In Depth

Dominic Cummings: the man behind the electoral thumping

Unelected advisor is Boris Johnson’s key confidant

The Conservative Party’s landslide election win is being credited in large part to Boris Johnson’s controversial senior adviser.

And Dominic Cummings already has his next challenge in his sights, with a plan to overhaul “wasteful” Ministry of Defence spending, reports the Daily Mail.

The unelected advisor was famously described by former prime minister David Cameron as a “career psychopath”, while Nick Clegg said he had “anger management problems”. 

So just who is the man behind the UK’s newly re-elected prime minister?

Early life

Cummings attended the then-all boys Durham boarding school before going on to study history at Exeter College, Oxford.

After graduating in 1994 he moved to Soviet Russia, where he spent three years working on what he refers to as “various projects”.

“I’m not claiming I was good at anything,” he has said of this period, “but working in nightclubs and starting businesses in Russia counts as ‘the real world’.”

However, according to The Guardian, the nightclub belonged to his uncle, and his Russian business was an airline that “folded after its first flight left without a single passenger”.

In 1998, Cummings took up a role as head of research for Business for Sterling - the campaign against Britain joining the euro - where his aggressive and unconventional working practices quickly drew attention.–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––For a round-up of the most important stories from around the world - and a concise, refreshing and balanced take on the week’s news agenda - try The Week magazine. Start your trial subscription today –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

Political career

In 2002, Cummings was appointed director of strategy by then Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith.

But “after eight months in the job he quit, pronounced Mr Duncan Smith ‘incompetent…a worse prime minister than Tony Blair’, and retired to an underground bunker in Durham to study Russian literature and Thucydides”, says The Economist.

Cummings went on to work for Michael Gove between 2007 and 2014, first in opposition and then as a special adviser in the Department for Education. Here, Cummings was known for his “volcanic outbursts”, while his work was described as “either mad, bad or brilliant – and probably a bit of all three”, as The Guardian reported at the time.

In a further public show of temper, in 2017, Cummings branded then Brexit secretary David Davis “thick as mince” and “lazy as a toad”, according to The Independent

Vote Leave

Cummings became campaign director for Vote Leave when the campaign launched in October 2015, and has been hailed as a key player in the Brexit movement.

He coined the catchphrase “Vote Leave, Take Control”, after realising that this message was “more seductive” than the group’s initial legal name Vote Leave, Get Change, says the Financial Times.

Cummings also invented the “£350m a week for the NHS” slogan that was plastered on the side of a campaign bus, and appeared unrepentant when the claim was subsequently discredited.

“Would we have won without immigration? No,” he said in 2017. “Would we have won without £350m/NHS? All our research and the close result strongly suggests no.

“Would we have won by spending our time talking about trade and the single market? No way.”

Despite Cummings’ EU referendum successes, he remains unpopular with fellow Brexiteer Nigel Farage.

“He thinks we’re all cretins and members of the lower order,” Farage told The Times after Cummings was appointed as Johnson’s Brexit chief at No. 10. “He has never liked me. He can’t stand the ERG [European Research Group]. I can’t see him coming to any accommodation with anyone. He has huge personal enmity with the true believers in Brexit.”

In a post-referendum twitter exchange, Cummings branded the initial referendum a “dumb idea” and said Brexit might be “an error”, says The Independent.

His role in the EU vote is the focus of of 2019 Channel 4 drama Brexit: The Uncivil Warin which he is played by Benedict Cumberbatch.

Current role

Cummings was one of Johnson’s first appointments as PM, despite having previous criticised the Conservative Party in public. In 2017, he said: “Tory MPs largely do not care about these poorer people. They don’t care about the NHS. And the public has kind of cottoned on to that.”

But that didn’t deter him from signing up as Johnson’s closest advisor and key strategist, in which role he has helped deliver the Tories’ biggest majority since Margaret Thatcher.

Johnson’s illegal prorogation of Parliament and “the prime minister’s abrasive messaging all have the hallmarks of the Cummings’ new Westminster playbook”, says Politico

It was this “disciplined, on-message election campaign” run by Cummings that “sealed the deal”, adds the news site.

The strategy guru - who reportedly has an hour-long phone call with the PM every morning - was photographed at Johnson’s side looking jubilant on election night as the results came in.

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