For the second time since taking control of Downing Street five months ago, Dominic Cummings has blogged. This second blog, released last night, is significantly more subdued in tone than the first, which was titled: “BATSIGNAL!! DON’T LET CORBYN-STURGEON CHEAT A SECOND REFERENDUM WITH MILLIONS OF FOREIGN VOTES”.
That warning came two weeks before the 2019 election. Cummings wrote then that if voters deprived Johnson of a majority, Corbyn and Swinson would “cheat” Brexit by holding a second referendum. “We’ll all get screwed on taxes, [and] Parliament will drag the whole country into crisis.”
That possibility has been averted, and Cummings can now focus on government. He has won power, 17 years after he became, at the age of 30, director of strategy to then-Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith. And he is, as we have been saying for a while, not going anywhere.
This is the most important thing to take away from last night’s blog, which was an open invitation for anyone to apply for various jobs in government (“we’re hiring data scientists, project managers, policy experts, assorted weirdos…”). This line was the most telling moment in it: “I’ll have to spend time helping you so don’t apply unless you can commit to at least 2 years.”
This long-term mindset should come as no surprise. Cummings spent three years in the Department for Education as Michael Gove’s chief adviser, and has long talked of gaining “control” of No 10. He is, as I detailed in a September profile, motivated by a desire “to build a new operating system for government: to be the Steve Jobs of politics, delivering “huge long-term value for humanity”.
It is unusual to recruit so openly for government, and the first person Cummings may need to hire is someone to manage the inbox he’s set up: email@example.com. He has invited a nation to bombard him with job applications. In doing so, he hopes to find those of extraordinary ability, or as he puts it:
“We need some true wild cards, artists, people who never went to university and fought their way out of an appalling hell hole, weirdos from William Gibson novels like that girl hired by Bigend as a brand ‘diviner’ who feels sick at the sight of Tommy Hilfiger or that Chinese-Cuban free runner from a crime family hired by the KGB. If you want to figure out what characters around Putin might do, or how international criminal gangs might exploit holes in our border security, you don’t want more Oxbridge English graduates who chat about Lacan at dinner parties with TV producers and spread fake news about fake news.”
We need, he says, “genuine cognitive diversity”, not “more drivel” about “‘gender identity diversity blah blah’”. He is right that the Civil Service Fast Stream winnows out mavericks from the first test questions it asks, in which contestable answers are presented as facts. There is a civil service way, and it is one Cummings thinks has failed for decades. (I discussed that on LBC on Wednesday.)
Cummings’s blog may become a way for him to communicate with the press as directly as President Trump does in his tweets. He is going to keep blogging, he says, in order to
“throw out ideas. It’s important when dealing with large organisations to dart around at different levels, not be stuck with formal hierarchies. It will seem chaotic and “not proper No10 process” to some. But the point of this government is to do things differently and better and this always looks messy. We do not care about trying to ‘control the narrative’ and all that New Labour junk.”
Ironically, Cummings’s words did control the narrative last night. His blog was the splash on the Times website, and a lead story on the FT. It was even mentioned on the main page of the Guardian, which – perhaps proving Cummings’s point – dismissed it as “bizarre”.