Friday 14 January 2022
When Dominic Cummings was driven out of Number 10 at the end of 2020, many thought the days of the “Westminster protagonist” were over. Then came partygate.
Nimo Omer, narrating:
Hello, I’m Nimo and this is the Sensemaker.
One story, every day, to make sense of the world.
Today, the former aide – who isn’t going away quietly.
When Dominic Cummings walked out of Number 10 Downing Street with his cardboard box on Friday 13th November 2020, you’d be forgiven for thinking it might be the end of his chapter in politics.
Team “Vote Leave”, who had triumphed in 2016, had been driven out, and a new era was starting in Number 10.
The days of the “Westminster protagonist” were over.
Or so we thought.
Cue: Dominic Cummings’ onslaught against his former boss, Boris Johnson.
“The other problem was, fundamentally I regarded him as unfit for the job…”Dominic Cummings giving evidence to Parliament, May 2021
Six months after leaving his role as chief aide following an internal power struggle, Dominic Cummings sat in parliament and gave evidence on the government’s handling of the pandemic.
“And I was trying to create a structure around him to try and stop what I thought were extremely bad decisions…”Dominic Cummings giving evidence to Parliament, May 2021
Two months later came a damning interview with the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg.
“Within days of winning the election you were discussing getting rid of him? Yes… he doesn’t have a plan, he doesn’t know how to be prime minister…”Dominic Cummings speaking to the BBC
His attack on prime minister Boris Johnson had begun.
What followed were drips of information that only people on the “inside” could leak.
“Obviously it’s impossible to prove who the sources are for particular stories…”Matthew d’Ancona, Tortoise
This is Matthew d’Ancona, an editor at Tortoise – the newsroom where we make this podcast, and a leading political commentator.
“… what we can say is that by his own admission, Dominic Cummings has been actively seeking the fall of Boris Johnson.”Matthew d’Ancona, Tortoise
Now, it would be wrong to assume that all, or any, of these leaks came directly from Dominic Cummings but it’s hard to argue that these leaks don’t suit him.
Because if you look at Dominic Cummings’ blog posts and tweets… they’re steering the press towards what he thinks matters.
And this week, it all came to a head with partygate.
“I believe implicitly that this was a work event but Mr Speaker with hindsight, I should have sent everyone back inside… and I should have recognised that even if it could be said technically to fall within the guidance, there would be millions and millions of people who simply would not see it that way…”Boris Johnson speaking at PMQs
In response to the prime minister’s defence, Dominic Cummings tweeted, “No way ‘technically within the rules’.”
So, were the partygate revelations orchestrated by Dominic Cummings?
Just days before Christmas, the Guardian newspaper published a photograph of Boris Johnson, Dominic Cummings and other government officials chatting over cheese and wine in the garden of Number 10 Downing Street.
The date of the photograph was Friday 15 May 2020.
It was another blow to the government, remember the leaked recording of Number 10 staff joking about holding a Christmas party on 18 December 2020 had just come out too.
“I have just seen reports on Twitter that there was a Downing Street Christmas party on Friday night, do you recognise it? I went home, hold on hold on”Footage from leaked video of Number 10 staff joking about a Christmas party
The photograph, and the leaked video, have prompted a Cabinet Office investigation into claims of parties being held in Downing Street and other government buildings in breach of Covid lockdown rules, led by senior civil servant Sue Gray.
But in his recent blog post on 7 January, Dominic Cummings said the cheese and wine gathering was work-related and no Covid restrictions had been broken.
According to Dominic Cummings, what the probe should really be investigating was the “Socially Distanced Drinks” email from Wednesday 20 May.
“…. and Sue Gray can dig out this email if she wants.”Matthew d’Ancona, Tortoise
Dominic Cummings had seen this email, he’d even replied to it saying it was a breach of lockdown rules.
“So he’s quite openly steering Sue Gray towards the evidence that will, he thinks, Cummings thinks, will incriminate Johnson and hit the people around him and lead to Johnson’s fall.”Matthew d’Ancona, Tortoise
For Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson was the person who could get a majority and get Brexit done.
After he won a majority in December 2019, he stopped being useful.
“The video of Matt Hancock with his lover, the various photographs of parties, details of parties and so on have been drip dripped out as if someone is orchestrating a slow strategy of incrimination and an attempt to damage the prime minister’s reputation consistently and gradually…”Matthew d’Ancona, Tortoise
And so although Dominic Cummings failed to oust the prime minister while on the inside, it wouldn’t be wrong to speculate that he’s still trying now.
“… it’s been a very orderly strategy, which is very much in keeping with the dominant Cummings style, he’s a very good strategist… So I’m sure that right now the PM is thinking, this is all Dom, this is classic Dom.Matthew d’Ancona, Tortoise
And you could say the strategy is working.
“I think that whenever Boris Johnson does step out of Number 10 for the last time, we will look back on partygate as the reason his premiership came to an end.”Matthew d’Aoncona, Tortoise
What’s clear is that as long as Boris Johnson is in office, we can expect to hear a lot more from Dominic Cummings.
The public briefing has only just begun.
Today’s story was written and produced by Imy Harper.
A finding of rape
How a former government minister abused the secrecy of the family courts in an attempt to hide the truth