Special advisors have always been a contentious topic within British politics, but none more so than within Number 10 itself. The nature of Alastair Campbell’s appointment within Tony Blair’s team ahead of the 1997 election would change the influence of special advisors for years to come. The extent to which even Cabinet members titled Campbell as “the real deputy prime minister” highlights the disproportionate influence an unelected advisor has upon government affairs, being credited as the spin doctor due to his overbearing and intoxicating approach to the media in order to protect Mr Blair’s image at all costs. Malcolm Tucker in the TV series “The Thick of It” by the BBC was loosely based off the former director of communications, giving a weirdly accurate portrayal of the liberal use of profanities by Campbell behind the scenes, with the heated 2003 interview with Jon Snow on Channel 4 regarding the “dodgy dossier” displaying hints of the short temper he held.
Fast forward to 2019, and a newcomer has emerged in the form of Dominic Cummings. Dominic already gained notoriety for his controversial role as the mastermind behind the Leave campaign, reportedly credited with fundamental aspects of the campaign such as the slogan “Take back control”, the campaign’s emphasis upon immigration and its informal links to the disgraced Cambridge Analytica. Cummings has followed in the footsteps of Campbell, depicted by the Channel 4 drama “Brexit: The Uncivil War”, unravelling him as the integral piece of the Brexit puzzle. This was the first time he was placed firmly in the public eye, and would turn out to be the first of many.
What differentiates Cummings from Campbell is the sheer number of controversies he has had within a small time period, making Alastair’s affairs seem trivial in comparison. Dominic has a knack for disregarding every founding principle of democracy, starting with the Electoral Commission stating that Vote Leave broke electoral law – yet faced a laughable fine of just £61,000 and a slap on the wrist. The same man who was found in contempt of parliament after failing to appear in front of the DCMS committee in relation to fake news has recently been given a security pass for the Palace of Westminster. Cummings is the epitome of anti-establishment, although that very same establishment is the one granting him unchecked and unlimited power. The “political anarchist”, as dubbed by former prime minister John Major, has not stopped there however.
Dominic has a knack for disregarding every founding principle of democracy.
Cummings has built upon his intimidation and use of obscene language from his days at the Department for Education under Michael Gove from 2010-2014, where he enforced a culture of “us-and-them” and bullying tactics. He was even reportedly involved in the attempted removal of a senior civil servant, which was likened to an episode from the aforementioned series The Thick of It. Cummings’ dictatorial regime is reflected in his involvement in the sacking of Sonia Khan, Sajid Javid’s media advisor. The audacity he had to escort the Chancellor’s advisor from No 10 by a police officer, merely over accusations of contact with Tory Europhiles, without Javid knowing prior to the sacking is beyond belief. This only serves to highlight inherent problems within the Downing Street machine, and where the real power lies. To make matters worse, the unfathomable decision to sack 21 Tory MPs was unsurprisingly linked with the vindictive chief of staff. Reports from Tory sources said Cummings threatened former Business Secretary Greg Clark to “purge” him and his colleagues that defied Boris’ plans. The outlandish behaviour that he has displayed, alongside the repeated remarks from prominent MPs about his conduct, only accentuates the destructive course he is leading the Conservatives towards.
Chaos has been normalised under the duo of Johnson and Cummings, throwing Parliament, MPs, convention and every facet of the British political system into turmoil. The polarising nature of Cummings and his programme has arguably achieved the exact opposite of his intended goal – he has only served as a source of universal agreement from opposing MPs, who equally despise the unelected SpAd. The frequent nature of controversial appointments such as Cummings has re-opened conversation about the power of special advisors. Irresponsible actions that he has undertaken provides endless conundrums with few answers, and it seems like everyone is powerless in stopping the tyrant that he has become.
I hope we can all take solace in the fact that the political career of these despicable advisors has ended abruptly in resignation – Alastair Campbell with the Iraq Dossier and Hutton Inquiry, as well as Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill after the 2017 election. With an impending election around the corner and the Tories’ possible ousting as government, surely political history defines that Dominic Cummings’ time as the real deputy prime minister may soon be up.
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