DAN HODGES: Boris Johnson needed a rock but got venal Dominic Cummings
Judas of Downing Street: Boris Johnson needed a rock by his side. What he got was a venal, arrogant, self-obsessed, two-faced megalomaniac, writes DAN HODGES
In the final week of the 2016 referendum campaign, Vote Leave held a party for some high-value donors. One of them began boorishly demanding they be given a trip on the famous Battle Bus.
When staff members explained this wouldn’t be possible, he started berating them. Eventually Dom Cummings intervened. If the donor made sure to arrive promptly at the campaign offices at 7am, he could go on the bus, he said.
The following day the excited businessman duly arrived. But there was no bus. Instead he was met by Cummings. ‘I don’t care who you are,’ he told him coolly. ‘No one speaks to my staff like that.’ Then he turned and walked off.
Dom Cummings understands the importance of loyalty. As one of his former Vote Leave colleagues told me: ‘Loyalty was what he gave to all of us, and it’s what he expected in return.’
Which makes it even more incomprehensible that last week he chose to transform himself from the Hero of Brexit into the Judas of Downing Street.
Dominic Cummings tried to frame his committee appearance (above) as a search for the truth. If it had been – and his evidence had been objective and balanced – it would have been invaluable. But everyone who sat through his seven hours of testimony knows that this was not his aim
Allies of Cummings I spoke to attempted to justify his actions. One said he was simply responding to the attack on his character launched by the PM last month. Another told me attempts had been made to broker a truce between Boris and Dom but they had been blocked by Carrie.
Maybe. But it’s irrelevant. He was Boris’s most trusted adviser. He was defended by the PM – notably when many demanded his sacking over Barnard Castle. And he chose to repay him by stabbing him in the back, and trying to destroy his premiership.
Cummings tried to frame his committee appearance as a search for the truth. If it had been – and his evidence had been objective and balanced – it would have been invaluable.
But everyone who sat through his seven hours of testimony knows that this was not his aim. Instead he wanted to use Covid – and the deaths it wrought – as a weapon to settle his own personal political scores.
He was Boris’s most trusted adviser. He was defended by the PM – notably when many demanded his sacking over Barnard Castle. And he chose to repay him by stabbing him in the back, and trying to destroy his premiership
At times, what he was trying to do was so transparent it bordered on the comical. Asked about Rishi Sunak’s opposition to a second lockdown, he tried to pass the blame for the Chancellor’s stance on to his pet hate figure, Matt Hancock.
Other claims were simply fantastical, such as the idea that there was serious contemplation of a strategy of encouraging the nation to hold ‘Covid parties’ to spread the disease faster.
But what was most significant was the evidence that never saw the light of day. Before his appearance, ‘friends’ told the media he was preparing to ‘napalm’ Boris with documents, texts, messages and recordings.
He had a ‘crucial historic document’ that would reshape public perception of how the crisis had been managed, we were told. It was rubbish. Not a shred of evidence was provided.
Time and again, committee chairmen Greg Clark and Jeremy Hunt asked him if he could provide anything to back up his charges. And each time Dom’s famous directness disappeared in a cloud of mumbled obfuscation, and half-promises to possibly provide some information at some distant point in the future.
But as well as raising questions about Cummings’s objectivity, there is another very practical reason why his duplicity matters.
Much of his criticism centred on the perceived dysfunctionality of government. How with the exception of a handful of ‘brilliant’ individuals – all of whom he handpicked and nurtured – the administration of which he was a part was not fit for purpose. As a result of which – in his eyes – tens of thousands of people needlessly died.
Some of this criticism of the Civil Service may be well founded. But for any administration to operate efficiently, it requires something more than operational grids and management theories. Trust.
At times, what Cummings was trying to do was so transparent it bordered on the comical. Asked about Rishi Sunak’s opposition to a second lockdown, he tried to pass the blame for the Chancellor’s stance on to his pet hate figure, Matt Hancock
For government to work, Prime Ministers have to be able to rely on those around them. In particular, they have to be able to lean on the loyalty and discretion of their inner circle. Especially in a crisis.
And as we now know, Boris couldn’t rely on Dom. When Britain began heading towards the Covid abyss, what Boris needed was a rock. What he got was a venal, arrogant, self-obsessed, two-faced megalomaniac.
The most revealing moment from Cummings’s marathon session was this. According to his own account, he sat down with the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and said: ‘This building is chaos… but you’re more frightened of me having the power to stop the chaos than you are of the chaos.’
Me. Having. The. Power.
Many modern theologians no longer believe Judas Iscariot was motivated by greed. Some think he may have become jealous of his mentor’s celebrity, or was frustrated at what he saw as an overly cautious strategy.
That is Dom. It’s what really lies at the heart of the bile we saw spewing out for seven long hours last week. Anger – rage even – that others held the power, and he did not.
Every criticism came from that same place. Cummings’s fury that the Prime Minister, Cabinet Ministers and senior civil servants had the temerity – the shocking effrontery – to say and think and do things that were at odds with the Great Dom.
Cummings found it inexplicable Boris wouldn’t hand him the reins of power inside No 10. His own explanation is it was a product of the Prime Minister’s cowardice. But it wasn’t. It was because that was the moment Boris finally woke up to the fact he’d let a snake into the inner sanctum
‘I called for [Hancock] to be sacked almost every week, sometimes almost every day,’ Cummings said. Let’s deconstruct that. An adviser told the Prime Minister to sack his Health Secretary in the midst of the nation’s biggest health crisis. The PM refused. So what did he do?
Did Cummings set aside his personal differences, and try to construct a better working relationship with Hancock? Did he swallow his pride and put the good of the nation before his own vanity and ego? Did he listen to his boss, respect his decision, and knuckle down to saving lives?
No. Instead, he saw it as a direct challenge to his ‘power’. So he went on and on and on in his monomaniacal bid to get Hancock ousted.
Not that the Health Secretary was ever his real target. On this at least, Cummings was honest: ‘The heart of the problem was fundamentally I regarded [Boris] as unfit for the job and I was trying to create a structure around him to try to stop what I thought were extremely bad decisions and push other things through against his wishes.’
At the moment of greatest danger for the nation. When Boris – himself brought to death’s door by Covid – needed him most, where was his most senior aide? Standing shoulder to shoulder beside him? No. He was sliding into place behind him, and unsheathing the knife.
Cummings found it inexplicable Boris wouldn’t hand him the reins of power inside No 10. His own explanation is it was a product of the Prime Minister’s cowardice. But it wasn’t. It was because that was the moment Boris finally woke up to the fact he’d let a snake into the inner sanctum.
Everyone I’ve spoken to who worked with Dom Cummings during the Vote Leave campaign talks about the premium he placed on loyalty. I hope they’re right. Because then there’s just a chance that one day he’ll look back at what he did last week, and reflect.
On how the Judas of Downing Street tried to stab Boris in the back, but ended up stabbing himself.
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