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Sun, 27 September 2020

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Former Tony Blair aide: 'Rasputin' Dominic Cummings will not last a year in Downing Street

Former Tony Blair aide: 'Rasputin' Dominic Cummings will not last a year in Downing Street
3 min read

Dominic Cummings will not last a year in Downing Street, a former top aide to Tony Blair has declared.


Jonathan Powell also said that while he agreed that the civil service needed reform, Mr Cummings' radicall approach to the task was "likely to be counter-productive".

Mr Powell, who was Mr Blair's chief of staff for the 10 years he was Prime Minister, also compared Boris Johnson's top adviser to Rasputin, the mysterious holy man who advised the Russian royal family.

Mr Cummings has said he wants "weirdos and misfits" to apply for jobs in Number 10 as he sets about a radical shake-up of the civil service.

But speaking to the latest Institute for Government podcast, Mr Powell said he doubted whether he would be in place long enough to see his reforms through.

He said: "One prediction I think I am fairly safe in making for this year is that Boris Johnson will survive this year politically, but I don’t believe Dominic Cummings will.

"When you put yourself front and centre and make yourself public in this way you do end up like Rasputin in the River Neva in chains. That’s what happens. You become the target. Maybe he wants to. He says he doesn’t want to stay there long. I don’t think he will be staying there long.

"I hope his disappearance doesn’t stop reform, because that reform is needed. Both in the civil service and goodness knows in public services more generally and the way that spending is allocated across the country. So I hope that he isn’t a victim in his public dance with death."

He added: "I do have some sympathy with the need for reform of the civil service. I was a civil servant for 16 years before I went to work for Tony Blair in opposition in the Labour Party and I did see in that time the need for some very radical change.

"The problem I have with the approach that Dominic Cummings is taking is it is more likely to be counterproductive. Already the things he is saying have been rowed back by other spokesmen from government, and trying to make it about weirdos rather than about serious change in the civil service is actually probably counterproductive.

"His own time in the Department for Education was not notable for its success in persuading the civil service to change. And the thing about the civil service is you need to persuade them to change because they are the vehicle for delivery of the changes that you want in public service. So simply attacking them doesn’t achieve that much."

UNITED IRELAND

Elsewhere in the podcast, Mr Powell - who helped to negotiate the Good Friday Agreement - said he believed Brexit had made a united Ireland "quite likely".

He said the deal agreed with Brussels by Mr Johnson, which effectively puts an economic border down the Irish Sea, will persuade increasing Catholic unionists to support leaving the UK.

"There’s still 10% of Catholics who think it is better to remain in the United Kingdom," he said. "That, once they are living in a united Ireland in economic terms, is likely to go down further and then you are going to get very close to 50-50. And then you will then start also seeing unionists, particularly middle class unionists, business unionists, who see the disparity between GDP per head between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

"And that transformation is crucial and I think all of these push factors will, not inexorably lead to a united Ireland but over the next decade, unless something changes, will make it really quite likely." 

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