He was once best known for his expansive, rambling blog posts but now Dominic Cummings appears to have a new favourite form of medium. Boris Johnson's former chief special adviser announced a fortnight ago he was joining paid-for newsletter site Substack, launching his first incendiary post last Wednesday by sharing screenshots in which his former boss called health secretary Matt Hancock 'hopeless.'
Today the Vote Leave supremo has returned to the site for an 'ask me anything' public Q&A session with his army of public subscribers who paid £100 a year for the privilege. Mr S is reading along with the rest of Westminster and will be providing you with a list of the highlights and lowlights from Cummings's virtual grill-athon.
Global Britain – a 'crap slogan'
Cummings was asked about the current direction of post-Brexit Britain and his thoughts on the trade deals currently being negotiated. His response was to claim 'I never thought trade deals much important' but that MPs did – 'hence all their Global Britain nonsense, a crap slogan that 5 years later still means nothing. But they love it and drawing arrows across the globe!' He instead argued procurement reform was much more important.
'Obliterate' the current party system
Unlike most No. 10 chiefs, Cummings is not and claims to have never been a member of the Conservative party. And there was no deviation from that view today when he explained his reasons for running the leave campaign – 'the Tory Party is hideous obviously but that was part of the point of doing Brexit – to put a bomb under them all so they all have to change. And they are changing. Not fast enough. Crucial Q: how to accelerate the change/obliteration of existing parties...'
Incidentally his advice to Labour would be 'forget the hysteria and childish nonsense around 'trans' and focus on violent crime' but that Labour MPs 'seem more interested in media/social media than the people' they should focus on. He also believes proportional representation is 'rubbish' and that 'Starmer seems just another not great lawyer who thinks politics is about watching the media all day. He’s very much in tune with modern Commons. Content to fail in all the usual ways rather than shake anything up. Similar to Cameron.' Ouch.
Sunak did back first lockdown
Responding to a question on Jonathan Calvert and George Arbuthnott's book 'Failures of State' – which Cummings incidentally claimed was 'riddled with errors' and reliant on a pro-Remain No. 10 source – the latter went on to defend the Chancellor of the Exchequer who was alleged to have not supported the first lockdown in March 2020. Cummings wrote: 'Sunak did NOT oppose first lockdown. When I/Vallance/Warners pushed to ditch Plan A and move faster, Sunak supported me and developed furlough which was crucial for that emergency.'
He claimed that the delay to the second September lockdown 'was a PM decision against advice of scientists, data team, me and others in No10, it wasn't a Cabinet decision or 'cos of Sunak' and that the Chancellor's view is supposedly 'the same as all serious people July-Oct: there is no plan, just a trolley smashing side to side.' One for Labour MPs next Treasury questions...
Boris's greatest strengths
For a man who has described Boris Johnson as 'unfit' for the role of PM, Cummings did have some positives to say about the incumbent premier. Asked to describe the Tory leader's greatest strengths, he replied that '– 1 per cent of his life when incentivised by fear of imminent career death he is much more self-aware than almost anybody else in politics, this is is greatest strength, SW1 doesn't realise it exists, but sadly he keeps it hidden from himself most of the time! He's a much more complex character than he seems, behind the mask is ... another mask...' So that's nice then.
Cummings claimed later this week he will write on Johnson's strengths and weaknesses, something No. 10 will no doubt be looking forward to reading greatly. He wrote that his former boss is 'a pundit who stumbled into politics and acts like that 99 per cent of the time but one per cent not – and that one per cent is why pundits misunderstand him/underestimate him.'
How to succeed in government
Given his downfall in a No. 10 power struggle, Cummings was unsurprisingly keen to stress the value of alliances, championing a 'network of similar people who can push for common aims... build alliances with senior people. define yourselves as 'open' - support open appointments as default for CS [Civil Service] jobs, end the closed caste system... support each other... embed yourselves in the big changes happening on data - the people who control data/dashboards will have ever more power internally....'
'They are taking advanced tech ultra seriously – and using whole of govt to make progress – this is the most important thing to focus on. There are lots of encouraging signs in US, Whitehall has been APPALLING on S&T [science and technology] for decades and is a big part of our problem with productivity, education, and defence procurement...'
Bismarck vs Salisbury
Cummings is a well-known Bismarck buff and unsurprisingly was quick to suggest swotting up on the former Iron Chancellor – 'for politics nothing beats studying the monster Bismarck.' Asked in another question as to whether he preferred the latter's late Victorian rival Lord Salisbury, there was no question for Cummings who plumped for the Prussian as 'he was playing a completely different game... you can trace a lot of how he did it and how he thought in the record.'
He added that it was 'depressing' that 'the world does not learn from effectiveness' continuing that 'obviously you must separate effectiveness/ethics' as it would have been 'better for the world if he'd been assassinated!' Cummings summarised 'That he was most effective AND shd have been killed is a worrying conclusion...'
For a man who won a national referendum, you'd have thought Cummings's thoughts on IndyRef2 would be invaluable to unionists. Unfortunately in No. 10 he says he did his best to avoid 'stupid union' meetings on the subject due to his hatred of discussing strategy – 'little useful action comes from all the chatter.' He claims in government 'I tried to solve the main problem and figured we'd solve Scotland later – but Scotland and Ireland were tails wagging dogs – one of the things I did was say, we're doing this and the Union will work itself out one way or another.' His own reading of the future is that 'in 10 years this debate will be totally different – Scots won't want to give away control to Brussels.'
His own past
Cummings also shed some light on his upbringing, declaring 'I've been interested in how power really works since I was a kid and still am' and adding 'I've studied a lot of wars and disasters since a kid. I have had a strong sense since a teen of how fragile civilisation is.' He added 'I don't think about mental health, I dont require positive reinforcement from my social environment and I have high tolerance for hate!' for which he cited genetic reasons saying 'my dad's the same!'
That Lord Ashcroft biography can't come soon enough...