From drug-dealer dress to shutting down parliament, his contempt for the old ways helped him navigate the baffling and boring crisis of Brexit. But this time we really care—and No 10 will pay a price for his disdainby Tom Clark / May 23, 2020 / Leave a comment
Too much time has been wasted on trying to decipher Dominic Cummings’s showy, research-strewn ramblings. He is not a puzzle to be solved intellectually, but psychoanalytically. And not an especially difficult puzzle either.
Contemptuous of just about every official and politician he has ever worked with, with only a partial exception for Michael Gove, he is a man with something to prove. Specifically, that he is right, that others are wrong, and that he is the biggest brain in the room.
The purported idea behind that notorious ad for assorted “misfits and weirdos” was to bypass a sclerotic civil service and bring the most brilliant scientists and economists into No 10. And yet in this avowedly open-minded appeal, Cummings presumed to tell the diverse new intellectual elite what exactly they should have been reading. He bandied around specific papers with clever-sounding names—“Computational rationality: A converging paradigm for intelligence in brains, minds, and machines” and “Early warning signals for critical transitions in a thermoacoustic system”—in a way that nobody would do unless they thought they knew it all already.
And since he’s been running the engine room of the Johnson government, he has been concerned to prove something beyond his brilliance: namely, his power. Incidents have ranged from displays of authority worthy of a petty gangster—such as contriving to have the former chancellor’s special adviser, Sonia Khan, marched out of No 10 by armed police—to more significant showdowns, such as manoeuvring her boss, Sajid Javid, out of the Treasury a few months later.
Although he himself pointedly refuses to join the political party that has put him in No 10, he drove an unprecedented purge of its ranks last autumn, withdrawing the whip from grandees like Kenneth Clarke who had been figures in it since before he was born.
Everything he has done in Downing Street, from the seismic (shutting down parliament) to the comic (dressing day-in day-out like a 1990s drug dealer) has served to underline one point: normal rules do not apply.
And so, when it comes to Covid-19, and the genuinely difficult problem of how to deal with a four-year old while caring for an infected wife and with every chance of getting sick himself, it is natural that Cummings should…