by Peter Franklin
Friday, 13
November 2020
Reaction
11:59

The missed opportunity of Dominic Cummings

Like so many gurus before him, he was sucked into the comms machine
by Peter Franklin
Dominic Cummings is reported to be leaving Downing Street at the end of this year

Every time. Every single time.

A new broom enters Downing Street with big ideas: David Cameron and the Big Society; Theresa May and an “economy that works for everyone”; Boris Johnson and the levelling-up agenda.

It’s all bright new dawn, and then — like clockwork — it’s sucked into the black hole of comms-led, crisis management.

The important is sacrificed to the urgent and, once again, a government loses its way.

Of course, a Prime Minister is always on show, having to deal with events as they arise. It’s almost impossible to keep them away from the limelight so that they can devote their time to long-term plans.

But what about their ‘gurus’ — the big thinkers that provide them with their most interesting and important ideas? Surely, a space can be carved out for them to develop meaningful thought into effective action? Can’t they be left undistracted by things that won’t matter in a year’s time or even next week?

Cameron had Steve Hilton, May had Nick Timothy and Johnson had Dominic Cummings. In their various ways, all three of them had the brains — and the guts — to challenge the status quo, to break free of the stale civil service style of policy development and to chart a course out of our national malaise.

But once these guys got into Downing Street, the same thing happened. They got captured by the machine. By which I don’t mean the Whitehall machine, but the comms-led cult of contemporary politics. Once they found themselves trying to ride that bucking bronco it was an inevitable that they’d be thrown off. Not one of them lasted more than a year or two.

The mistake is trying to control the beast, when it needs to killed. We’ve forgotten that the primary purpose of government is not to communicate but to govern. Obviously, politicians need to explain, persuade and reassure. But if you’re leading your nation comms is a secondary function, not your first order of business. To adapt what Churchill said about scientists, press officers need to be on tap not on top. Instead we’ve got a system of power in which everything else in government is subordinated to comms — the monkeys giving orders to the organ grinders.

Predictably that creates a crazed environment in which no one, no matter how thoughtful, isn’t going to go crazy themselves. Thus not only to they find themselves unable to stay in control of the news agenda they can’t even stop themselves from becoming the story.

Dominic Cummings’ great hero is George Mueller who lead the effort to put a man on the moon. Mueller’s visionary, ruthless style of management is hard to sum up, but one thing we can say is that he didn’t run the Apollo programme from the NASA press office.

Whether in space flight, government or any other great endeavour the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. Cummings didn’t and that is his tragedy.

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Michael Rose
Michael Rose
2 years ago

My only Tory vote was made in the hope that Dominic Cummings might rebuild the mechanisms of government – reduce the size of the Cabinet, restrict the power of the Civil Service and speed up activity. The media never missed an opportunity to attack his remoteness and indifference to their chatter, never more apparent than in the disgraceful scenes in the garden at number 10, when supposedly experienced interviewers made themselves look stupid. I care little for what Cummings did, but can we not maintain a sense of proportionality? If the outcome is to push talent away from influencing government then we deserve what we get – the Tories will return to being ordinary (a bit like the USA is about to), the MSM will crow and set woke agendas, while we continue to stagnate and miss opportunities for change. It’s a bit like the Premiership without Mourinho – just not quite the same………

david bewick
david bewick
2 years ago
Reply to  Michael Rose

I was recently advised of a position that was cabinet office based for which I was perfectly suited and would’ve been interesting …and then I saw the salary. Mmmmm…..It’s no good people bellyaching about the quality of the people in there when the rewards don’t attract the talent. Is it any wonder that the bill for government consultancy has never been higher. We need to get a perspective…if you want the best then there is a price to pay.
As I’ve said elsewhere politicians should be in front of the camera and not advisors. Their place is out of the limelight not in the public eye.

D Ward
D Ward
2 years ago
Reply to  david bewick

On the other hand, remember Gordon Brown on this topic (public sector pay escalated, but quality remained rubbish )

david bewick
david bewick
2 years ago
Reply to  D Ward

Yes I remember. However on another post on working in Downing St the headline remains correct when it says “mediocre pay” There is a saying that goes “If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional, wait until you hire an amateur”

Robin Lambert
Robin Lambert
2 years ago
Reply to  Michael Rose

I ReMain ready to save my Nation from carrie Simmons ”greenwash” Allegra Stratton the former iTV &Guardian journo… Boris Looks set to follow Theresanous May,David Cameron out the door. What happened 1) Small Government 2) Abolish The Lords 30 Stopping people traffickers?…liar pants on fire..

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
2 years ago

‘We’ve forgotten that the primary purpose of government is not to communicate but to govern.’

True. And for this I blame, primarily, the media.

Clare Shepherd
Clare Shepherd
2 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

This is the same self -entitled jerk that could not think of what to do when covid struck his family, drove many miles north breaking all the rules, got away with it, much to the anger of most of the populace of the country and arguably undermined the government’s response to the pandemic. Some guru! I was under the impression a guru was a leader. This unelected “advisor” has damaged our planning regulations, and now he’s off. Well, don’t expect us outside the Westminster bubble to miss him.

Mark H
Mark H
2 years ago
Reply to  Clare Shepherd

A guru is an ideas person, rather than a leader.

While I’m not a Cummings fan (nor a fan of SpAds in general), I have a lot of sympathy for anyone who panics when the pandemic touches their family – whether their position on the political spectrum is right, left, or “meh”.

The media certainly blew this one totally out of proportion, and I think unfairly so on account of his role in the success of the Leave campaign – “evil mastermind” narratives are a sure fire way of selling ads.

Nun Yerbizness
Nun Yerbizness
2 years ago
Reply to  Mark H

“…the success of the Leave campaign…”

you have a very low threshold for determining what ‘success’ looks like.

Mark H
Mark H
2 years ago
Reply to  Nun Yerbizness

Well, they convinced the public to vote for their option.

Clare Shepherd
Clare Shepherd
2 years ago
Reply to  Mark H

The Oxford dictionary calls a guru a spiritual teacher and leader. Most of us managed our panic and stayed put, as the law required.

carolstaines8
carolstaines8
2 years ago
Reply to  Clare Shepherd

Many didn’t. Many don’t comply in this lockdown either. The same non compliant rule breakers are often very vitriolic in their condemnation of Cummings action during the first lockdown. Virtual chat in my circle of friends last night saw Cummings damned yet followed up by a description of an intended, almost identical, journey taking place as I write….justified by family needs.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
2 years ago
Reply to  Clare Shepherd

The point I am making is unconnected with the rights or wrongs of Cummings’ activities during lockdown. Today’s media is insatiable and devoid of all conscience or objectivity. That said, the ability of politicians and their ranks of advisors to communicate their beliefs and/or plans is generally very poor, possibly because they so rarely have any beliefs or plans.

John Moisson
John Moisson
2 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Surely that is the point? If someone wishes to change society then in a democracy they should put their plans to the voters not seize an oppotunity to mould the actor with an ‘image’ to propound those views. A politician should believe in ideals and advocate them as sincerely and ardently as is possible

Nun Yerbizness
Nun Yerbizness
2 years ago
Reply to  John Moisson

conservatives the world over have only one motivating idea…get power and hold it by any and all means necessary.

Gary Richmond
Gary Richmond
2 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

And Fraser, that is the problem. The 24/7 requirement to feed the MSM and Social Media is incessant…. the biggest concern of Ministers is ‘what’s the headline’, what’s X, Y or Z said on Twitter… and, one feeds the other. What should happen, is, Ministers should have the confidence to make and implement policy because they have the evidence and arguments to support good policy for its own sake and, not U turn on it because of some reporters commentary.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
2 years ago
Reply to  Clare Shepherd

The media have more “blood on their hands’ than Cummings.

They offered the general population a golden opportunity to use the questionable decision by Cummings as a justification for them to do what they liked.

Disgraceful hypocrites …

Gerry Fruin
Gerry Fruin
2 years ago
Reply to  Clare Shepherd

Broke all the rules. Are you sure? Sitting in car?
How do you ‘most of the populace’ were angry?
Guru a leader? Adviser’s are hired not elected.
What planning regulations?
‘us’ miss him? Again how do you know?
Well thank you for your assessment of this ‘jerk’s’ efforts to date. I’m not convinced you have quite grasped what his track record has been to date.

david bewick
david bewick
2 years ago

All organisations need mavericks who challenge the status quo and the constraints and rules that govern the organisation and that has to include government and the natural inertia that can exist.
I would broadly agree with many comments with regard to the media. The government need to learn that the media should be their servant and not their master which is where we seem to be. Lets start by saying there is absolutely no need to have a minister on the merry go round every single day of the week or the need to get a message out every single day. It would do no harm to tell the media we aren’t playing today. When you have something to say, say it, otherwise keep quiet and govern.

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
2 years ago

One cannot put the blame on the media. The fault is in those who should govern but are too influenced by the media. Obviously it is better if the government carry the people with them by explaining what they are trying to do but too often it is the media which is allowed to become the tail that is wagging the dog. Good government is a risk but that risk should be taken without undue concern of the media. Securing one’s future does not go hand in hand with good government.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
2 years ago

Cummings is always said to be the architect of both Bexit and the Red Wall Election victory. The organ grinder to Boris’s monkey if you like.

However my Chief of Staff was always suspicious of his alleged worshiping of Science, despite the fact that he is an Arts Graduate.

If true, perhaps it was his awe of Science that catapulted us into this catastrophic C-19 disaster?
All the earlier indications were that the arch bluffer Boris was not convinced by the international C-19 charade, but then suddenly it was volte- face, and the scourge was upon us. Was this Cumming’s doing?

Anyway now, quo vadis?

Nun Yerbizness
Nun Yerbizness
2 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

it is quite something to see so many science deniers on this site out and proud…perhaps Cummings monkey having a near death experience had something to with it.

and now feel free to consult Qanon to come up with their corresponding conspiracy theory “explaining” what really happened to Boris in the intensive care unit.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
2 years ago
Reply to  Nun Yerbizness

Yes, I agree, Boris being scythed down was unfortunate to say the very least.

By the way what is this Q(u?)anon you speak of? Here in Arcadia, we haven’t heard of it.

Nun Yerbizness
Nun Yerbizness
2 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

you don’t get out much or you are feigning ignorance…and then again you might not be feigning.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
2 years ago
Reply to  Nun Yerbizness

No, I have been trotting along in the Valley of Death (VOD)for sometime now.

Occasionally one hears of shriekers, bed-wetters, snowflakes and the like, but the misspelt Qanon has passed me by.

Have I really missed anything, something that might make the VOD even more agreeable perhaps?

Nun Yerbizness
Nun Yerbizness
2 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

and there it is…””Hoist with his own petard”

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
2 years ago
Reply to  Nun Yerbizness

Meaning what precisely? (besides telling us you know your Hamlet)?

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
2 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

Most of your comments appear to be going straight over Nun’s head …. but I suspect you knew that anyway.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
2 years ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

He appears to be an angry young man from Oregon, who only ‘discovered’ UnHerd about 24 hours ago. I suspect he could be a closet commie.

However I like the look of his dog in his cartouche, so he may have merit?

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
2 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

I suspect you are right, as he seems to want to change the subject when challenged – rather than answer perfectly sensible questions.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
2 years ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

Unlike for example his compatriot Jeremy Smith on this site, who is always up for some incisive banter.

Nun Yerbizness
Nun Yerbizness
2 years ago

thank you for demonstrating the fact that conservative ideology is an empty vessel.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
2 years ago
Reply to  Nun Yerbizness

Do you have better one? O do tell!

Nun Yerbizness
Nun Yerbizness
2 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

and thank you for making my point.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
2 years ago
Reply to  Nun Yerbizness

So is that a no?

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
2 years ago
Reply to  Nun Yerbizness

Come on, what’s your alternative or don’t you have one?

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
2 years ago
Reply to  Nun Yerbizness

This article seems to contain nothing that leads me to understand your comment.

Please can you explain your reasoning …

Nun Yerbizness
Nun Yerbizness
2 years ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

I can explain it to you but I can’t help you understand it.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
2 years ago
Reply to  Nun Yerbizness

Go on – give it a try.

There might be some people as intelligent as you who would love the opportunity to read your answer.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
2 years ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

Or you could just change the subject again … your choice.

Nun Yerbizness
Nun Yerbizness
2 years ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

I get $300 an hour for providing tutorial service to college hopefulls and undergrads applying to graduate programs…and I require transcripts before accepting a student.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
2 years ago
Reply to  Nun Yerbizness

Hopefully your spelling is better in any materials you provide to these poor folk.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
2 years ago
Reply to  Nun Yerbizness

And still no answer to the question …

Nun Yerbizness
Nun Yerbizness
2 years ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

what question are you referring to…as of yet you haven’t asked a question.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
2 years ago
Reply to  Nun Yerbizness

I asked you politely to “explain your reasoning” but you are are still avoiding the question …

Nun Yerbizness
Nun Yerbizness
2 years ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

I can only think you never read the article.

“A new broom enters Downing Street with big ideas: David Cameron and the Big Society; Theresa May and an “economy that works for everyone”; Boris Johnson and the levelling-up agenda.”

a lost decade.

“Cameron had Steve Hilton, May had Nick Timothy and Johnson had Dominic Cummings. In their various ways, all three of them had the brains ” and the guts ” to challenge the status quo, to break free of the stale civil service style of policy development and to chart a course out of our national malaise.”

a lost decade.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
2 years ago
Reply to  Nun Yerbizness

None of this remotely puts detail into your “empty vessel” comment, so I’ll stop asking – and move on.

Nun Yerbizness
Nun Yerbizness
2 years ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

as I thought, just another empty vessel

Nun Yerbizness
Nun Yerbizness
2 years ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

“Cameron had Steve Hilton, May had Nick Timothy and Johnson had Dominic Cummings. In their various ways, all three of them had the brains ” and the guts ” to challenge the status quo, to break free of the stale civil service style of policy development and to chart a course out of our national malaise.”

a lost decade.

Nun Yerbizness
Nun Yerbizness
2 years ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

“A new broom enters Downing Street with big ideas: David Cameron and the Big Society; Theresa May and an “economy that works for everyone”; Boris Johnson and the levelling-up agenda.”

a lost decade.

James Moss
James Moss
2 years ago

A more obvious explanation is that Cummings, Hilton, Timothy were simply all sizzle and no sausage – an attempt to cover up a vacuum of credible political direction within No. 10 with some whacky ideas and buzz-words. None of them has achieved anything stellar career-wise either before or after their stint in Number 10.

A good political advisor contributes useful ideas behind the scenes, is not much heard of by the public until they are selected to run for office and become MP’s then ministers. None of these 3 ever has any chance of that – they don’t have the skill-set.

Peter Scott
Peter Scott
2 years ago

Spot on – except that the failure is on Cummings TOO.

He should not have accepted a brief which meant dealing with everyday government. He should have stipulated that he was there to work in the background, radically overhauling the Civil Service; and not handling anything else.

Further, in view of the today’s frantic news cycle in which – if the PM (of whatever party) is not fully engaged 24/7 in what the BBC or SKY or the press think are clamant issues for immediate attention, then the government is lambasted (also 24/7) as worthless – is it not time to have the prime ministerial function divided in two?

Let a Prime Minister with vision and a grand plan for the country (if ever again we get such a leader) spend his or her days working on making that plan happen; and a Deputy PM spend his or her days dealing with current newsworthy predicaments.

The Deputy PM can go down to the House with a full explanation of what has happened in (say) the Rhondda, or why this nation is not going to war with Russia even though Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden implore us so to do on their bended knees; and the Prime Minister can carry on working quietly but hard and fast on reforming

the NHS

the railway system

the tax system

Big Money and its ally the Far Left’s control of everything

etc etc.

(All this is predicated, of course, on the assumption that a British prime minister would actually like to be other than what the last few have been: all clearly and visibly a squirt – and a complete failure to boot.)

Teo
Teo
2 years ago

How long will Boris Johnson last as PM without Dominic Cummings? A fall into legacy Thatcherism looks like the inevitable refuge for the political scoundrels of the Conservative Party. The UK desperately needs men that are mad, bad and dangerous to know, without them there is no dynamic only the self-aggrandisement of scoundrels and the political stagnation of the neo-liberal ride and tie agenda.