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31 October 2019

Dominic Cummings says he won’t run the Tory election campaign. Here’s why

Government special advisers are relieved to know who their boss is – a luxury they did not have under Theresa May in 2017.

By Patrick Maguire

Dominic Cummings won’t be running the Conservative election campaign: that was the big message Boris Johnson’s senior adviser sought to impart to government special advisers at their weekly meeting this evening.

Addressing spads at No 10, Cummings instead repeatedly stressed that Isaac Levido – an Australian political strategist little known outside of Westminster – will be the man in charge of the prime minister’s push for a majority. 

The absence of Cummings – the man behind Johnson’s last big electoral victory, in 2016 – from the frontline will get Westminster talking. But it did not come as news to the spads present. As Downing Street sources point out, Levido – a protege of Lynton Crosby who joined CCHQ from Australia’s Liberal Party in August – was always going to lead the Tory campaign. Though one No 10 official suggests that Cummings has only just decided not to take a more hands-on campaign role, the truth is that few expected him to.

But what did strike attendees was that Cummings chose to emphasise his non-involvement with the campaign so strongly. The reason for his doing so was immediately clear to the spads in the room who worked through the 2017 election. Internally, that campaign was hindered by uncertainty over just who staff were ultimately answerable to. Was Crosby in charge, or were Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, Theresa May’s divisive chiefs of staff? 

That nobody working on May’s campaign really knew the answer is a big part of the reason it unfolded so calamitously. Spads at tonight’s meeting were left in no doubt that Levido is the only boss this time. The veterans in their number went home reassured that they are in for a much smoother ride.

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Others believe the air war will unfold more predictably without Cummings becoming the story, too. And, should Johnson return as prime minister, he might not need to worry about that either: Cummings, who is due to undergo surgery in the near future, implied to spads that he would not be returning to Downing Street should Johnson win. 

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“Dom never had a hard or fast exit date, but his operation was always going to be a factor in how long he stayed,” a fellow No 10 staffer says. Handing the reins to Levido might well be his final act.