Dominic Cummings ‘vows fundamental change to civil service’

Dominic Cummings has vowed to take an axe to the civil service after coronavirus exposed flaws in the government machine, it was claimed today.

The PM’s most senior aide is said to have told colleagues the Cabinet Office will be stripped of powers after being found wanting during the crisis, swiping: ‘A hard rain is coming.’

Mr Cummings has been a longstanding critic of the way the civil service works, calling for more modern organisation and data-driven policies.

And his latest salvo comes with tensions running high between ministers, aides and mandarins over who is to blame for bungles, and rumours of old Brexit feuds being brutally played out behind the scenes.  

There were even claims of a bruising exchange between the PM and Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill at a meeting on the lockdown ‘exit strategy’ recently. 

In blogs before he was drafted in by Mr Johnson, he urged the introduction of ‘red teams’ explicitly tasked with finding reasons why the government should not be following policies. 

He has been an advocate of ‘Super-Forecasters’, individuals who have no specific expertise but are able to predict events because of their mental process.

Mr Cummings has been particularly scathing about the way the Ministry of Defence runs its procurement. 

But he has also been accused of overstepping the mark, including by having one adviser to former chancellor Sajid Javid frog-marched out of Downing Street last year. 

The latest power grab is a remarkably bold stroke from a man who a month ago appeared to be on the verge of quitting Downing Street.

But Mr Cummings seems to have ridden out the furore over a 260-mile trip from London to Durham he took with his son and sick wife at the height of the lockdown, refusing to quit or acknowledge any wrongdoing. 

Dominic Cummings (pictured in Downing Street today) is said to have told colleagues the Cabinet Office must be stripped of powers, swiping: ‘A hard rain is coming.’

Dominic Cummings’ long-running war with the civil service  

Dominic Cummings has written prolific blogs on government over years that give a glimpse into his thinking.

In June last year, shortly before joining Mr Johnson at No10, he penned a 10,000-word post calling for an end to the ‘Kafka-esque’ influence of civil servants on politicians.

He proposed creating independent ‘Red Teams’ to challenge official advice to ministers – who would be rewarded for overturning the orthodoxy.  

Mr Cummings has previously slammed support for ministers as ‘extremely bureaucratic and slow’ and said the civil service had presided over ‘expensive debacle after expensive debacle’. 

He dismissed Westminster as ‘the blind leading the blind’, saying that for top mandarins ‘management, like science, is regarded contemptuously as something for the lower orders to think about, not the ”strategists” at the top’.

Mr Cummings has been upsetting the Westminster establishment for years. 

He memorably nicknamed the educational establishment ‘the blob’ when he was adviser to Mr Gove at the Department for Education. 

In 2014, David Cameron reportedly branded him a ‘career psychopath’, and Mr Cummings resigned from government and accused him of ‘bumbling from one shambles to another without the slightest sense of purpose’.

Mr Cummings described Lib Dem former deputy PM Nick Clegg as ‘a revolting character’, which triggered Mr Clegg to dismiss him as a ‘loopy ideologue’. 

There have been complaints from some Tory MPs that No10 is too inward looking and has been blundering over coronavirus because there is an ‘iron curtain’ around the PM. 

But according to the grass roots ConservativeHome website, in a Zoom call with other special advisers recently Mr Cummings flatly dismissed the idea that he wanted to take all power into No10 as a ‘media invention’.

He reportedly told Spads 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’.

‘it’s already far too big, incoherent and adds to the problems with departments.’ he added.

Mr Cummings apparently called for a ‘smaller and more elite’ central operation, and made clear that big changes were coming for No10 and the Cabinet Office.

He insisted the coronavirus response had underlined problems in the structures and many officials now accepted the need for radical change, before concluding with the message: ‘A hard rain is coming.’

Tensions have been running high between civil servants, ministers and aides during the crisis that has engulfed the country.

During a discussion about the government’s coronavirus exit plan Mr Johnson is said to have asked: ‘Who is in charge of implementing this delivery plan?’

One of the sources said that silence followed before the PM looked at Sir Mark and said: ‘Is it you?’

Sir Mark then reportedly replied: ‘No, I think it’s you, prime minister.’

Some in Westminster thought Sir Mark was being sidelined when the Duke of Cambridge’s private secretary, Simon Case, was drafted in to the previously-dormant role as No10’s own Permanent Secretary. 

There was also speculation old scores were being settled when Sir Simon McDonald announced he was stepping down as the top mandarin at the Foreign Office last week. 

And Home Secretary Priti Patel is facing an employment tribunal action from Sir Philip Rutnam after he quit as permanent secretary following a long-running spat.

Mr Cummings has written prolific blogs on government over years that give a glimpse into his thinking.

In June last year, shortly before joining Mr Johnson at No10, he penned a 10,000-word post calling for an end to the ‘Kafka-esque’ influence of civil servants on politicians.

He proposed creating independent ‘Red Teams’ to challenge official advice to ministers – who would be rewarded for overturning the orthodoxy.  

Mr Cummings has previously slammed support for ministers as ‘extremely bureaucratic and slow’ and said the civil service had presided over ‘expensive debacle after expensive debacle’. 

He dismissed Westminster as ‘the blind leading the blind’, saying that for top mandarins ‘management, like science, is regarded contemptuously as something for the lower orders to think about, not the ”strategists” at the top’.

Mr Cummings has been upsetting the Westminster establishment for years. 

He memorably nicknamed the educational establishment ‘the blob’ when he was adviser to Mr Gove at the Department for Education. 

In blogs before he was drafted in by Boris Johnson (pictured today), Mr Cummings urged the introduction of 'red teams' explicitly tasked with finding reasons why the government should not be following policies

In blogs before he was drafted in by Boris Johnson (pictured today), Mr Cummings urged the introduction of ‘red teams’ explicitly tasked with finding reasons why the government should not be following policies

In 2014, David Cameron reportedly branded him a ‘career psychopath’, and Mr Cummings resigned from government and accused him of ‘bumbling from one shambles to another without the slightest sense of purpose’.

Mr Cummings described Lib Dem former deputy PM Nick Clegg as ‘a revolting character’, which triggered Mr Clegg to dismiss him as a ‘loopy ideologue’. 

He described David Davis, then the Brexit secretary, as ‘thick as mince, lazy as a toad and vain as Narcissus’ in July 2017.

He has also turned his ire on hardline Brexiteers in the Tory European Research Group in one of his trademark lengthy blogposts.

In March 2018 he likened some members of the group to a ‘metastasising tumour’ accusing them of ‘scrambling’ for top radio spots while ‘spouting gibberish’ since 2016.  

Brexit mastermind who splits Tory opinion 

Before rising to become the Prime Minister’s top aide, Dominic Cummings worked as  director of strategy for the Conservative Party in the early 2000s. 

He was appointed special adviser to Conservative politician Michael Gove in the Department of Education from 2007, before being dismissed by David Cameron, who once referred to Cummings as a ‘career psychopath’, in 2014. 

He quickly became known for his blunt style and his criticism of other senior politicians, once referring to Nick Clegg’s proposal on free school meals as ‘Dreamed up on the back of a cigarette packet’. 

In 2012, during his time as special adviser to Gove, a senior female civil servant received a payout of £25,000 in a bullying case she took against Cummings and a senior member of Gove’s team. 

From 2015, Cummings was the power behind the Vote Leave campaign that propelled Britain towards backing Brexit in 2016. 

While Boris Johnson and Michael Gove were in the limelight the 47-year-old remained in the shadows pulling the strings.

He over saw a campaign that totally outflanked Remain and which is widely credited with leading to the 52-48 result in favour of quitting.

Such was his central role he was played by Benedict Cumberbatch in Channel 4’s Brexit: The Uncivil War last year.

Ministers reportedly previously warned Mr Johnson in February that he must ‘rein in’ top aide Cummings because ‘half the Cabinet’ feel unable to work with him.

In the run-up to the reshuffle that month, Mr Cummings suggested that the characters from the children’s television show PJ Masks would do a better job than the current Cabinet. 

Ex-Chancellor Sajid Javid quit the same month after he refused a demand from Mr Cummings to sack all of his staff.

Mr Javid was given an ultimatum that he must accept his political advisers being ousted to stay in No11 – but he chose to walk away. 

Angry Tory MPs urged Mr Johnson last week to tear down the ‘iron curtain’ around Downing Street and listen to them instead of Mr Cummings.

Many had come out publicly to demand the resignation of the top aide after it emerged he travelled 260 miles of Durham during lockdown while self-isolating for coronavirus, in order to secure childcare for his young son. Mr Cummings insisted he did nothing wrong and Mr Johnson stood by him. 

But backbenchers have voiced frustration at the lack of consultation with the wider party, as Mr Johnson relies on a small circle of trusted advisers including Mr Cummings.  

‘Boris needs to get the message his liaison with parliamentary colleagues needs to get better and better quickly,’ one MP told the Telegraph. ‘There seems to be an iron curtain around Downing Street.’ 

The PM was urged to improve communications with Tory MPs in order to avoid U-turns, such as those over free school meals and the migrant surcharge on foreign NHS staff.

They told him to listen to feedback from experienced MPs rather than relying on a small circle of advisers such as Dominic Cummings.

And they said they felt angry that in some cases they had been out defending the original position, only for it to be changed within hours.

‘There was a very clear message that people want no more U-turns,’ an MP said. 

‘It feels like we’re lurching from one mini-crisis to the next. 

‘The big issue is the lack of communication between No 10 and the backbenches. 

‘We are seeing these problems like free school meals starting to build up momentum in our inboxes and No 10 appears to be blissfully unaware of them until it’s too late. 

‘In the meantime, we’re being asked to go out and defend things we can see they are going to cave in on.’

Durham Dom survived calls to quit after lockdown roadtrip

Dominic Cummings’ political survival to a point where he can consider taking on the Civil Service is a sign of how poorly prepared Boris Johnson is to be Prime minister without him.

It was in late May when he emerged from the shadows to front an extraordinary press conference of his own in the Downing Street rose garden (below). 

He insisted he acted ‘lawfully’ in March when he travelled to Durham with wife Mary Wakefield, who was displaying coronavirus symptoms, and their four-year-old son to seek childcare help from family.

The trio later made a day trip to Barnard Castle, which Mr Cummings – who by then had also been through coronavirus – claims was to test out his eye-sight to see if he was fit to drive. The trip was taken on his wife’s birthday.

Durham Police later said that Mr Cummings’ trip to Barnard Castle ‘might have’ been in ‘minor breach’ of the regulations.

The force added that if an officer had stopped Mr Cummings on his journey they would have provided ‘advice on the dangers of travelling during the pandemic crisis’.

Had this advice been accepted by Mr Cummings, ‘no enforcement action would have been taken’.

But Durham Police said they did not consider Mr Cummings self-isolating at his family’s farm a breach of the guidelines, and no further action would be taken.

Amid widespread fury that included demonstrations outside his affluent north London home and uproar within Tory ranks, Boris Johnson and senior ministers lined up behind him to insist he had done no wrong.

Boris Johnson faces fury at PMQs as he claims NO country has a working coronavirus tracing app – but Keir Starmer tells him 12MILLION people have already downloaded Germany’s version

Boris Johnson faced a furious backlash today as he claimed no country has a working coronavirus tracing app – only to be told that 12million people have already downloaded Germany’s version.

The PM dismissed criticism over the failed NHS software, which was initially billed a crucial for controlling the disease before being humiliatingly abandoned last week. 

Ministers were forced to admit that it failed to work on almost all iPhones, and are now focusing on a ‘hybrid’ based on a model built by Apple and Google. 

Mr Johnson insisted at PMQs this afternoon that no other country had a ‘functional’ app, after Sir Keir Starmer warned that one was critical for the test and trace system – especially with lockdown easing.

But Sir Keir shot back: ‘Germany – 12million downloads… I checked that overnight.’ 

Boris Johnson

Keir Starmer

Boris Johnson (left) insisted at PMQs this afternoon that no other country had a ‘functional’ app, after Sir Keir Starmer (right) warned that one was critical for the test and trace system

During brutal clashes in the Commons, Mr Johnson said the NHS Test and Trace team had so far contacted 87,000 people.

The Labour leader said: ‘Yesterday the Government announced the next stage of easing lockdown restrictions. If that plan is to work, and we want it to work, we need an effective track, trace and isolate system…

‘The latest track, trace and isolate figures show that just over 10,000 people with Covid-19 were reached and asked to provide contact details.

‘I do recognise the hard work that has gone into this, but if two-thirds of those with Covid-19 are not being reached and asked to provide contact details, there’s a big problem, isn’t there?’

But Mr Johnson shot back that Sir Keir’s ‘prognostication of gloom’ on test and trace had been proved wrong.

He said the UK had a very effective ‘cluster-busting’ operation to crack down on any local outbreaks. 

‘Contrary to his prognostications of gloom, it has got up and running, I think, much faster than the doubters expected,’ he said,

‘What NHS Test and Trace is doing is contacting the vast majority of those who test positive and their own contacts and getting them to self-isolate, and it is a formidable achievement.’

Sir Keir Starmer pressed Mr Johnson on whether the contact tracing app was critical or not in combating the virus.

The app developed by the NHS didn't work for people using Apple iPhones and effectively went into sleep mode, failing to pick up nearby devices using Bluetooth (stock image)

The app developed by the NHS didn’t work for people using Apple iPhones and effectively went into sleep mode, failing to pick up nearby devices using Bluetooth (stock image)

He said: ‘Up until last week, the Government maintained that the app was critical, another of their slides (at the daily briefing).

‘But at the weekend (Matt Hancock) downplayed the app, saying it was only ever additional support. So which is it – critical or not?’

Mr Johnson responded: ‘I wonder whether (Sir Keir) can name a single country in the world that has a functional contact tracing app? Because there isn’t one.’

Sir Keir Starmer, when asked to name a country which has a functional contact tracing app, replied: ‘Germany – 12 million downloads. I checked that overnight.’

The Labour leader said other countries are ahead of the UK, asking: ‘When are we going to have a working app?’

Mr Johnson pushed on, saying Sir Keir was ‘completely wrong’. 

‘No country in the world has a working contact tracing app and I’ve always been clear, we’ve always been clear, that the app would be the icing on the cake,’ he said.

‘If we can get it to work it’ll be a fine thing but there isn’t one anywhere in the world so far.’

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk

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