With the Government mounting an unprecedented defence of the unelected chief advisor, Peter Jukes tries to work out what makes him so indispensable.
There’s little doubt that Boris Johnson finds it hard to get rid of his chief advisor, even in the wake of opinion polls that indicate a majority of the country believe he should go, mounting criticism from backbench Conservative MPs, and a slump in the Prime Minister’s favourability ratings.
As Johnson’s former political secretary Danny Kruger said on Tuesday, the calls for Cummings to resign were tantamount to a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister. Since then, the issue hasn’t gone away.
There have been more revelations over duplicity (retrofitting his Superforecaster blog to say something he hadn’t about the Coronavirus) and a clear message from Durham Police today that his second trip out to Barnard Castle to ‘test his eyesight’ was a breach of lockdown and the police would have stopped him at the time.
So what binds Dominic Cummings so fiercely to Boris Johnson, that he should cede his place to him with a dedicated slot in the Downing Street rose garden? What is so important about one advisor that Johnson should cling to him in this firestorm over breaking the rules of lockdown which leave an indelible and permanently damaging impression that the guys who make the rules are allowed to break them?
Of course, Cummings has won Johnson one referendum and the first large Conservative majority since 1987 – but there’s nothing to stop him departing while things are hot and returning to run a campaign. He did this only last year. So why is it so important that Cummings remains at Number 10?
Here are five quick examples, mainly from Byline Times’ extensive coverage of Cummings, of why Boris Johnson might be loathe to let his lieutenant go.
Don’t be deceived. Just because the Metropolitan Police inquiries and fines against minor Vote Leave officials were dropped, the campaign fronted by Boris Johnson and run by Dominic Cummings during the 2016 EU Referendum broke the law.
Vote Leave accepted this by dropping an appeal against the findings of the elections watchdog, the Electoral Commission – that it illegally overspent £675,000 by funnelling it through a youth group called BeLeave.
According to one of BeLeave’s founders, whistleblower Shahmir Sanni, this unlawful spending was signed off at the highest levels. Cummings was held in contempt of Parliament for failing to answer questions about the Vote Leave campaign before a Commons select committee. What was the pay off for that?
Does Cummings have evidence that Johnson signed off on the illegal activity? Or even encouraged the overspend?
Dominic Cummings has said he won his shock Brexit result by funnelling all of Vote Leave’s money into targeted digital ads in the last few days of the campaign.
The ads that still exist are not only highly deceptive (such as the famous “£350 million to the NHS” plastered on a red bus) but also played heavily on the false premise that Turkey was about to join the EU and that the UK would soon be flooded with Turkish migrants.
Though £675,000 might not seem like a lot of money, based on the original organic reach of BeLeave, it could have generated up to 13 million new impressions.
Just as importantly, by far and away the biggest recipient of Vote Leave money was the Vancouver-based online targeting firm AIQ.
According to whistleblower Chris Wylie, the former head of research at Cambridge Analytica who came from Vancouver, AIQ was set up as a subsidiary of Cambridge Analytica’s parent company SCL. The website even stated ‘SCL Canada’ as an email address. AIQ used Project Ripon as its database – a psychometric targeting tool drawn from up to 75 million hacked Facebook accounts. When challenged by the Observer journalist Carole Cadwalladr as to how Vote Leave found the small Canadian firm in 2017, Cummings replied “on the internet”. But AIQ had no internet presence in early 2016.
Does Cummings have dirt on Johnson’s knowledge of this illicitly gained database? Is there more to come out about this great hack?
Breitbart supremo, Trump campaign manager and Cambridge Analytica founder Steve Bannon was an advisor to Boris Johnson for some years.
When he failed in his 2016 Conservative Party leadership bid, Theresa May appointed Johnson Foreign Secretary. In early 2017, Cambridge Analytica was invited to participate in a two-day conference at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Wilton Park centre.
Meanwhile, Johnson and Bannon were reported to have become close from late 2016, and Bannon himself claimed to have advised the Foreign Secretary about how to topple May. There were plenty of dark digital operations during the May premiership, but much more overt opposition from within the Conservative Party and the ERG group led by Jacob Rees Mogg.
Does Cummings know something about plots and schemes during May’s premiership which could ruin Johnson’s credibility and reputation, especially among Conservative supporters and MPs?
The Suppressed Russia Report
During his time as Foreign Secretary, a key Conservative donor, Alexander Temerko, a Russian emigre, told Reuters that he would meet Boris Johnson over a glass of wine at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and plot against Theresa May.
Johnson has extensive Russian connections and, during the EU Referendum campaign, his speeches very much chimed with Vladimir Putin’s agenda of preventing the West from intervening over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Not only did wealthy Russian oligarchs provide a large amount of Conservative Party funding, but Johnson promoted Russian and Ukrainian festivals while Mayor of London, which were heavily promoted by emigres close to the Kremlin. Johnson also partied with Alexander Lebedev, the father of the owner of the Independent, who was once a KGB officer and now supports the annexation of Crimea.
Dominic Cummings spent three years in post-Soviet Russia in the late 1990s – as an ‘investment analyst’, he told the BBC in 2002. A friend and soon to be brother-in-law, Jack Wakefield, was one of the directors of the Firtash Foundation from 2008 until 2013 until the Ukrainian oligarch was indicted for money laundering by the FBI and held under house arrest in Vienna awaiting extradition.
Does Cummings know something about Johnson’s Russian connections which could be especially embarrassing given the extraordinary suppression of the Intelligence and Security Committee’s Russia Report?
The Health Data Gold Rush and Herd Immunity
Cummings is an enthusiast for big tech, artificial intelligence, so-called ‘evolutionary economists’ and some of the more extreme genetic determinists associated with the ‘Bay Area Rationalists’ – a group of right-wing ‘techno libertarian’ thinkers associated with Peter Thiel and Silicon Valley.
While Johnson took extended leave earlier this year, Cummings was sitting in on key COBR and SAGE meetings, planning for the Coronavirus threat. According to the Sunday Times, he was the main proponent of ‘herd immunity’. (Cummings has denied this but has not denied subsequent reports that he was a key policy figure and the conversion to a lockdown, albeit too late.)
It was an approach seemingly echoed in the Prime Minister’s laissez-faire remarks with regards to the Coronavirus. In his first major post-election Brexit speech at Greenwich’s Royal Naval College on 3 February, Johnson suggested that Britain could defy the rest of the world and avoid lockdown strategies. On 5 March, when asked about how to tackle the virus, Johnson spoke about the option to “take it on the chin” – a populistic reference to the strategy that was publicly justified on the weekend of 12 March under the (at that time globally unique) pretext of ‘herd immunity’.
Meanwhile, in his crusade to shake-up Whitehall and government, Cummings has managed to amass an investment fund of close to a billion pounds for his ARPA brainchild, based on the US DARPA model.
His Vote Leave data scientists, Faculty AI, have accumulated seven Government contracts since Johnson came to power. Other tech companies are also moving in, including the controversial data and security firm Palantir, owned by Trump backer Peter Thiel. As a former recruitment advisor to the digital healthcare group Babylon, Cummings would have a great understanding of the lucrative new frontier around private medical data.
Is this post-Brexit data gold rush just too good for any Conservative Prime Minister to miss? Or does Cummings have information that could damage Johnson around the dangerous policy of herd immunity that has left the UK with the highest number of excess deaths from the Coronavirus in the world?
Byline Times will keep digging until we get some answers.