In Depth

Is Dominic Cummings losing influence in Downing Street?

Prime minister’s chief adviser calls for children’s TV superheroes to replace cabinet

Dominic Cummings has risked the ire of No. 10 by saying that a team of animated child superheroes would do a better job than the current cabinet.

Boris Johnson’s top adviser was approached by a BBC crew as he left his north London home on Tuesday morning, and asked about the Government’s decision to give the green light to the HS2 high-speed rail project.

But in what the Daily Mirror describes as “a seemingly unhinged moment”, Cummings simply replied: “The night time is the right time to fight crime – I can’t think of a rhyme.”

The line is from the theme tune for PJ Masks, an animated children’s television show about three preschoolers who dress up as superheroes and battle enemies.

Asked if the prime minister’s decision to approve HS2 - which Cummings has opposed - indicated that he had lost influence in Downing Street, he said: “I think we need PJ Masks on the job. PJ Masks. They’re your guys.”

And when queried about the imminent cabinet reshuffle, the controversial adviser said: “PJ Masks will do a greater job than all of them put together.”

How No. 10 will view his latest antics is unclear, but there are signs that the man dubbed a “career psychopath” by David Cameron is falling out of favour with his boss.

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HS2

Cummings has been a long-standing critic of the HS2 project, which he has described as a “disaster zone”.

He is reported to have voiced his concerns to Johnson and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, arguing that the project was among a host of wasteful policies that should be cut.

Yet despite his adviser’s opposition, Johnson this week announced the project was going ahead - revealing the “limits to the influence wielded by Cummings”, as The Independent notes.  

Cabinet reshuffle

Johnson also appears set to thwart Cummings’ hopes of a radical shake-up at Downing Street and Whitehall.

The top aide has advocated for slashing the size of the cabinet, taking the axe to ministerial jobs and merging Whitehall departments.

But the PM is instead expected to use his long-awaited ministerial reshuffle this week to shift public attention away from Brexit and onto his investment into disadvantaged areas of the UK.

Cummings has also urged Johnson to fire Chancellor Sajid Javid and Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, both of whom have close links to the PM’s partner, Carrie Symonds, says the Daily Mail.

But Johnson is refusing to sack Javid, although “the fate of Mr Wallace is less clear”, says the newspaper.

And Treasury sources say Symonds is backing ministers who warn that Cummings’ aggressive approach towards ministers, officials and journalists is damaging his boss.

“He doesn’t care who he insults if it makes the Government more effective. Carrie is just as determined and is very loyal to her friends,” a source told the Mail.

Civil service

Cummings has been an outspoken critic of the civil service, repeatedly voicing his disdain for Whitehall and Parliament.

In 2014, after leaving his role as an adviser to Michael Gove at the Department for Education, Cummings said of the civil service: “Everyone thinks there’s some moment, like in a James Bond movie, where you open the door and that’s where the really good people are, but there is no door.”

But the former head of the civil service, Lord Kerslake, has warned Cummings that the organisation cannot be changed overnight.

Kerslake said that the institution was “open to improvement and change” but that the strategy guru would “have to work with the civil service” to make that happen.

Even if he does cooperate, Cummings is unlikely to get the large scale machinery of government changes that he wants, with Johnson instead opting for a less extreme shake-up.

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