ANDREW PIERCE: Bitter. Vengeful. Obsessed. Dominic Cummings is carrying a box of lethal secrets to kill off his old boss and put Rishi Sunak in No.10
Shortly before Christmas, Boris Johnson’s former adviser, Dominic Cummings, made a devastating claim about the Prime Minister.
He said that in February 2020, soon after Britain’s first Covid case appeared in York – and as the full horror of the pandemic was starting to emerge in China – Boris dismissed the virus as ‘the new swine flu’ and decided instead to concentrate on writing his book on Shakespeare.
It was just one of many barbs Cummings has unleashed in his methodical (and brutally effective) campaign of revenge against his former boss, who sacked him in November 2020. It’s a campaign that can justly be called Shakespearean, given the dramatic fallout.
The most recent salvo from Cummings triggered the latest and most serious crisis for the Prime Minister over Downing Street parties.
Dominic Cummings departs from No 10 on November 13, 2020. Speaking of the box Cummings carried, a former colleague said: ‘There was more than one smoking gun in that. He was taunting us. We should have bloody confiscated it on security grounds.’
Referring to the investigation into ‘Partygate’ already under way by senior civil servant Sue Gray, he wrote in his blog: ‘The inquiry should investigate the “Socially Distanced Drinks” email sent on Wednesday 20 May 2020.’
The email was from Martin Reynolds, Boris’s principal private secretary, inviting about 100 staff to a bring-your-own-booze party.
No one can be sure who leaked the invitation to ITV News on Monday, but Cummings alerted the world to its existence. It is also obvious that the huge political damage inflicted on Boris is exactly what Cummings intended.
As one long-time associate of Cummings said: ‘Dominic was plotting and scheming even before he left No10. He is consumed with a visceral loathing of Boris. This is all about his revenge for the humiliation of being sacked.’
In his few public appearances, such as before committees of MPs, Cummings insists he is motivated by the entirely noble aim of trying to make a broken Government machine work better. There is some truth in that. But his associate added: ‘Dominic will not rest until Boris and Carrie have left.
‘He has an electric library bulging with damaging memos, texts and emails, which he will release at carefully timed moments to undermine Boris.’
Cummings has boasted privately that he helped engineer Rishi Sunak’s (left) promotion to Chancellor in February 2020 after Sajid Javid resigned from No 11. Cummings has even boasted that he ‘tricked’ Boris (right) into losing Javid after a row over his choice of special adviser
Another ex-colleague agreed: ‘Every time Boris gets back on the front foot, Cummings will strike. He will have been alarmed by a couple of recent polls showing the Tories coming back against Labour. He knows the new Partygate row will sink the recovery.’
As we know, Cummings himself always had a cavalier view of lockdown. It was only two days after the ‘BYOB’ party, to which he was invited, that news broke of his own egregious breach of the rules – that infamous visit to Barnard Castle.
Yet charges of hypocrisy are unlikely to worry Cummings, a master tactician who engineered both the Brexit victory and Johnson’s 80-seat election majority.
His guerrilla war against Johnson is carefully planned. Not only is he launching regular volleys, he is also helping to foster dissent within the Cabinet by supporting Rishi Sunak, pointedly avoiding any criticism of the Chancellor.
In the book-lined drawing room of his elegant four-storey Islington townhouse, Cummings will have read a poll from YouGov last Friday with quiet satisfaction. It revealed that voters dislike almost every leading political figure – not least Johnson – with the exception of Mr Sunak.
Cummings has boasted privately that he helped engineer Sunak’s promotion to Chancellor in February 2020 after Sajid Javid resigned from No11. Cummings has even boasted that he ‘tricked’ Boris into losing Javid after a row over his choice of special adviser.
And while Cummings himself has long since departed from Government, the team of No10 advisers he assembled is still in place – but they’re next door, with Sunak.
The so-called joint unit – originally hand-picked by Cummings to work for Boris and the Chancellor – now answers only to Sunak.
One minister said: ‘Be in no doubt, Cummings is a huge admirer of Sunak and would want him to succeed where he thinks Boris has failed.’
No one epitomises the growing self-confidence of the Treasury more than Liam Booth-Smith, who became head of the unit in February 2020.
‘Cummings and Booth-Smith have a mutual respect for each other’s intellect,’ says one source. ‘They are also united in another important respect: their contempt for the PM.’
Does Cummings dream of a call to return to No10 under Prime Minister Sunak? ‘He’s deluded enough,’ said one Boris supporter. ‘Sunak’s not that daft.’
Dominic Cummings, former Chief Adviser to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, giving evidence to a joint inquiry of the Commons Health and Social Care and Science and Technology Committees
In the meantime, Cummings has launched a tech company.
Siwah Ltd is based in a business park in Durham, where his family lives. He is the sole director.
He is also running a consultancy through his blog, offering marketing and election campaigning for fees which ‘slide from zero to lots depending on who you are/your project’. Typically, he never bothered to observe the Whitehall rules over the establishment of new businesses for former senior Downing Street employees.
Lord Pickles, chairman of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments, wrote in a letter to the Cabinet Office: ‘It appears that Mr Cummings is offering various services for payment via a blog… for which he is also receiving subscription payments.
‘Mr Cummings has failed to seek the committee’s advice on this commercial undertaking, nor has the committee received the courtesy of a reply to our letter requesting an explanation. Failure to seek and await advice before taking up work is a breach of the Government’s rules.’ Cummings’ main pursuit, however, seems to be bringing down Johnson – and there are fears he has plenty of ammunition.
When he left No10 for the last time – via the front door, in time for the 6pm TV bulletins – he conspicuously carried a large cardboard box. ‘There was more than one smoking gun in that,’ said a former colleague. ‘He was taunting us. We should have bloody confiscated it on security grounds.’
As Boris would be the first to admit, there is no more seasoned and experienced campaign activist than Cummings.
He is often dubbed a modern Machiavelli, after the 16th century author of The Prince, a guide to using cunning and artifice.
Others say his strategies resemble those of German chancellor Otto von Bismarck, who ignited multiple fires at the same time, distracting his opponents. Indeed, Cummings has set off any number of explosions.
He is thought to be behind the cruel nickname ‘Princess Nut Nut’ for the PM’s wife, as well as some of the revelations about the redecoration of their Downing Street flat.
Cummings held a press conference on May 25, 2020, five days after the email about the party at Downing Street, after it was revealed he had travelled to Barnard Castle
One senior Tory said: ‘Campaigning is where Cummings thrives and he’s showing it against Boris who’s on the ropes.
‘Dominic falls out with everyone because he’s like an evangelist who is 100 per cent certain of his own beliefs. Everyone else is inferior to Dominic’s intellect, in his view.’ Little wonder some have called him ‘deranged’, friends of Carrie have labelled him an ‘obsessed bully’, and David Cameron said he was a ‘career psychopath’.
Pleas for loyalty are wasted on him. He’s never been a member of the Conservative Party, and went out of his way to antagonise Tory MPs when he worked at No10. He’s not interested in a title or money.
His own family is wealthy and his wife’s father, Sir Humphrey Wakefield, lives in Northumberland’s 13th-century Chillingham Castle.
When Michael Gove withdrew support from Boris in the 2016 leadership contest, the latter’s father Stanley quoted Caesar’s last words when he was stabbed by his former friend: ‘Et tu, Brute.’
In this latest Shakespearean drama involving Boris, it is Cummings – once his loyal lieutenant – who assumes the role.