Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s chief adviser who was once consigliere to Michael Gove at the Department for Education, is ‘running Number 10 like a startup,’ says Wired. Its ‘mission statement’ is short: ‘Deliver Brexit’.
The Wired blog says Cummings is heavily influence by Silicon Valley – its ‘tough-as-nails leadership style’, the ‘rage-firing’ of employees suspected of heresy; its brutal focus.
Cummings, Wired says, loathes the politics, philosophy and economics (PPE) graduates which dominate Westminster and Whitehall. He is cited as saying their degrees ‘reward verbal fluency’ and give them ‘confidence in a sort of arrogant bluffing combined with ignorance about how to get anything done’.
He could have been describing his new boss (except that Johnson studied Classics not PPE).
Cummings harnesses ‘the language of disruption’, Wired argues. He positioned Vote Leave as an ‘insurgent campaign’ fighting the ‘Establishment’. We see the same now, with the Government saying it’s backing ‘the People’ against ‘Parliament’. This strategy was also prominent during Gove’s tenure as education secretary: create division, smash the English education system and impose Gove-approved reforms.
Wired refers to Cummings’ 2013 self-published essay on education which ‘sparked bafflement and outrage in equal measure’ in the UK but which ‘earned him a ticket to an invitation-only technology summit’ at Google HQ. in Silicon Valley.
I wrote at the time that Cummings’ essay was ‘Inconsistent, heavy with learning’ containing ‘occasional flashes of insight and shot through with controversy’. It was also overlong and would have benefitted from an astute editor.
In his essay, Cummings argued that the Greek historian Thucydides was essential reading for future leaders. Strange, then, that Cummings doesn’t heed Thucydides' warning about what led to the fall of Athens.
‘Reckless audacity came to be considered the courage of a loyal ally,’ Thucydides wrote. ‘Prudent hesitation’ was interpreted as ‘specious cowardice’ and ‘moderation was held to be a cloak for unmanliness.’ ‘Frantic violence became the attribute of manliness’ and ‘cautious plotting’ was hailed as ‘justifiable means of self-defence.’
‘The advocate of extreme measures was always trustworthy; his opponent a man to be suspected,’ Thucydides continued. ‘To succeed in a plot was to have a shrewd head’ while foretelling one was ‘still shrewder’. Trying to avoid either of these was to be disloyal and cowardly.
Thucydides could have been describing the methods of the prime minister’s most senior adviser – methods which are being condoned by the PM and ministers who remain in his government.