I’m going to miss Dominic Cummings.

Half-Kaizen, half-Kaiser. There’s always a hidden cost of pragmatism.

No longer will there be a full-size Warwick Davis impersonator running the organs of No. 10 from a proposed command centre that was going to resemble NASA mission control. No longer will we amazed by his shapeshifting fashion choices; for a political establishment that prides itself on suits and wonks, there’s a sense of satirical irony that it fell to a scruff in trackies, a T-shirt and a hoodie to almost bring it all down. And no longer will the conspiratorial guesses at ‘who’s really running the government’ land directly at the Islington door of a man who really was probably running the government.


The man who ‘got’ us

Dominic Cummings was a special figure, even for a special advisor. In essence, he was the Prime Minister’s Prime Minister, speaking to Brexit and latterly Tory Party frontman Boris Johnson as ‘equals’ — even allegedly hovering in the back of one-to-one donor meetings like a child with no daycare crawling around his father’s office, occasionally dangling his top secret business plans dangerously close to the shredder (or Robert Peston’s twitter). 

It takes a certain grit to even make it through the doors of Downing Street — something Cummings admits was never really a workplace he desired to inhabit, and was often reluctant to return to. Lured to whip the stragglers of a Conservative government previously shown to power on the back of a three-word slogan, Cummings’ main interest in Whitehall was dragging the nation through Brexit. It’s easy to paint the Durham native as an evil genius (which is exactly why I’m doing it) but in truth, it’s impossible to ignore that he possesses the one quality that made him worth his weight in power: time after time, he ’got’ the mood of the British public. 

His campaigning record speaks for itself. Keeping the single currency, rejecting the North East Assembly, overhauling the odds to plunge the UK out of the EU, and spearheading a humongous Conservative majority. Whatever the Oxford graduate set his mind to, people would follow. 

So, where did it all unravel?

Boris Johnson would take a bullet for Dominic Cummings. Well, maybe not, but if one man could personify Brexit, maybe he’d ‘die in a ditch’ for the man running daycare for Boris’ Brexit baby. 

In May, after a Mirror and Guardian joint investigation found that Cummings had driven 260 miles from his Islington home to isolate in an illegally built cottage at his parents’ abode in County Durham, the Prime Minister took the first bite of the political capital chocolate bar by refusing to ‘mark him down’ for what Johnson defended as mere fatherly instincts.

Cummings’ exit feels like a toned down, Brexit-era version of George W. Bush’s ‘mission accomplished’ moment. It’s too easy to forget that the UK is still locked in its own cross-continent adaptation of Deal or No Deal. Having instructed Noel Edmonds to turn down the banker’s offer, the UK’s final box revealed a trade deal with Japan, which constituted just a 0.07 per cent boost to GDP, leaving Johnson et al staring into the barrel of a wooden spoon 1p-esque hard-Brexit faux-prize.

Having successfully made himself virtually everyone’s enemy, including allegedly the man on which his employment depended, Cummings moved to a modus operandi that appeared to be half-kaizen, half-kaiser. Tim Shipman reported that his final weeks incorporated telling people to ‘f*ck off’, and throwing mock grenades over his shoulder when leaving rooms, causing everyone else to inexplicably brace.

This was, of course, hilarious — until one rebounded, and exploded right in his own face. He was accused of being complicit in briefing against his own boss, and, in a personal and sour twist, against his boss’ fiancé — allegedly labelling Carrie Symonds ‘Princess Nutty Nuts’ (‘nutty’ purportedly referring to her perceived psychosis and ‘nuts’ results from having a supposed facial resemblance to a squirrel).

Yet, for a man who has polarised, divided, but also somehow defined British politics for almost half of the last decade, Cummings’ cunning exit stunt almost felt like another page from the book of ‘Classic Dom’ — the phrase coined as a reactionary measure to the latest round of mind-twisting Covid-19 guidance, or the reappointment of Dido Harding to another government agency.

Drove to Durham? ‘Classic Dom’. Wearing a bizarre straw hat? ‘Classic Dom!’

Resigning? In a pandemic? ‘Classic Dom!’

Style over substance

Arguably, Dominic Cummings’ greatest quality was judging the mood of the British people — or, at least, changing the mood of the British people. His ‘take back control’ slogan fuelled the patriotic desire of millions of Brits to haul us out of the EU magic roundabout on the basis of ‘facts’ from the side of a magic bus; all after swallowing the bitter pill that there was no ‘magic money tree’.

Whatever you think of Brexit’s Bald Eagle, it’s impossible to understate his immeasurable impact on British politics, and the contemptuous, confrontational, pseudo-Trumpian manner in which he got things done. The Cummings era of right-wing thinking valued style over substance, media management over data, slogans over facts, and loyalty over everything — just ask Sajid Javid.

And so, it’s no surprise that the establishment outsider is once again outside of the establishment. Cummings had even outlined a plan to nurture a group of SpAd Universal Soldiers to make himself all but redundant — calling for ‘misfits and weirdos’ to rattle even further the ailing Oxbridge clan perpetually locked inside Whitehall. What is of course surprising is the acrimony and mystery surrounding his departure, but for a veteran of controlling the nation’s perceptions, there’s every chance his own exit was one final farewell spin.