Boris Johnson’s top adviser, Dominic Cummings, came into politics to break things, so why are we surprised he’s succeeded, asks Paris Gourtsoyannis.
Some ancient precedents were cited in Court of Session case brought by MPs and campaigners seeking to have the prorogation of parliament ruled unconstitutional.
The 1689 Claim of Right, for instance, states that limits should be placed on sovereign power by parliament in order to avoid the corruption of rights “by the advice of wicked and evil counsellors”.
It might be a bit strong to attach those words to Dominic Cummings, but he’s who the authors of one of the foundational documents of Scottish constitutional law had in mind.
Boris Johnson appears to have made the same mistake as Theresa May did when she allowed her co-chiefs of staff, Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, to become the source rather than the conduit of ideas and power in her administration. This time, the damage is so much greater.
Cummings’ reputation was well established when he went into Downing Street as Johnson’s top adviser. As an aide to Michael Gove when he was in charge of the education brief, he delighted in alienating teachers, civil servants, journalists, fellow ministers and even David Cameron, who called him a “career psychopath”.
Colleagues said his approach was “creative destruction”. All that mattered was forcing through his plans.
His long, rambling blog posts and essays on the dire state of education, politics and government, dense with classical references, saw him described as “either mad, bad or brilliant – and probably a bit of all three”.
Later, as the brains behind the Leave campaign, he was responsible for the inspired ‘Take Back Control’ message, as well as the outright lies about the risk of 80 million Turks flooding into the UK.
Cummings’ commitment to the Brexit cause drew on his hatred of the UK’s political system and the undeserving elites that still dominate it – although he benefited from an Oxford education.
His entry into Downing Street is really just the extension and culmination of the Leave revolution. Its objective was to break the system.
What we’re seeing, then, is simply confirmation that sometimes people who come into politics to break things get their way.
Constitutional conventions and Conservative unity – neither of which were in a good state when Cummings went into Downing Street – have been comprehensively smashed by the single-minded pursuit of the do-or-die goal: Brexit on 31 October.
His approach to party management is best summed up by his reaction to a compromise Brexit proposal put to Cummings over the phone by former minister Greg Clark. “When are you f***ing MPs going to realise we are leaving on October 31? We are going to purge you.”
Even worse than the treatment of the 21 Tory MPs stripped of the party whip has been the perception among their colleagues that Johnson has passed the buck to his adviser when challenged over it.
And of course, there is the fact that Cummings’ aggressive strategy appears to be failing: he can’t bully opposition parties to give Johnson the general election he craves, as long as they hold their nerve.
More and more people seem to be deciding that in an increasingly nasty and divided politics, public service just isn’t worth it anymore.
It’s impossible to avoid the thought that the growing influence of people like Cummings means that trend can only accelerate.