Who was Dominic Cummings and why did he leave?

Dominic Cummings
Source: Number 10 (via. Wikimedia Commons)
Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister’s notorious senior advisor left Downing Street in what became a rapidly escalated drama on November 13. However, some commentators say the departure was a result of tensions running high in Boris Johnson’s team for a while.

By Dewi Morris | Political Editor

Who is Dominic Cummings?

Dominic Cummings was dubbed Boris Johnson’s ‘brain’ by the New York Times, and ITV’s Robert Peston claimed that Cummings and his Vote Leave team were essentially running government. He was behind the successful Leave campaign as well as the Conservative’s landslide general election victory. The BBC claims “it is hard to overstate how important Mr Cummings was to the Johnson project.” Indeed, journalists have speculated that Cumming’s departure is a huge blow to the Prime Minister. Others say this is a blessing for the Conservatives and a chance for the party to change.

Dominic Cummings is accredited as a master-strategist. He created the slogan for the Leave campaign: “Take back control”, which proved successful with voters. The Conservative’s slogan during the general election, “Get Brexit done” once again struck a chord with most of the public.

Channel 4’s drama ‘Brexit: the Uncivil War’ portrayed Cummings, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, as an eccentric genius. It also drew attention to Cummings’ eye for data and the Leave campaign’s controversial use of targeted Facebook ads.

Cummings again made headlines in the summer when he visited Barnard Castle, against the government’s guidelines as he had coronavirus symptoms. He later stated that the drive was to test his eyesight. Despite calls for his resignation from politicians of all parties, including from within the Conservative party, Cummings said he did not regret his actions, and claimed he had acted “responsibly” given the circumstances. Boris Johnson defended Cummings’ actions.

His unconventional politics stirred up Downing Street and he had big plans for reforms. In January, Cummings argued on his blog the need for more specialists as well as “weirdos and misfits with odd skills” in government. He argued that Brexit meant major policy changes were needed, and that elites in government were not the most fit to be making decisions. Instead he believed scientists and mathematicians should be given more decision-making powers. Cummings also believes in shifting power from London and the South of England, in what is dubbed “levelling-up”, and seen as a project of his. However, he once ran a campaign that opposed an assembly for the north-east of England.

His unconventionality and blunt manner didn’t always make him popular among senior Tories. When he was Prime Minister, David Cameron had called Cummings a “career psychopath.” The Times claim that “aside from Johnson himself, no person is more responsible than Cummings for the UK’s emulation of Trumpian politics.”

So, what led to him leaving?  

On Friday, November 13, Dominic Cummings exited 10 Downing Street through the front door, carrying a cardboard box of belongings. Images of him leaving flooded social media and the news. The departure was allegedly a result of days of infighting in Johnson’s team.

The BBC wrote that many Conservative MPs felt a change in Number 10 was needed, as the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic has attracted harsh criticism. They felt that Cumming’s campaigning strategy was “too toxic” and detrimental to the government and that he had to go. Some MPs believed that Cummings had leaked the news of a second lockdown in England before it was announced.

After an alleged falling out with Boris Johnson, Lee Cain, the Prime Minister’s director of communications resigned on November 12. This was despite being offered a promotion to chief of staff. Speculation was immediate, that his close colleague, Dominic Cummings, who also worked with him on the Leave campaign would soon follow. The next day Cummings handed in his resignation.

Labour said the PM could “rearrange the deckchairs all he wants… but the responsibility for this government’s incompetence still lies firmly at Boris Johnson’s door”. However, many in the Conservative Party believe this is a great opportunity for Boris Johnson to “reset government” and for better communication between MPs and the Prime Minister to develop.

This saga came at a pressing time for the government with a looming Brexit deadline and crucial decisions concerning the pandemic to be taken. Whether a fresh start will be made is yet to be proven.

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