staff in Number 10. He’s going to need a new chief of staff who has got to be fiercely efficient but not fiercely political. He’s got to find someone who doesn’t have their own agenda.
‘Secondly, lots of my colleagues in Parliament are hoping for a new relationship with Parliament. More openness, more interaction with Parliament.’
Mr David also said that Parliament and Conservative backbenchers felt they were not being ‘listened to’ while Mr Cummings held his senior adviser role.
He said: ‘But certainly it was the case that Parliament felt it wasn’t being paid attention to.
‘Parliament is a shadow of its former self at the moment anyway. You go there and you’ve got the number of people you would have at a parish council, not a parliamentary gathering normally because of the coronavirus issues.
‘Nevertheless, I think the 1922 Committee felt it wasn’t being listened to, I think the Tory backbenchers felt they weren’t being listened to.’
Workmen were also seen in Downing Street yesterday afternoon loading pictures into a van.
Jubilant Tories reacted to the bombshell events by gloating ‘Vote Leave has left!’, while a former adviser swiped ‘goodbye and good riddance’. Senior MP Bernard Jenkin said it was an opportunity to restore ‘integrity and trust’.
Another MP said of Mr Johnson: ‘If he doesn’t start listening to backbenchers then he will gone too… the talk of the tearooms is already how soon will he be gone, and who will replace him.’
Senior Conservative backbencher Sir Roger Gale told Times Radio: ‘I think the right thing has happened – I think it is belated. I have been saying for months that since Barnard Castle incident Dominic Cummings’ position is untenable. And it’s got more untenable as he’s increasingly become the story.
‘When you’ve got a PM trying to deal with the biggest crisis since the Second World War and Brexit negotiations, to have a bunch of schoolkids squabbling in Downing Street just isn’t the solution.’
He added: ‘I would like the Prime Minister to see this as an opportunity to muck out the stable and get in the team of people he really needs and deserves behind him.’
A Government insider believed this was the most likely course of action and anticipated the PM to gut the remaining members of the Vote Leave faction.
Former Cabinet minister Theresa Villiers also welcomed the ‘good opportunity for a fresh start’. Clearly there are concerns about the dismissive attitude sometimes shown by Lee Cain and Dominic Cummings,’ she added. ‘This is an opportunity to… have a more collaborative approach.’
Gavin Barwell, former chief of staff to PM Theresa May, told BBC Radio Four’s Today programme this morning: ‘There’s an opportunity for [the Prime Minister] to get his Downing Street operation more harmonious and more effective, like the team he had at City Hall, to rebuild relations with the Conservative MPs and perhaps set a less confrontational and more unifying tone that is more in tune with his natural instincts.
‘It’s absolutely possible to structure your operation in Downing Street to suit your natural strengths and weaknesses. When he was mayor of London he had firstly Simon Milton who’s sadly no longer with us and then Eddie Lister as chief of staff and that seemed to work. It sounds like that’s the kind of structure he wants to go back to now and if that’s the truth I think that’d be a very good thing.
‘Your job as chief of staff is to make sure the PM is getting advice from all the different voices he or she needs to hear from and to try and build an effective team in Downing Street that unites the political advisors who will often come with a range of views from their political party, and the civil service team as well.
‘You’re making sure the PM is in a position to make the incredibly difficult decisions they have to take every day. You can’t force someone and you shouldn’t be trying to do that.
‘The important word in the title is ‘staff’ not ‘chief’. You’re there not to drive forward your own agenda but make sure the whole government machine is implementing what the Prime Minister wants to do.’
Sir Edward served in Mr Johnson’s City Hall administration, but the 71-year-old will not take on the role of chief of staff permanently and is believed to want to soon leave Downing Street.
The maverick chief aide is set to leave Downing Street by Christmas after a brutal reckoning that saw his closest ally Lee Cain fall on his sword, having failed to secure the key role of Mr Johnson’s chief of staff
Treasury special adviser is set for up to £100,000 settlement after she was sacked by Dominic Cummings
A Treasury aide sacked by maverick No10 chief Dominic Cummings and frogmarched out of Downing Street by police is to receive a ‘five-figure’ pay-off.
Sonia Khan was dramatically axed in August 2019 after being accused of staying in touch with people close to her former boss, Philip Hammond.
An extraordinary showdown with Mr Cummings in No10 ended up with the Chancellor’s adviser being walked out of the building, still protesting her innocence.
Mr Cummings apparently demanded to inspect both Ms Khan’s phones before immediately firing her.
In a damning slight to then Chancellor Sajid Javid, who kept Ms Khan on at No10 after taking over from Mr Hammond, he was only told after the dramatic events.
Mr Javid’s name was being floated last night, an appointment that would raise eyebrows as he only quit No11 recently after Mr Johnson backed his aide Cummings rather than his top minister in a row over advisers.
It would be rather a step down for an MP who had held one of the great Offices of State and who recently landed a lucrative second job with US bank JP Morgan.
A source close to the former chancellor said: ‘Sajid thinks getting an experienced chief of staff is a good idea, but it’s not a role he has ever been offered or considered for himself.’
But one ally of Mr Javid cast doubt on him filling the role, however they did tell MailOnline: ‘I would expect to see Saj come back into government soon though.’
Were Mr Cummings to be replaced by the former chancellor it would be revenge for the way that Mr Javid lost his ministerial role in February.
The Bromsgrove MP – who challenged Mr Johnson for the Tory leadership last year before becoming his top minister – was given an ultimatum by the PM that he must accept his political advisers being ousted and replaced by Cummings loyalists to stay in No11.
Mr Cummings had been especially furious at the Treasury over a series of briefings and leaks he blamed on ‘rogue’ operatives in No11.
Flashpoints included the Budget in March, a ‘mansion tax’ and Mr Javid’s determination to push ahead with the HS2 rail link. Instead of capitulating, Mr Javid chose to walk away and was replaced by his deputy Rishi Sunak.
There is speculation that other key aides close to Mr Cummings could choose to walk out, while Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove faces seeing his influence diminished as he has lost an important supporter in No10.
It came as one of Ms Symonds friends was tipped to fill the vacant position, if it is filled. The Telegraph reported that former chancellor Sajid Javid was being lined up for the role
Downing Street said that Sir Edward Lister, a long-serving adviser to Mr Johnson, would become chief of staff ‘for an interim period pending a permanent appointment to the post’
Mr Cummings waits on the pavement on Whitehall after walking out of Downing Street via the front gate
Mr Johnson is now believed to want to soften the government’s image and recover his reputation as a One Nation Tory, encouraged by Ms Symonds, 32, – herself an experience political operator and former head of media at CCHQ.
There is expected to be more focus on environmental issues, and a less combative stance on overhauling the civil service and BBC – issues that Mr Cummings had been championing.
There were claims in Brussels that the shift could increase the chances of the premier compromising to get a post-Brexit trade deal over the line.
But Nigel Farage warned the departure of Vote Leave campaign veterans Mr Cummings and Mr Cain could result in the Government capitulating to EU demands and delivering a watered-down Brexit.
He tweeted: ‘It is well documented that I have never liked Dominic Cummings but he has backed Brexit. Seeing him leave Number 10 carrying a cardboard box tells me a Brexit sell-out is close.’
Mr Symonds’ allies in Number 10 include Allegra Stratton, the recently appointed ex-journalist who will front White House-style press briefings.
Following Mr Cummings’s departure tonight, she tweeted, and then hastily deleted, a picture of former Middlesbrough manager Tony Pulis, who was sacked after failing to clinch promotion.
However, there is renewed scepticism on his own benches over whether Mr Johnson will be in charge much longer, despite having won an historic majority at the election less than a year ago. Asked whether Mr Johnson would fight the next election, one senior MP told MailOnline: ‘Good God, no.’
Dominic Cummings, pictured in Westminster yesterday, is expected to leave his current role before Christmas
Mr Cain, an ally of Mr Cummings, quit on Wednesday night after Mr Johnson’s change of heart. He was Mr Johnson’s director of communications
The web of connections in Downing Street, which has been reeling from factional infighting during the coronavirus crisis
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said yesterday Mr Cummings ‘will be missed’, but but swiped that ‘advisers do come and go’.
Mr Shapps told Sky News: ‘As he wrote right at the beginning of the year in his own words, he planned to make himself largely redundant this year with the big thing that he worked on, of course, which was Brexit, coming to an end at the end of the transition period, which is December 31.
‘Of course, the other big thing is helping to ensure we have the roll-out mass testing to defeat this virus. Both these things are on the near-term horizon now.
‘He will be missed but then again we’re moving into a different phase and Brexit will be, we’ve already left Europe, but the transition period will be over and things move on and advisers do come and go.’
Sir Bernard, chairman of the powerful Commons Liaison Committee told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the news represented ‘an opportunity to reset how the Government operates and to emphasise some values about what we want to project as a Conservative Party in Government’.
‘I would suggest there are three words that need to become the watch words in Downing Street – they are respect, integrity and trust.
‘Certainly in the relationship between the Downing Street machine and the parliamentary party there’s been a very strong sense that has been lacking in recent months.
‘Now we hope the Prime Minister will choose people around him who will help him restore that relationship.’
He added: ‘I’m not surprised in a way that it is ending in the way it is. No prime minister can afford a single adviser to become a running story, dominating his Government’s communications and crowding out the proper messages the Government wants to convey.
‘Nobody is indispensable.’
‘If leaks carry on, we’ll start shooting people’: The chilling warning sent to government special adviser NEIL TWEEDIE just before Boris Johnson’s bruiser Lee Cain unjustly fired him – as he reveals how he was… whacked by the No.10 Mafiosi
When the call from Downing Street came in, I was dozing. I’d fallen asleep the previous night with my black government-issued mobile on my chest, while trying to catch up on the endless emails that are the bane of a special adviser’s life.
A minute or so of pleasantries and then down to business. ‘These leaks about travel corridors, mate. If they carry on, we are going to have to start shooting people.’
I liked the official issuing this unsubtle threat — still do — but was irked by the implication that my department, Transport, was furtively generating unfavourable coverage of the Government’s quarantine strategy for people flying into the UK during the pandemic.
Whatever the objections to quarantine — and it was having a devastating impact on our airlines and airports — it was a settled policy, and we at the Department for Transport (DfT) were duty bound to make it work. So, no leaks, no negative briefing. We stuck to that.
A world utterly dominated by Dominic Cummings, chief policy adviser to the PM, and his ally Lee Cain, the Downing Street director of communications
Something else irritated me — the schoolboy Mafioso language meant to instil fear. Shooting people, for God’s sake. I mean, grow up.
But that exchange was par for the course in the new world I’d joined, a world where bullying and intimidation were the norm. A world utterly dominated by Dominic Cummings, chief policy adviser to the PM, and his ally Lee Cain, the Downing Street director of communications.
And that early-morning call would set in train the events leading to my sacking by Cain.
After 25 years in national newspapers, I’d taken the job of media special adviser — otherwise known as a spad — with some trepidation. Journalism is a tough world, but in most regards it is an uncomplicated one.
I hoped I could spend a stint in government highlighting the good stuff: more investment in road, rail and green technology, particularly in the North, where I hail from. Though not party political, I was fully signed up to the Prime Minister’s vision of ‘building back better’, equipping the UK with infrastructure befitting a great country in the 21st-century.
Their supporters in the Vote Leave faction of Downing Street, the advisers who rose to power on the back of the referendum campaign, are now busy blaming Carrie Symonds (pictured with Prime Minister Boris Johnson in 2019), the PM’s partner and, briefly, a former Tory head of communications, for their demise
I was fortunate in my Secretary of State, Grant Shapps. Enthusiastic and hard-working (our first conversation might be at 6.30am, before the morning TV and radio round, and the last late at night), he was a decent, rational and effective boss. But there are others who enjoy politics purely for the power, the prestige, the drama of it all. And we have seen plenty of drama being played out over the past few days with the fall of Cummings and Cain.
There are those who will say that this is Westminster bubble navel-gazing, an indecent distraction given the twin threats facing this country: Covid-19 and the uncertainty over a Brexit trade deal. But the end of the Cummings-Cain duopoly is important.
It is said that in government ‘advisers advise and ministers decide’. That is important to our democracy because ministers are elected by us and are open to scrutiny in Parliament and the wider world. The power handed to the unelected Cummings and Cain over the past 16 months has been excessive and destabilising, and has cast a malign pall over the heart of government.
Allowing the concentration of this power in a cabal that formed during the campaign to quit the EU has resulted in the infantilisation of Cabinet ministers, who are for ever looking over their shoulders, and the marginalisation of Tory backbenchers, who put Boris Johnson where he is.
‘I was sacked by Cain in September, following an inquiry into a newspaper leak concerning the quarantining of those returning from Spain,’ writes Neil Tweedie (pictured)
There is something else, too — the corrosive effect of a clique who revelled in strong-arm tactics and the use of secret media briefings to force through their agenda.
A government cannot preach morality in public life when it tolerates abuse within its own ranks. The two cannot be separated.
I witnessed this abuse of power first-hand, and it was not pretty. And I have heard from others of their brutal treatment by Cummings and Cain. The Mafia language in that phone call from a Downing Street operative was not an accident. Fear was their tool.
I was sacked by Cain in September, following an inquiry into a newspaper leak concerning the quarantining of those returning from Spain. I had zero involvement in that leak, and protested my innocence to him face to face. So I do not mourn the fact that he has now been ‘whacked’ in true Mafia style. Forget the spin — neither Cain or Cummings jumped. I firmly believe they were pushed, and not before time.
It was as a spad that Cain (pictured on Thursday) earned Johnson’s confidence, standing by him when he resigned as Foreign Secretary and returned to the backbenches to oppose Theresa May’s Brexit policy
Cain was fitted with his concrete boots on Wednesday night after making an abortive bid for the title of chief of staff at No 10. He was the only man Cummings would have tolerated in that role, so protective was he of his own power.
Their supporters in the Vote Leave faction of Downing Street, the advisers who rose to power on the back of the referendum campaign, are now busy blaming Carrie Symonds, the PM’s partner and, briefly, a former Tory head of communications, for their demise.
But it was hubris that consigned Cain and Cummings to the East River. Clever they may have been, but wise they were not.
What I most remember from the three months I spent in government was both the remoteness of this pair and their all-pervasive influence.
I met Cain properly only twice, once to be hired and once to be fired. Cummings I never spoke with, at least not in person. But you could feel their presence in the voices of those who served them.
This was not collegiate government, people working together for a common end, but a court dominated by two over-powerful lieutenants whose decision-making was largely a mystery.
Their supporters in the Vote Leave faction of Downing Street, the advisers who rose to power on the back of the referendum campaign, are now busy blaming Carrie Symonds (pictured in March)
Spads are politically appointed civil servants, paid for by the taxpayer, and while subject to the Civil Service code of conduct, they are the creatures of the governing party. There are about 100 of them spread among the various ministries, with a big contingent located in No 10.
They are sub-divided into policy and media spads and, in the past, were chosen largely by the Secretaries of State they served.
It is the strangest job. Spads work in the shadows, never being quoted publicly, oiling the wheels of government, facilitating back-channel deals between ministers, and briefing journalists on an unattributable basis.
In truth, spads are more powerful than junior ministers and much more so than elected backbenchers.
Both Cummings and Cain had been spads, and they used this network to accrue power. It was made abundantly clear to me when I joined DfT that I served at their pleasure. My loyalty was to them, rather than my Secretary of State.
Cummings had established control of the spad network as a condition of his employment at No 10 — and, being the architect of the Vote Leave campaign and the 2019 election victory, what he asked for he got.
He delighted in his hold over his ‘troops’, ordering them to attend mandatory early-morning meetings, or ones held late on a Friday, during which he’d make clear who was boss. ‘If you leak, you will be marched from your desk by the head of security at your department, your pass will be taken off you and you will be sacked. You have no rights.’
And Dom, supposedly a man who is only interested in ideas of good government (do me a favour) was as good as his word. Sonia Khan, a media spad working for then Chancellor Sajid Javid, was indeed marched out of Downing Street by an armed policeman after Cummings confronted her — an experience that traumatises her to this day.
Cummings threatened resignation over Cain’s departure, but his bluff was called by the PM (pictured leaving Downing Street on Friday)
Only on Thursday, with Cummings seemingly heading for the exit, did the Government quietly settle a legal challenge brought by her.
I attended some of what was known as ‘spad school’ via Zoom (thankfully) because of lockdown.
A click on the video button and there he was, Dominic Cummings, the most powerful unelected man in Britain. He acted like it, too, sitting at the end of the Cabinet Room table, the Union Flag draped behind him.
Here was Kim Il-Cummings, seemingly about to explain to the nation how, regrettably, democracy must be suspended to save the people from themselves.
But instead of the Mao suit, Dom’s attire was pure Weekend Dad. T-shirt or sweatshirt, jeans maybe — studied scruffiness screaming Silicon Valley blue-sky thinking.
Dom liked to start his Zoom conferences with a pithy monologue, during which he disparaged stories written by political journalists — the ‘reptiles’, as he called them. He knew these remarks would leak. How could they not with spads, the world’s biggest gossips, listening in?
This was, of course, Dom’s way of getting his message across without having to face difficult questions. A sensible policy given his less-than-convincing performance during a May press conference in the garden of No 10, where he struggled to justify violating the first lockdown (a draconian policy of house arrest he encouraged) by driving with his family to Barnard Castle in County Durham to ‘test his eyesight’.
Then it was down to business. Dom uncorked his genius, recommending this or that (impossibly tedious) book for (compulsory) bedtime reading, or explaining how he wanted to clear the dead wood from the leadership of public bodies by encouraging people outside the quangocracy to apply for roles (not a bad idea in principle).
The sermon was delivered in a world-weary, educated, North-Eastern monotone, like a bored university lecturer aching for the end of term. And as you listened, you’d think, ‘This guy’s a dilettante, pretending to get things done while exercising his ego’.
Come to think of it, what had he achieved in No 10? Not much, actually, aside from sacking a few senior civil servants — his bugbears since his days as a spad serving Michael Gove in the Department for Education.
Cummings was Gove’s protege. Yet even the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was not immune from his creation. Only this month, Gove’s home was raided by Cabinet Office investigators searching for evidence of who leaked the details of the current lockdown.
No one was safe from Dom and Lee. And leak inquiries, such as the one I fell victim to, were one of the weapons they deployed.
Of course, No 10 leaked with incontinent regularity, placing stories that would help force through its agenda. It was part of the game — do as I say, not do as I do.
The Vote Leave mob, drunk on their success in the referendum and the election, believed they were untouchable. They revelled in their laddish, iconoclastic, adversarial approach. The country was their plaything. Ever alert to the inadequacies of those they regarded as inferiors, they were at the same time blind to their own glaring inadequacies as communicators and administrators.
Care homes, test and trace, PPE, A-level results, you name it. Debacle has followed debacle but, to them, it was always someone else’s fault.
Day-to-day government is not like campaigning, which is where Cummings and Cain established their reputations. An airborne virus does not give a fig for slogans or promises about moonshots. Cain was less visible than Cummings, and news of his sacking has been met with indifference by most. But he wielded enormous power, not least when most of Downing Street was laid low by Covid.
A former red-top journalist (who famously dressed up as a chicken (pictured in 2010) to stalk David Cameron during an election campaign on behalf of the Labour-supporting Daily Mirror), his big break into political media relations came when he landed a job with Vote Leave
A former red-top journalist (who famously dressed up as a chicken to stalk David Cameron during an election campaign on behalf of the Labour-supporting Daily Mirror), his big break into political media relations came when he landed a job with Vote Leave.
It was as a spad that Cain earned Johnson’s confidence, standing by him when he resigned as Foreign Secretary and returned to the backbenches to oppose Theresa May’s Brexit policy.
Johnson may regret the loss of this loyal lieutenant, but business is business. Cain made too many enemies. But his principle error was thinking he could do anything he wanted and, in my case, he did — sacking me for something he knew I had not done.
The charge against me was nonsense, a fact Grant Shapps made clear to Cain. We at DfT were aware of the likely identity of the leaker of the story, and Cain even mentioned him as a suspect in our final meeting. In my letter of dismissal, the Cabinet Office stated that, regarding the unauthorised disclosure of sensitive information, ‘no finding attributing responsibility to you has been made’.
It did no good. Summoned to his expansive, wood-panelled office in No 10, I was told that I behaved suspiciously by deleting numbers from the call log of my private phone (which I’d offered to the leak inquiry to examine, despite no legal obligation to do so).
When I explained that I cleared old calls so only ones needing to be dealt with stood out, he replied: ‘As a spad, you should never delete calls from your private phone, don’t you know that?’ I replied ‘No.’ But I told him in no uncertain terms I had never briefed against the Government. His response? ‘You have fired yourself.’
I glanced over at the framed front page of the Daily Mirror hanging on his wall. ‘Boris Hires Mirror Chicken As Adviser’ proclaimed the headline. My God, was I really being fired by a man who’d dressed as a chicken? It was the only thing that made me chuckle that day.
Now, Cain has in effect fired himself, too. He over-reached himself and was sent packing by a coalition of his many enemies.
Cummings threatened resignation over Cain’s departure, but his bluff was called by the PM. Last night, they cleared their desks and left No 10. Their power is broken and cannot — should not — be rebuilt.
This Scorsesian drama has implications far beyond Westminster. It represents a crossroads in the journey of this young but battle-scarred administration. Hopefully, Johnson will use it to reboot the No 10 operation, ushering in an era of more conciliatory, consensual government, according due respect to ministers and MPs who may sometimes differ in their opinions.
As for Cummings, well, he loves books, and Anna Karenina is a favourite. ‘Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself,’ wrote Tolstoy. Dom, described as a genius, will now have more time to reflect on the fact that truly great men never believe their own publicity.
STEPHEN GLOVER: Yes, Dominic Cummings won Brexit and a thumping majority but he was a bully who took us for fools by flouting lockdown – so I’m glad he’s gone… at last Boris Johnson can be his own man
By Stephen Glover for the Daily Mail
How are the mighty fallen! Carrying a cardboard box of old junk out of the front door of No 10, a disconsolate and humiliated Dominic Cummings last night bade farewell to power for ever.
The question the nation should be asking itself this morning is whether the sudden demise of the man, until yesterday the second most powerful in the kingdom, will restore good sense to a Government which is all at sea, and stability to a Prime Minister who is stumbling from one mishap to another.
Or will the exit of this lifelong rebel and iconoclast leave a gaping hole at the top of government? For despite his many faults and errors, Cummings is a man of conviction and strong political ideas. That is why Mr Johnson appointed him 16 months ago.
One might say that Dominic Cummings has comprised half of Boris’s political brain — the wilder, though probably more ingenious, half which has led the Prime Minister into successive scrapes.
I think the answer to my question is that Cummings’s departure — which was obviously not voluntary, as he was shown the door yesterday — will give No 10 a chance to embrace sanity and discipline. The danger is that it may also expose an emptiness, and an absence of real belief.
So I raise, if not three lusty cheers, at least two and a half full-throated ones. We should be glad he has left. I don’t doubt he has some achievements but there have been many failings. One towers above all the others, and has inflicted lasting damage on the Government.
This was, of course, the 260-mile car journey from London to County Durham which he took with his wife and child at the start of the first lockdown. It was followed by a 60-mile round trip to Barnard Castle when he had recovered from Covid.
Both sorties were against the spirit of lockdown (whose terms Cummings helped devise) and the Barnard Castle jaunt was almost certainly a legal infringement, though Durham police chose to do nothing despite handing out penalties to other transgressors.
No sensible person believed the chief adviser’s excuse that the Barnard Castle trip was to check his eyesight before driving to London — apart from his loyal mentor Michael Gove, who idiotically declared he had ‘on occasion’ driven to test his own eyes.
As was later pointed out — though unfortunately no one raised the question during a bizarre press conference in No 10’s Rose Garden — Dominic Cummings’s wife, Mary Wakefield, was perfectly capable of taking the wheel for the return drive to the capital.
I don’t doubt he has some achievements but there have been many failings. One towers above all the others, and has inflicted lasting damage on the Government. This was, of course, the 260-mile car journey from London to County Durham at the start of the first lockdown. followed by a 60-mile round trip to Barnard Castle (pictured)
It was a lie — nothing less — and because it was excused and exonerated by a characteristically untroubled Boris Johnson, it has stained the Government’s already tattered reputation for integrity, as well as spreading the divisive message that those who rule us live by different laws.
As for the ruled, who can doubt that some of them have followed Dominic Cummings’s example, and ignored some of the regulations promulgated by No 10, thereby giving the virus a fillip?
The Prime Minister was weak — shamefully weak — in sparing his friend. Why did he do so? Partly because he is easy-going and dislikes confrontation and unpleasantness. And partly because he did not want to lose the ideas and counsel of his chief adviser.
Mr Johnson was right to recognise Cummings’s achievements. He is a brilliant campaigner — razor sharp in analysing opponents’ weaknesses, and combative and tireless in exposing them.
Without his inspired leadership of Vote Leave (though some on his own side would concede there was occasional mendaciousness) it’s possible Brexit would never have got across the line. As a Brexiteer I can’t forget that.
He was equally indispensable to the Conservative Party during last year’s election campaign. Not really being a Tory at all, and with roots that gave him a better understanding of the North than anyone else in No 10, he understood how to appeal to disenchanted Labour voters. The ‘red wall’ is, above all, his creation.
As was later pointed out — though unfortunately no one raised the question during a bizarre press conference in No 10’s Rose Garden (pictured) — Dominic Cummings’s wife, Mary Wakefield, was perfectly capable of taking the wheel for the return drive to the capital
Looking further back, to when Michael Gove was running the Department for Education, Cummings helped him as a special adviser to take on vested interests in the teaching unions (the ‘Blob’). He is in many respects temperamentally and intellectually closer to Mr Gove than Mr Johnson.
So, yes, he can lay claim to some successes. But his confrontational and excitable nature did not at all suit him to the business of governing once installed in No 10.
Almost everywhere he went he took strife and conflict with him. In August 2019, he summarily sacked Sonia Khan, special adviser to the then Chancellor, Sajid Javid, for alleged leaking.
The poor woman was frogmarched out of Downing Street by armed police. This week it was reported she is in line for compensation worth between £50,000 and £100,000. Why not send Dominic Cummings the bill?
Last February, he cooked Sajid Javid’s goose. The Prime Minister, egged on by his tumultuous sidekick, insisted that the Chancellor sack his entire team of political advisers. This was an ultimatum which Mr Javid could not honourably accept, and he resigned.
In the same month the Press (which Cummings seemingly disdains, along with the Tory party and perhaps Parliament itself) came in for some typical shock-and-awe treatment. This was a co-production with his Vote Leave pal Lee Cain, whose resignation on Wednesday night helped precipitate Cummings’s own departure.
Back in February, journalists deemed unsympathetic to No 10 were lined up along one wall and told they were not welcome at a briefing on the EU. Reporters who hadn’t been excluded then walked out in solidarity.
On the face of it, the friendship between Cummings and Cain is perplexing. The bullet-headed Cain, who could plausibly double as a minor assassin in any Shakespeare play in which large amounts of blood are shed, is a former red-top journalist who once dressed as a chicken to harass David Cameron.
He definitely does not share Cummings’s passion for the Greek writer Thucydides, nor his obsession with artificial intelligence. What they do have in common are happy memories of having served in the same pro-Brexit trench — and an ingrained aggression that sometimes turns into bullying.
On the face of it, the friendship between Cummings and Cain is perplexing. The bullet-headed Cain, who could plausibly double as a minor assassin in any Shakespeare play in which large amounts of blood are shed, is a former red-top journalist who once dressed as a chicken to harass David Cameron. Pictured: Lee Cain walking near Downing Street
To return to the charge sheet of Dominic Cummings’s blunders born of his confrontational nature. Time and again, when the Government has bent the rules and provoked widespread indignation, the chief adviser’s fingerprints have been visible.
He was partly behind the decision to prorogue Parliament in August 2019, even though the benefit was debatable as MPs were deprived of only five or six days of sittings. However, the brouhaha was deafening, and the Supreme Court ruled the prorogation was illegal.
More recently, Cummings’s contempt for the rule of law has been evident in clauses of the Internal Market Bill which, by the Government’s own brazen admission, would break international law. However good the cause may be, such illegal behaviour would besmirch Britain’s international reputation.
Granted, one of the chief adviser’s favourite targets — senior civil servants obstructive to change — has been well-chosen. But it seems typical of the man to make a lot of noise and then grow bored, rather than follow through with the policy in a patient manner.
His biggest scalp was that of the competent if perhaps uninspiring Cabinet Secretary, Sir Mark Sedwill. He was replaced by the inexperienced and underqualified Simon Case, whose virtue is that he will uncomplainingly do whatever he is told.
In his attitude to the Civil Service reform, as in much else, Dominic Cummings resembles a trigger-happy cowboy in a Western who rides into a hapless town, shoots dead a couple of people in the bar, then moves on to the next town without caring about the mess.
So you will see why I welcome the demise of this turbulent man who had too often urged Boris Johnson towards courses of action that set him against his own MPs and natural supporters.
But what comes next? However obnoxious and destructive Cummings has sometimes been, there is no doubting he has been the second most important man in the Government, and that his exit will create a political vacuum.
What we do not want are more interventions by Mr Johnson’s fiancée, Carrie Symonds. The PM’s future wife (assuming they marry) can’t be allowed to play a major role in No 10, however politically well-informed and astute she may be. Replacing a maverick adviser with a meddling fiancée would be an extremely unwise thing to do
Some say an often side-lined Cabinet should fill it. That would be an excellent idea if the Prime Minister were prepared to have by his side the strongest ministers rather than those who are merely eager to agree with him.
A Cabinet that has a place for the almost farcically miscast Gavin Williamson as Education Secretary, yet cannot find room for former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, is unlikely to carry much conviction.
What we do not want are more interventions by Mr Johnson’s fiancée, Carrie Symonds. She was on the right side in plotting the removal of Lee Cain and Dominic Cummings — which is to say on the side of Tory MPs, and sensible, grown-up government.
That said, the PM’s future wife (assuming they marry) can’t be allowed to play a major role in No 10, however politically well-informed and astute she may be. Replacing a maverick adviser with a meddling fiancée would be an extremely unwise thing to do.
We need proper Cabinet government. But we also want a more focused and disciplined Prime Minister who can act as a trustworthy and dependable leader, and is not forever chopping and changing and altering courseHis chief adviser’s exit gives Boris Johnson the opportunity to be his own man.
We will finally find out what he is really made of. Glad though I am to see the back of Dominic Cummings, I have a sense of foreboding about the future.