Sat, 2 March 2024

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ANALYSIS Civil service assumes brace position as Dominic Cummings enters Number 10

2 min read

If there were any lingering doubts that Boris Johnson's arrival in Downing Street would signal a dramatic change of pace in Whitehall, they can be quietly extinguished.

The revelation that Dominic Cummings will be one of the new Prime Minister's top advisers is, quite simply, a declaration of war on business as usual.

"He really does hate the civil service, though not individual civil servants," says a friend. "He sees it accurately as a self-interested caste."

An Oxbridge history student who taught himself maths to post-grad level on the side and likes to read Russian novels in his spare time, Cummings is not your average resident of the Westminster village.

Former colleagues speak of his ferocious loyalty to colleagues and ability to get things done, and say he works best when swimming against the tide.

"The things he admires are numeracy and an ability to ignore rules," one source tells PoliticsHome. "He is a total outsider, and despises any in-crowd. The people he works best with are also outsiders."

As the strategic genius behind the Vote Leave campaign, Cummings will now be tasked with ensuring Johnson meets his pledge of delivering Brexit by 31 October "do or die".

But one friend pointed out that his ambition stretches well beyond that.

"He will want to make progress on what he sees as the country's 'moon shot', its national mission - to make the UK the best place in the world to do science and to be educated," they said.

That will depend, of course, on whether he wins his looming battle with Whitehall.

Gabriel Milland, the former head of communications at the Department for  Education and now a partner at consultancy Public First, saw Cummings up close when he was a special adviser to Michael Gove.

 "Dom is probably the most effective person I have ever worked with," he said. "People get a lot about him wrong. He actually had some extremely good working relationships with plenty of officials at DfE.

"I also think Number 10 is better set up for him than an ordinary Whitehall department is. Unlike most departments, Downing Street has lots of people - civil servants - whose job it is to support the PM and his or her top team, and to make sure his or her writ runs across Whitehall.

"You also get the pick of the Civil Service in terms of staff quality. But Dom's biggest strength is that he simply gets stuff done."

The Whitehall establishment - what Gove has called The Blob - had better brace themselves. A storm is coming.


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