Dominic Cummings - Boris Johnson's eminence grise

by Alex Davidson

Given the significant role of Dominic Cummings in Boris Johnson’s government as his Chief Special Adviser, or éminence grise, it is worthwhile to look into his background, beliefs, thoughts and actions.

1971                Dominic Cummings was born to an oil rig project manager and a special needs teacher. He was educated at a state primary school then Durham School, an independent boarding school, and later attended Exeter College, Oxford University.

1994                Graduated from Oxford University with degree in Ancient and Modern History.

1994 - 1997     Worked on projects in Russia.

1999 - 2002     Campaign Director, “Business for Sterling”, the campaign against Britain joining the Euro.

2002                Director of Strategy for Ian Duncan Smith (Leader of Opposition).

2003 - 05         Director, New Frontiers Foundation think-tank.

2004                Led campaign against North East Assembly. Following which he privately studied mathematics, physics and games theory at his family farm in Durham.

2007 - 2010     Worked for Michael Gove, Shadow Minister of Education, as his Special Adviser.

(Andy Coulson [i], the former Director of Communications at Downing Street, forbade the employment of Cummings by Gove when the Tories came in to government in May 2010, and managed to keep him out until the end of that year. This was because Coulson knew Cummings would disobey orders issued by him and others from the centre.)

2010 - 2014     In Government as Special Adviser to Michael Gove, Minister of Education.

In 2011 Dominic Cummings married Mary Wakefield, Commissioning Editor of the Spectator. She is the daughter of Sir Humphrey Wakefield and Lady Mary Cecil Gray. Her family own Chillingham Castle in Northumberland.

2015 - 2016     Director of Vote Leave campaign.

2019                Chief Special Adviser to Prime Minister Boris Johnson.


Dominic Cummings writes extensively in his blog. [ii] He is a great admirer of Bismarck, whom he often quotes. One of his blogs was published on 9 January 2017 in The Spectator. [iii] It is a 20,000 word analysis entitled: “How the Brexit referendum was won”. 

He opens his 20,000 word piece on the referendum with a quote from Bismarck:

“In politics, there is the added fact that one is largely dependent on the decisions of others, decisions on which one was counting and which then do not materialise; one’s actions are never completely one’s own. And if the friends on whose support one is relying change their minds, which is something that one cannot vouch for, the whole plan miscarries… One’s enemies one can count on – but one’s friends!’

This quote, as well as referring to the Vote Leave campaign, will now no doubt be used by Cummings in reference to the more recent shenanigans in the Tory Party in Parliament.

Following the success of the Vote Leave campaign he was excoriating in his criticism of the May Tory government’s handling of the matter. In his blog, “On the referendum No 25: a letter to Tory MPs and Donors on the Brexit shambles”, [iv] he wrote:

“Vote Leave said during the referendum that:

1) promising to use the Article 50 process would be stupid and the UK should maintain the possibility of making real preparations to leave while NOT triggering Article 50 and

2) triggering Article 50 quickly without discussions with our EU friends and without a plan ‘would be like putting a gun in your mouth and pulling the trigger.…The Government immediately accepted bogus legal advice and triggered Article 50 quickly without discussions with our EU friends and without a plan. This immediately created major problems…The government’s nominal policy, which it put in its manifesto and has repeated many times, is to leave the Single Market and Customs Union and the jurisdiction of the ECJ. This requires preparing to be a ‘third country’ for the purposes of EU law. It requires building all the infrastructure and facilities that are normal around the world to manage trade. This process should have started BEFORE triggering A50 but the government has irretrievably botched this.

Having botched it, it could have partially recovered its blunder by starting to do it afterwards.

No such action has been taken.”

Cummings has contempt for Westminster and Whitehall and many of his comments are worth bearing in mind if there is ever a Left Labour government. 

“This set of problems derives partly from the fact that the wiring of power in Downing Street is systemically dysfunctional and, worse, those with real institutional power (Cabinet Office/HMT officials etc) have as their top priority the maintenance of this broken system and keeping Britain as closely tied to the EU as possible. There is effectively zero prospect of May’s team, totally underwater, solving these problems not least because they cannot see them — indeed, their only strategy is to ‘trust officials to be honest’, which is like trusting Bernie Madoff with your finances. Brexit cannot be done with the traditional Westminster/Whitehall system as Vote Leave warned repeatedly before 23 June 2016.”

He also does not shy away from other issues confronting the Tories:

“Further, lots of what Corbyn says is more popular than what Tory think tanks say and you believe (e.g nationalising the trains and water companies that have been run by corporate looters who Hammond says ‘we must defend’). You are only at 40% in the polls because a set of UKIP voters has decided to back you until they see how Brexit turns out. You only survived the most useless campaign in modern history because Vote Leave killed UKIP. You’re now acting like you want someone to create a serious version of it.”

Cummings was correct and the Brexit Party emerged, as the ‘more serious version’, winning the European elections only weeks after its formation. In his pointing to a possible Labour election victory he warned Tory MPs and Donors:

“Every day that you refuse to face reality increases the probability not only of a terrible deal but also of Seumas Milne shortly casting his curious and sceptical eyes over your assets and tax affairs”.

 [i]  Andy Coulson, former editor of the News of the World, was found guilty of the charge of conspiracy to intercept voicemails and sentenced to 18 months in prison on 14 July 2014. He was released five months later on 21 November 2014. He faced a retrial on two other charges of conspiracy to cause misconduct in public office but in April 2015 the Crown Prosecution Service dropped the retrial.



   and, “on the referendum No 21: branching histories of the 2016 referendum and ‘the frogs before the storm’,

   9 January 2017. 

[iv] “On the referendum No 25: a letter to Tory MPs and Donors on the Brexit shambles”, 23 May 2018.