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What the Vote Leave chief honestly thinks about Brexit

Dom Cummings has let rip for the first time since the referendum. 

Johnson and Gove were the prophets of Brexit, but it was Dom Cummings who wrote the scripture. The  Vote Leave campaign director took Eurosceptic MPs who had for decades opined the same obscure views on sovereignty - the concept still means little to most in SW1, never mind outside of it - and co-opted them into a disciplined and data-driven campaign.

He encouraged them to focus on three things: immigration, the NHS and the emotional vocabulary of control. And it worked.

Consequently, the Vote Leave club still adore him. One staffer describes him as “a great man, a genius, truly the most important person in the EU referendum”. And although Cummings regards almost all Conservative MPs as “clowns”, they regard his achievements with a begrudging respect: an unhinged and aggressive figure, but also a remarkably intelligent and incisive campaigner. 

Yet despite winning the biggest mandate in British political history, Cummings’ views on post-referendum Britain are little known. This is mostly his own doing. Unlike Matthew Elliott, the Vote Leave CEO, who has spent his time since the referendum touring TV studios and generally bigging up his own significance, Cummings has been coy. 

But now, as the Tory government begins to consider Brexit in earnest, he has returned to Twitter for the first time since the referendum. And under the username @odysseanproject, he has offered his thoughts in typically unapologetic fashion. Here is what he thinks:

1. It’s a “delusion” to say Britain voted for sovereignty 

Cummings knew well before the referendum that freedom of movement would be voters’ number one concern.  He spent years researching public attitudes towards the EU and was writing about "regaining control of migration" and introducing an "Australian point system" as early as June 2014.  These ideas, tested then on voters in Essex, London and Warwickshire, worked themselves almost without interruption onto the Vote Leave playbook. 

Now he rebukes Brexiteers who say the result had nothing to do with migration and Remoaners who say it was the only factor. "It wasn’t ‘all about immigration’ AND immigration wasn’t a minor / subsidiary issue. Both wrong, truth subtler."

Immigration was the core issue, but it couldn’t have won the referendum alone. He argues it had to be “balanced” with #TakeBackControl, £350m and the NHS. This suggests the eventual result was neither an anti-immigrant populist uprising, nor an attempt to liberate Britain as a sovereign nation from the EU’s clutches. According to Cummings, it was probably somewhere in between. 

2. Nigel Farage almost lost the EU referendum 

Cummings describes Farage as a “vain shallow egomaniac” who consistently undermined the campaign.  

Contrary to the conventional wisdom that Farage helped hoover up working class votes, especially in Labour’s heartlands, Cummings says he and “his embarrassing cabal” were simply a turnoff on the doorstep. “In focus group after focus group,” he continues, “ppl said ‘I want to leave but I don’t want to vote for that tit Farage’”. 

He recounts how Farage insisted upon featuring in the main debates - “me me me me me” - but says if he had been allowed to officially represent the Leave campaign, Remain would have won by 70 per cent.  

3.  Theresa May should ditch the net migration target

The biggest and most complex question facing politicians post-Brexit is how Britain reduces net migration to so-called “sustainable levels” (shorthand for 100,000 or less). 

But according to Cummings, migration policy should be easy: “ditch” net migration.  He says it’s a "crap metric" which reflects Osborne and Cameron’s poor understanding of public psychology. 

Cummings instead proposes restrictions on unskilled labour, “tough rules” on criminals and increased access for highly-skilled migrants. The British public would overwhelmingly back such proposals, he says, and leave Labour “high and dry” politically. If it’s not there already...

4. We should shut down the Department for International Development

Cummings is not the only person to have called for Dfid to be closed - he is joined by its current secretary, Priti Patel - but his reasons haven’t anything to do with "pulling up the drawbridge" in post-Brexit Britain. 

He is an advocate of effective altruism, a philosophy defined by the desire to improve the world in the most efficient way possible, and says Dfid’s aid money would be spent better elsewhere.

His argument is: mothball the department and give most of the money to already effective organisations and charities. Keep behind a portion for high risk, high impact projects, following the model of DARPA (the US military research organisation).  

5. None of his aims for post-Brexit Britain are going to be realised 

Cummings’ expounds his political philosophy in Some thoughts on education and political priorities, a dense and ironically-named 250 page essay.  

Its thrust is as follows: the world is becoming increasingly complex and difficult to predict; our present array of political institutions is unfit to respond to the problems thrown up by that complexity; in order to survive and thrive in the 21st century, we need to be trained in risk analysis, and scientific and mathematical modelling, invest in science and technology, and also restructure our entire political and educational landscape in the process - including withdrawing from the EU. 

This last tweet is fascinating because Cummings acknowledges the changes he envisages aren’t going to take place post-Brexit. After two decades of Eurosceptic activism - starting as chair of the No Campaign, which fought against Britain’s membership of the euro, and ending with this - he is stolidly self-aware.

The Britain he wants isn’t the statist, bureaucratic, anti-immigration Britain being mapped out by Theresa May. But history may conclude that he helped deliver it. 

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Will Jeremy Corbyn stand down if Labour loses the general election?

Defeat at the polls might not be the end of Corbyn’s leadership.

The latest polls suggest that Labour is headed for heavy defeat in the June general election. Usually a general election loss would be the trigger for a leader to quit: Michael Foot, Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband all stood down after their first defeat, although Neil Kinnock saw out two losses before resigning in 1992.

It’s possible, if unlikely, that Corbyn could become prime minister. If that prospect doesn’t materialise, however, the question is: will Corbyn follow the majority of his predecessors and resign, or will he hang on in office?

Will Corbyn stand down? The rules

There is no formal process for the parliamentary Labour party to oust its leader, as it discovered in the 2016 leadership challenge. Even after a majority of his MPs had voted no confidence in him, Corbyn stayed on, ultimately winning his second leadership contest after it was decided that the current leader should be automatically included on the ballot.

This year’s conference will vote on to reform the leadership selection process that would make it easier for a left-wing candidate to get on the ballot (nicknamed the “McDonnell amendment” by centrists): Corbyn could be waiting for this motion to pass before he resigns.

Will Corbyn stand down? The membership

Corbyn’s support in the membership is still strong. Without an equally compelling candidate to put before the party, Corbyn’s opponents in the PLP are unlikely to initiate another leadership battle they’re likely to lose.

That said, a general election loss could change that. Polling from March suggests that half of Labour members wanted Corbyn to stand down either immediately or before the general election.

Will Corbyn stand down? The rumours

Sources close to Corbyn have said that he might not stand down, even if he leads Labour to a crushing defeat this June. They mention Kinnock’s survival after the 1987 general election as a precedent (although at the 1987 election, Labour did gain seats).

Will Corbyn stand down? The verdict

Given his struggles to manage his own MPs and the example of other leaders, it would be remarkable if Corbyn did not stand down should Labour lose the general election. However, staying on after a vote of no-confidence in 2016 was also remarkable, and the mooted changes to the leadership election process give him a reason to hold on until September in order to secure a left-wing succession.

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