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Dominic Cummings could destroy the Tory Party

Focus groups for a rival party are up and running. Credit: Getty

May 10, 2024 - 7:00am

In September 2022, Dominic Cummings proclaimed his intention to “plough the Tories into the earth with salt so they never recover & are REPLACED!”

Last August, he unveiled a project with the working title “The Startup Party” to do just that. But since then we haven’t heard much about it. Has the project just fizzled out like so many start-ups?

Apparently not. According to a report in Politico, preparatory work is underway. Cummings “has been organising a series of focus groups to get the public’s views about a potential new anti-establishment party”.

Not coincidentally, there’s a new interview with Jordan Tyldesley of the i newspaper in which Cummings says more about the why of his project — basically, the establishment is useless — than the how. Evidently, the plan is not to intervene in the election, but instead to finish off what’s left of the Tories afterwards. Whoever succeeds Rishi Sunak should be forewarned: the first item on his or her agenda is party survival.

But haven’t the Tories been knocking about since the Exclusion Crisis of 1679? Has Cummings never heard of the Lindy effect — the principle that the longer that something has been around, the longer it’s likely to carry on?

Probably. But he’ll also know that Tory continuity is somewhat exaggerated. Even by the loose definitions of the time, there were great stretches of the 18th century when the Tories ceased to exist as an organised political force.

Then there’s the example of the Liberal Party, which was replaced as the main alternative to the Conservatives by Labour. So, Cummings isn’t crying for the moon here. Indeed, there are reasons why the Conservatives could be a lot more vulnerable after the coming election than they were in the wake of their landslide defeat in 1997.

Firstly, their poll ratings now are much, much worse. The latest YouGov figures give Labour a 30-point lead, which in a general election could reduce the Tories to just 13 seats. It’s unlikely to be quite that bad in the event, but if it’s 10 times better that’s still 35 seats fewer than in 1997.

Secondly, in 1997, there were no fully organised competitors to the Conservative Party. The Lib Dems were talked up as an existential threat, but were too far to the Left to compete for votes on the Right. An embryonic Ukip existed, but most voters had yet to hear of Nigel Farage. In 2024, Cummings hopes that Farage “un-retires” so that Reform UK drives down the Tories to “double-digit seats”, which, he thinks, could happen “easily”.

Thirdly, the post-1997 Conservatives, though in disarray, soon acquired a purpose: saving the pound. Tony Blair was dead set on Britain joining the European single currency and the Lib Dems were even keener. So although the Tories were years away from looking like a government-in-waiting, they had a reason to carry on.

Assuming that Keir Starmer doesn’t try to do anything stupid like try to rejoin the EU, what will be the Tory raison d’être this time round? They don’t have a purpose now in office, so how much worse will it be in the wilderness?

Having failed to sack Sunak after the disastrous local election results, his wannabe successors need to find a new mission for a centre-right opposition. Because if Cummings gets to the answers first, then the whole lot of them are toast.


Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.

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Aidan Twomey
Aidan Twomey
12 days ago

There is no Conservative Party. That would become obvious the instant they published their membership numbers.

Richard Calhoun
Richard Calhoun
12 days ago
Reply to  Aidan Twomey

Tory membership nos. are well known, somewhere between 40K to 150K compare to 3 million in the 50’s.

Aidan Twomey
Aidan Twomey
12 days ago

So, 95k plus or minus 60%? Something with that margin of error is not “well known.” But I agree with the general suspicion that it is microscopic, essentially zero if you discard those hoping to run for office.

Simon Blanchard
Simon Blanchard
12 days ago

I think The Brain would have to patch things up with Pinky if he wanted to gain even the slightest popular support.

Richard Calhoun
Richard Calhoun
12 days ago

Reform is the vehicle to commence the start of theTory destruction, and they will only succeed in causing major damage if Farage is at the front of their campaign. Tice doesn’t cut it.

R Wright
R Wright
12 days ago

Farage is too desperate to win Establishment approval and a peerage to finish the job he started. I doubt he will be pick up the baton.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
12 days ago

Assuming that Keir Starmer doesn’t try to do anything stupid like try to rejoin the EU…”
This is a man who has difficulty saying what a woman is, so I think all bets are off.

David Morley
David Morley
12 days ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Not really. He’s just a man who knows not to walk on a landmine.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
12 days ago
Reply to  David Morley

IE: a sniveling coward with no moral integrity whatsoever?

Mike Doyle
Mike Doyle
12 days ago
Reply to  David Morley

Which speaks to the deficit (intellectual and moral) in his activists. I find this even more worrying.

Ash Bishop
Ash Bishop
12 days ago
Reply to  David Morley

I would think the land mine is is in not knowing

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
12 days ago
Reply to  David Morley

Watching him equivocate on the matter made me (and probably alot of other women) want to tell him to go hug a landmine.

Liam F
Liam F
11 days ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Quite so. Who knows, with the Tony Blair Institute working in the background to rejoin the EU and the Euro. Sold to us as a “new dawn”

Richard Calhoun
Richard Calhoun
12 days ago

Expect 3 general elections from 2024 to 2030, this political shenanigans is going to take time to resolve.
Reform, with Farage at the front, could be the beginning of the Tory Party destruction, whose biggest weakness now is not it’s ineptness, but it’s division between left and right.
Basically the One Nation Tories have hijacked the Tory Party and only the electorate can destroy them now.
The Tories must be destroyed for the sake of our democracy, after probably the worst Govt. since WW2, we need a govt that believes in the small state willing to reduce welfarism & debt that has destroyed our economy and our values.

Rob N
Rob N
12 days ago

Absolutely. The big problem with the Conservative Party is its MPs with far too many just being confused Blairites. Any party that tries to replace them must ensure it’s PPCs have the same political outlook. Reform is definitely not achieving that at the moment.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
12 days ago

Except your small state Thatcherism isn’t very popular electorally. A party running on small state libertarianism wouldn’t get a look in in the UK which tends to lean financially centre left and culturally centre right

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
12 days ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Yes. Unlikely to be able to shrink the state when the middle class (which controls the media) mostly lives off it.

Richard Calhoun
Richard Calhoun
12 days ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Possibly,but when there is no choice .. ie.the welfarism spend has increased our debt to an unsustainable level then the people will react as they have done in Argentina,

Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
12 days ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Depends how it’s sold and carried out.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
12 days ago

Another problem for the Tories is that they now enjoy very little support from the younger generations. However this is entirely their own fault as a total failure to get young families into their own homes means many don’t become more conservative as they age, as was the case with previous generations.
You’re not going to become conservative if you’ve been given nothing to conserve

AC Harper
AC Harper
12 days ago

According to a report in Politico, preparatory work is underway. Cummings “has been organising a series of focus groups to get the public’s views about a potential new anti-establishment party”.

And yet, as if by magic, any successful anti-establishment party is assimilated into the Establishment. Parties may come and go but the Establishment is always with us.

Richard Calhoun
Richard Calhoun
12 days ago
Reply to  AC Harper

The Establishment got a very bloody nose when the Brexit Referendum was won by leave, they have still to recover.
‘This’ Establishment is deeply corrupt and will / must be overthrown

AC Harper
AC Harper
12 days ago

But arguably ‘The Establishment Strikes Back’ in that there was a switch to attempting to implement Brexit In Name Only, a long delay in formally leaving, ‘reasons’ for continuing with rebadged EU laws, and a deliberately ‘route back included’ Agreement for Northern Ireland.
The Establishment is not broken, merely bending until it can spring back.

j watson
j watson
12 days ago
Reply to  AC Harper

I don’t buy the Establishment line in the way I think you mean it. I appreciate it provides some comfort to some on the Right who can’t quite fathom why it’s all gone so badly wrong, but follow the money is what I’d advise.
A small cohort of our population has grown ever richer, despite the travails of the last decade. They own most of what we see around us, vast tracts of property, your mortgage, your newspapers, and increasingly other media including Unherd. They will be v pleased if you get deflected onto a different form of Establishment meme,

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
12 days ago
Reply to  j watson

You’re still pushing this line? Unbelievable! You know as well as I do that the real problem is the parasitism of middle class boomers. The depredations of the super rich are trivial by comparison.

Simon Blanchard
Simon Blanchard
12 days ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

At some point when we weren’t paying attention the conservative party switched loyalty from its voter base to its donor class. The subsequent transfer of wealth from the former to the latter, compounded over decades is the reason everything is sh*t in this country now. It was a short-termist wheeze but of course entirely consistent with their outlook. They could have been looking at another term right now, but they’ve run out of road. The game’s up. I honestly struggle to understand how “parasitic boomers” are the problem. Who’s got all the money? Certainly not me.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
11 days ago

I live in a moderately prosperous – not particularly exclusive – part of the South East. Everyone I know is a millionaire – but I don’t know anyone who got that way by working or creating value. Meanwhile rent payers and wage earners have been driven right out of the housing market altogether. In Germany – or the USA until recently – if you want to be rich you have to work for it. Do something useful.

j watson
j watson
12 days ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

If you follow the money HB the v rich have gotten much richer at a faster pace than any Boomer cohort, even if the Boomers have done better than some younger generations.
Your ‘chippiness’ means you keep missing the in the backgrounds v rich delighted you continue to help shift the blame elsewhere.

James Kirk
James Kirk
12 days ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

So you’re advocating ‘property is theft’? The money locked up in property, £8.7 trillion, is not redeemable across the board. Only the first few to sell up would benefit and they’d have to emigrate. Introduce a soviet style command economy and the first on the boat out of here would be Starmer and his front bench.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
11 days ago
Reply to  James Kirk

So you’re advocating ‘property is theft’?
Not at all. I simply think that if you want wealth you should earn it, not simply sit and wait for the state to give it to you in return for your vote. Get off your fat behind and do something useful.
We’ve got it back to front. We tax the grafters in order to reward the rent-seeking freeloaders.

j watson
j watson
11 days ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

So you support a switch to less taxes on work to more taxes on wealth – esp unearned wealth? Entirely agree. We’re getting somewhere HB.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
11 days ago
Reply to  j watson

Don’t think so. There’s a difference between taxes on wealth and taxes on unearned wealth. I want grafters and creative people to be rewarded. You think it’s fine to get something for nothing.

j watson
j watson
11 days ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Unearned wealth – suspect we largely agree, but to check how would you define?

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
9 days ago
Reply to  j watson

I’m particularly concerned about the extent to which the middle class lives off the state – whether due to artificially inflated property prices, unfunded pensions, faux charity contributions or overpaid non-jobs. It’s not sustainable or moral.

j watson
j watson
12 days ago

Good grief, so the Right is so desperate that it’d put their faith in Mr Barnard Castle! And who’d work closely with this ego too?
Unsurprisingly of course Cummings continues to be all style and little substance. Have folks not worked this out yet? Killing the Conservative party might be poss (although personally doubt it) but what’s the policy and philosophical offering beyond alot of manufactured rage at cleverly created ‘strawmen’?
Reform, and anything Barnard Castle comes up with, will likely implode as soon as proper contact with the electorate – at the point they are seen as anything other than a protest vote. Clowns the lot of them. Get them onto any real subject the UK has to grapple with in the coming years and they just come out with sloganeering tripe and platitudes. Everytime you hear them they are hopeless.
Ker-ching for someone though no doubt in the meantime.
Let’s assume the next but one election might be late 29 and Tories do get booted out later this year. The Right therefore needs to start thinking about the likely scenarios that’ll be faced then if it was to regain power. Alot of the 2016 electorate will have gone. the economic, demographic and security issues we may face are likely to have further evolved. It is a major struggle to find anywhere on the Right someone of marked intelligence who seems to be giving this some thought.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
12 days ago
Reply to  j watson

All that’s happening is the inevitable failure of the social democratic model of governance. Inevitable because, sooner or later in such a system where spending power is so concentrated in the hands of so few, the rent-seekers will come to outnumber the producers.

All a Labour government will do now is accelerate the collapse with more pandering to boomers and vote-buying, more grovelling to American hedge fund NGOs and Eurocrats and massively more jobs for the boys and girls – along with systematic destruction of the small business sector that actually pays the bills.

In short, more Blairism. Watch and learn.

j watson
j watson
12 days ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Impressed HB that you are beginning to buy into the concentration of wealth dynamic in the UK economy. We’ll make a Piketty of you yet.
One the second para – you’re a bit behind on Labour politics but understandable. Good Unherd article earlier this week though about the clear differences between Starmer’s most important advisors and his own thinking and their antipathy towards what might be deemed Blairism. You should welcome this, albeit it will ‘shoot your fox’ for a while.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
12 days ago
Reply to  j watson

The only problem with your conception of the ‘concentration of wealth’ dynamic is your refusal to recognise that it includes you.

Andrew Dalton
Andrew Dalton
12 days ago

Dominic Cummings could destroy the Tory Party

Aren’t the Tories already doing that? I thought he was superfluous to requirements.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
12 days ago
Reply to  Andrew Dalton

He is taking on the guise of a great vulture stalking the dying Tory party, just biding his time before he starts to pick at the carcus.

Richard Calhoun
Richard Calhoun
12 days ago
Reply to  Andrew Dalton

Cummings is trying to boost his deflated ego, he will make no differnce.

Martin Smith
Martin Smith
12 days ago
Reply to  Andrew Dalton

His exposure of Johnson’s covid infractions was the first domino. The next election will be the last one in the chain.

Emmanuel MARTIN
Emmanuel MARTIN
12 days ago

Tories should not focus on these syupid petty party shanigans.
Voters want them to act decisively on housing prices and immigration.
If they do it, they get re-elected. If they don’t, they die.
No amount of over-subtle tinkering of coalitions will change that obvious fact.
And yes, delivering on those two issues means showing the middle finger (and perhaps a few police truncheons) at entrenched constituencies. So be it.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
12 days ago

Yes we all know that, but WHO in the Tory party is actually up for doing that? I can think of no one in the current cabinet who might have any enthusiasm for this – Sunak and Hunt especially would I think much rather die quietly in the corner, before going off to make their fortune post election in finance or tech.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
12 days ago

Acting decisively on house prices means reforming the market. Good luck with that. Remember what happened when Theresa May somewhat timidly suggested that some of the unearned trillions held by middle class property owners might be used to pay for their social care? The loudest howls of outrage came from the Guardian.

Emmanuel MARTIN
Emmanuel MARTIN
12 days ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

That’s what I had in mind when advocating the middle finger (and a few police truncheons) for opponents.

William Cameron
William Cameron
12 days ago

Mr Cummings doesnt have much kerb appeal .

Geoff W
Geoff W
11 days ago

He thinks he’s Niccolo Machiavelli, but really he’s just Adrian Mole. Look at the quotation which starts this article, with its bathetic self-importance, its silly BLOCK CAPITALS and its feverish exclamation mark!

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
12 days ago

The great strength of the Conservative Party is that it does not really believe in much; it is thus much easier to reform itself and get up again. It has done this many times before when it has been written off. The way to take Tory power is to do it from inside, not from outside

Martin Smith
Martin Smith
12 days ago

I thought he already had.

Keith J
Keith J
11 days ago

“Having failed to sack Sunak after the disastrous local election results, his wannabe successors need to find a new mission for a centre-right opposition. Because if Cummings gets to the answers first, then the whole lot of them are toast.”
There is an obvious mission – to overturn the insane race towards net zero which will end up immiserating large swathes of the population. The net zero ideals are as embedded in the Tory party as they are all the others, and that provides reason to overthrow the party. That would be a task bigger than achieving Brexit, and Cummings couldn’t do it on his own.

J Boyd
J Boyd
11 days ago

Oh what nonsense.

Cummings, Reform and Matthew Goodwin’s proposed new party will go the way of Change UK (remember them?).

The Tories will lose but by less than expected because conservatives will back them, despite their anger, when the alternative comes into sharper relief.

Starmer will make Sunak look competent, decisive and in touch with real people.

And if the Tories are sensible, recognise why they lost and why Boris won, they’ll be back in office by the end of the decade.

Kerry Davie
Kerry Davie
11 days ago

‘Dominic Cummings could destroy the Tory Party’
As if they needed help in that endeavour.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
10 days ago

I’m pleased Dom is coming back. We need him badly. No better man to disinfect the snivel serpents.

Linda M Brown
Linda M Brown
9 days ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Dom seems to have a scorched earth approach to both the elected government and the politicized/rapidly becoming islamized (un)civil service who actually `rule’ the nation
If he can fix the problems within the civil service, so that our democratically elected officials are actually the ones in charge, he might go a long way to redeeming himself.