Dominic Cummings: ‘a man of the people’

There are people best kept in the shadows as they patrol the corridors of power, and certainly not presented in Downing Street’s rose garden. But Dominic Cummings is, according to former Prime Minister David Cameron, a ‘career psychopath’ and he could not help but stumble into the daylight. Now, Boris Johnson’s loyalty to his Chief Adviser threatens to wound this Conservative government — a wound that will not heal for as long Cummings remains. At the last count, 45 Tory MPs had called for Cummings to be sacked or to resign.

The protection given to Cummings contrasts sharply with the treatment of many people. Driving from London to Durham, while both Cummings and his wife considered themselves to have Covid-19 symptoms, is grounds for arrest under the Coronavirus Act. Although he initially claimed not to have left the family farm for two weeks, Cummings was subsequently compelled to admit two further journeys, including one of them, with the bizarre justification of testing his eyesight, to Barnard Castle. This was at a time when the Prime Minister and his cabinet told us emphatically that staying at home was ‘an instruction not a request’. As of 15 May, 18,000 fine notices had been issued in England and Wales under the Coronavirus Health Protection Regulations. However, Durham Police announced on 28 May that Cummings had committed ‘a minor breach relating to lockdown rules’ and no action would be taken against him.

Contrast this generosity of spirit with the callous disregard shown to those extremely vulnerable people with cancer, liver disease or severe asthma who received a text on 22 May from GOVUK telling them that they had been dropped from the National Shielding Service. Without explanation, with no word from their doctors, people who had self-isolated, depending on deliveries of food boxes, were simply reclassified to be told they were no longer on the shielded person’s list. The government said that doctors should have written to patients to explain the decision and that the text should have directed recipients to other forms of help. This is frankly brutal indifference to anxiety and suffering.

So, who is this pampered and protected courtier? As Mrs Thatcher would have had it, Cummings is ‘one of us.’ Cummings was Director of the Vote Leave campaign in the 2016 referendum and helped Johnson and the Conservatives win the 2019 general election. He had been a special adviser to Michael Gove when Gove was education secretary. Cummings surfaced, ominously, in August 2019 when he asked an armed police officer to escort one of Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid’s advisers, Sonia Khan, off the Downing Street premises. Cummings proceeded to demand that Javid sack all his advisers, upon which Javid resigned.

With his dress-down style and Brexit appeal to voters, Cummings affects a ‘man of the people’ approach to politics, but this belies his class, status and purpose. Cummings was educated at the private fee-paying Durham School and Exeter College, Oxford University. His uncle, Sir John Laws, a High Court judge and former Lord Justice of Appeal, was also educated at Durham School and Exeter College. While at Exeter College Cummings studied under Norman Stone, one-time adviser to Margaret Thatcher and member of the Centre of Eurasian Studies, which denied Turkey’s role in the Armenian genocide. Cummings’ father is a former oil rig project manager with an estate, which we now know has three houses and a private wood. Cummings is married to Mary Wakefield, Commissioning Editor of the Spectator magazine. She joined the Spectator when Boris Johnson was editor. Her father is Sir Humphry Wakefield, an English baronet and owner of the 13th century Chillingham Castle in Northumberland. Her mother, the Honourable Katherine Baring, is herself the daughter of a former governor of Rhodesia, the South African protectorates and Kenya. Her ancestors include Charles Grey, the 2nd Earl Grey, British Prime Minister from 1830 to 1834.

Cummings’ flouting of the lockdown instructions, his excuses and Boris Johnson’s protection of him, have provoked anger and driven a coach and horses through the ‘We are all in this together’ mantra. Sections of the ruling class are becoming exasperated by the sheer incompetence of this government. The Financial Times editorialised on the Cummings fiasco: ‘The foundation of this UK government is a bunker of close allies surrounded by a lightweight, supine and largely ineffectual cabinet chosen mainly for their commitment to Brexit or their loyalty to Mr Johnson in last year’s Conservative party leadership’ (27 May 2020). Meanwhile, the Labour Party has launched a ‘charm offensive’ in the City of London, seizing an opportunity to proffer a safer pair of hands to the owners and managers of British capitalism.

Trevor Rayne