Friends of Cummings: “A hard rain is coming.”

24 Jun

Readouts from Dominic Cummings’ Zoom meeting with other SpAds have a way of becoming public.  One made its way to ConservativeHome yesterday which was then posted as a Twitter thread.

The sum of it is that Cummings is against centralistion, not for it; that his goal is to make the centre smaller, empower departments and change civil service fundamentals; that “anybody who has read what I’ve said about management over the years will know it’s ludicrous to suggest the solution to Whitehall’s problems is a bigger centre and more centralisation”, and that the centre is already too big, incoherent and adds to the problems with departments.

A smaller and more elite centre is needed; big changes are coming to Number Ten and the Cabinet Office, and many officials now accepted the need for radical changes. Anything to the contrary is “more media inventions”.

The briefing ended with the words: “a hard rain is coming”.

Cue a mass of protests to this site claiming that the readout was simply friends of Cummings throwing up chaff, and that none of it should be believed for a moment.

SpAds were told last July that they are to report to Cummings; their contracts were changed to ensure so formally; SpAds that he didn’t care for have been removed; big decisions go through him, and so can’t always be taken quickly – hence the foul-up over Marcus Rashford’s campaign for free meals for children over the summer; Sonia Khan was removed; so were Sajid Javid’s main SpAds, hence the former Chancellor’s resignation; Number Ten and the Treasury have been joined at the top, and so on.

Who’s right?

For what it’s worth, here’s a view from people inside government who work with him, admire him – but also maintain a critical detachment.

“Dom is a decentraliser,” we were told.  “But he’s resistant to decentralising to people who he thinks aren’t up to the job.  And there are departments of which he’s institutionally suspicious, such as Justice.”

“If he thinks you know your stuff and are capable then he’ll leave you alone – one topical example being Munira Mirza, who he rates.”

What can certainly be said is that so far, for better or worse, institutional change in Whitehall has been less sweeping than originally briefed: DfId has been swallowed up by the Foreign Office, and that’s about it.

Clearly, changes to the sprawling Cabinet Office, which is not held to have performed well during Coronavirus, are coming, as we wrote recently.

If there were more Ministers that Cummings rated, perhaps there would be more decentralistion.  But he’s on record as taking a low view of most of them: “PJ Masks will do a greater job than all of them put together.”  Which gives us the chance to republish our illustration of Cummings as the Splat Monster.