Dominic Cummings‘s personality was described to me as ‘dark triad coupled with everyday sadism’.
That was from an extremely successful individual who worked with him for a short period and had to seek professional help as a result.
Almost everyone I have spoken to describes him as a narcissist and that’s the nicest thing they say.
His anger towards others leads some to say he’s a psychopath. When he worked as adviser to Michael Gove at Education, civil servants complained of an ‘aggressive, intimidating culture’.
Cummings’s relationship with Gove intrigued me. They had worked together for more than 20 years. When David Cameron was Prime Minister he had disliked Cummings and banned him from No10 but when Cameron made Gove Education Secretary, Gove had begged to be allowed to keep him.
Dominic Cummings’s personality was described to me as ‘dark triad coupled with everyday sadism’
Cummings worked as adviser to Michael Gove at Education, civil servants complained of an ‘aggressive, intimidating culture’
David Cameron was Prime Minister he had disliked Cummings and banned him from No10
I was told by a highly-placed source that a whip was sent to Gove to warn him to keep Cummings under control. ‘Gove went into meltdown and pleaded, on the verge of tears: ‘I can’t do anything, I can’t be without him. I can’t do my job without him. He has to be here.’
‘It was a very bloody weird conversation and the whip, shocked at how pathetic Gove had been, duly backed off – men just can’t deal with other men crying – and carried the details back to the Chief Whip.’
Who had the upper hand? I initially saw Cummings as Oddjob to Gove’s Goldﬁnger but then I asked the source I’m calling Moneypenny: didn’t Cummings just do everything Gove told him? She laughed and threw her head back: ‘It was the other way around. You should have heard Cummings on the phone to Gove; he barks orders at him and Gove obeys. Dom lived up to this nickname as the Dark Lord and Gove became a puppy dog, doing exactly as Cummings demanded of him.’
Boris told me: ‘Lots of people said I was mad to take him on. But I saw something in him I thought he could be channelled. In everything I’ve done that has gone well, I’ve always had an alter ego I could bounce things off. I thought Dom could be that person.
‘That he shared my impatience with the way Britain was going and my desire to see change. That he was a patriot and on board with the referendum vote. The country had become bogged down because of the failure to get Brexit done and I was going to need a mailed ﬁst to help to get things done.
‘But he just wasn’t that man. He was very good at nihilism and breaking things down but not so great at building or repairing things, or at delivering on instructions. We didn’t make enough progress on anything. He didn’t make things happen; he wasn’t doing his job.’ Someone from inside No10 described to me what he called ‘the great Cummings con – it was all nuclear-grade bulls**t’. One of the army of Spads (special advisers) who assembled every Friday to be lectured by him on how to do their jobs agreed.
‘At ﬁrst it’s all so plausible as he reels off the name of books he tells you to read but actually he just chats s**t. He sounds good, but does nothing, other than create bad feeling and trouble.’
Yet Cummings’s belief in himself was staggering. I was told how, on the morning following the 2019 Election, Boris was due to make the traditional speech from outside No10 but was scheduled to be elsewhere at the time.
Allegedly, Cummings decided this was not a problem. He would deliver the speech to the nation on Boris’s behalf. He was politely informed that was not acceptable. His few allies say it was a joke but most say he was deadly serious. Cummings doesn’t do jokes.
From what I was told, he arrived in No10 actually thinking he was the Prime Minister, and even if he wasn’t, that he had the authority to act as though he was.
On the morning following the 2019 Election, Cummings said he would deliver the winning speech to the nation on the behalf of Boris Johnson
From what I was told, Cummings arrived in No10 actually thinking he was the Prime Minister, and even if he wasn’t, that he had the authority to act as though he was
Boris told me: ‘He would decide what he wanted to happen and would try to bounce me by briefing out to the media that the decision had been taken’
The Prime Minister’s then chief aide chose to walk out into the full glare of the Downing Street cameras last night carrying a large cardboard box in November 2020
Boris told me: ‘He would decide what he wanted to happen and would try to bounce me by briefing out to the media that the decision had been taken.
‘He wanted me to agree with every decision he took but I wouldn’t allow that because it’s not how you lead a government and he just became angry. I wasn’t allowing him to call the shots and this frustrated him. He started calling me ‘the trolley’.’
I said to Boris: ‘You know, don’t you, that he briefed against you to journalists that Carrie and you had split up? It was to destabilise you emotionally and to confuse you, to isolate you into only trusting a small number of people in No10 who, unbeknown to you, were the people doing the leaking.’
He did know, he said. He looked pained. ‘It was all such utter lies and b*****ks.’
The ﬁrst time serious alarm bells went off for him over Cummings was the sacking of Sonia Khan, Spad to the then Chancellor, Sajid Javid – for which Boris was blamed. The manner in which Cummings did it was particularly brutal. She was summoned to a meeting with him at 7.30 one evening.
‘She went in via the back door and up the stairs to No11, to Cummings’s office,’ a source told me. ‘But as soon as she got there, she was promptly walked back down the stairs and placed in what had once been the men’s loo just off the main entrance to No10.
‘Cummings entered the room at 19.37 and shut the door so that there were just the two of them in that very small room. He asked her how she was enjoying things so far. She said that they were good, that she was busy. She said she had remained in place when the previous Chancellor [Philip Hammond] had left so hadn’t yet had a break in over a year.
‘Cummings clearly wasn’t interested and, out of the blue, he asked her: ‘When did you last see Philip Hammond?’ Sonia replied that she had been with him when he had resigned but that she hadn’t seen him since. Cummings asked her a few more questions and then said: ‘Will you show me your phone?’
‘Naturally Sonia was a bit taken aback by this but she handed him her work phone and her personal phone. She unlocked the work phone first. He looked at it for a few seconds and then asked her to open her personal phone.
‘He stared at this for a few moments, searching her messages, and then said: ‘You wait there.’ Tossing the phone casually on to a chair, he walked across the entrance lobby to open the door to the shared office opposite the waiting room.
‘The room was filled with No10 aides. A number of them were now also standing directly outside the room Sonia was in. Cummings did not go into the room but shouted loudly across it at the top of his voice, ‘Clare! Clare!’
‘Clare Brunton, who was kind of Dominic’s PA or secretary, appeared. ‘Can you get security? I want her escorted out immediately.’ Obviously, Sonia was shocked and at once asked him: ‘What is this regarding?’
‘Cummings then told the entire room full of aides to shush, twice, to ensure they were all watching and listening to him, then said in a very loud voice as he pointed at Sonia, ‘You’re fired. You aren’t working in here for one more minute. You can get your phone, coat, and go out of the door, now.’
‘Sonia was stunned but had just enough presence of mind to ask him again what this was all about. Obviously, she had no idea what she was being accused of. ‘I don’t know what I’m supposed to have done,’ she protested. He replied loudly: ‘You’re lying.’
‘He turned to the room and shouted: ‘This lady used to work for the Prime Minister, she no longer works for the Prime Minister.’ An armed police officer appeared to escort her out. Sonia was profoundly upset and pleaded: ‘I would like to know what I’ve done,’ but Cummings wouldn’t answer.’
Her firing was immediately briefed to the press. They were told it was for leaking information about the No Deal contingency plan should the UK have to leave the EU without a withdrawal agreement, though she had never had any access whatsoever to these discussions or papers.
The ﬁrst time serious alarm bells went off for him over Cummings was the sacking of Sonia Khan, Spad to the then Chancellor, Sajid Javid
The overall responsibility for cross-departmental contingency planning lay with Gove, and there had indeed been serious leaks. Questions were being asked in the Commons, an inquiry demanded.
‘There had been serious leaks, frequently and far too many,’ explained Moneypenny. ‘It was becoming very hot for someone in the No10 kitchen as the calls from MPs for a leak inquiry began with ferocity.’
‘Do you think they were using Sonia, sacking her in the way they did, in order to provide enough cover to remove the need for a Yellowhammer leak inquiry?’ I asked. [Operation Yellowhammer was the code name used by the Treasury for No Deal contingency planning.] ‘Was she a scapegoat for the leaker?’
Moneypenny responded without hesitation. ‘Of course, the demands from MPs for a leak inquiry stopped overnight. They had their culprit, or so they thought. Look, if they wanted to sack her, it could have been done without an audience, in an appropriate manner.
‘The intention was to make her sacking as high profile as possible, to get it out there all over the internet and the media and, of course, they were killing two birds with one stone because they knew Sajid Javid would resign in protest, as he was prone to do. They could push his buttons and get him to walk.
‘And what is as signiﬁcant as the actual sacking is what came after, when she decided to take legal action – the harassment, the stalking, the ﬁlming.
‘She was followed everywhere and had to call the police so many times, she was given a named officer to call.’
‘How did it end for Sonia?’ I asked.
‘She took them to court. They played very hard ball and settled just two days before the court case.
‘They knew they couldn’t win but it didn’t matter because it was the beginning of the end for Sajid. The first step in getting Rishi installed as Chancellor. A price worth paying.’