Dominic Mckenzie Cummings (born 25 November 1971) is a senior British political strategist and Chief Special Adviser to Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
From 2007 to 2014, he was a special adviser to Michael Gove, including while the latter served as Secretary of State for Education. From 2015 to 2016, Cummings was the director of the successful Vote Leave campaign, an organisation opposed to continued British membership of the European Union that took an active part in the 2016 referendum campaign on that issue.
In July 2019, the new Prime Minister Boris Johnson appointed him to the role of Special Adviser to the Prime Minister. As per procedure, Cummings temporarily resigned his role when Parliament dissolved for the 2019 general election, along with most special advisers, but was briefly reinstated to assist the government during the England Floods.
Cummings was born in Durham on 25 November 1971. His father, Robert, had a varied career, but primarily built oil rigs for Laing, the construction firm. His mother, Morag, a university graduate, was a teacher and behavioural specialist. Sir John Grant McKenzie Laws, a former Lord Justice of Appeal, is his uncle. All four of Cummings' grandparents served in World War II.
After attending state primary school, he was educated at Durham School and Exeter College, Oxford, where he studied under Norman Stone, graduating in 1994 with a First in Ancient and Modern History. One of his professors has described him as “fizzing with ideas, unconvinced by any received set of views about anything.” He was “something like a Robespierre – someone determined to bring down things that don’t work”. Also in his youth he worked at Klute, a nightclub owned by his uncle in Durham.
After university, Cummings moved to post-Soviet Russia from 1994 to 1997, working on various projects. In one Russian venture, he worked for a group attempting to set up an airline connecting Samara in southern Russia to Vienna.
From 1999 to 2002, Cummings was campaign director at Business for Sterling, the campaign against the UK joining the Euro. He then became Director of Strategy for Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith for eight months in 2002, aiming to modernise the Conservative Party (of which he was not a member); however he soon left in frustration at the introduction of what he saw as half-measures, labelling Duncan Smith "incompetent". With James Frayne he founded the New Frontiers Foundation think-tank as its director; it launched in December 2003 and closed in March 2005. Cummings was described as a "key figure" in the successful campaign against a North-East Regional Assembly in 2004, after which he moved to his father's farm in County Durham.
Cummings worked for Conservative politician Michael Gove from 2007 to January 2014, first in opposition and then, after the 2010 general election, as a special adviser (spad) in the Department for Education (DfE). He was Gove's chief of staff, an appointment blocked by Andy Coulson until his own resignation. In this capacity, Cummings wrote an essay titled "Some thoughts on education and political priorities", about transforming Britain into a "meritocratic technopolis"; the essay was described by Guardian journalist Patrick Wintour as "either mad, bad or brilliant – and probably a bit of all three".
At the DfE Cummings became known for his blunt style and "not suffering fools gladly"; he railed against the "blob", the informal alliance of senior civil servants and teachers who, in Cummings's opinion, sought to frustrate his attempts at reform. Cummings was also outspoken regarding other senior politicians, describing Nick Clegg's proposals on free school meals as "Dreamed up on the back of a cigarette packet", and David Davis as "thick as mince" and "lazy as a toad". Patrick Wintour described the Cummings-Gove working relationship: "Gove, polite to a fault, would often feign ignorance of his adviser’s methods, but knew full well the dark arts that Cummings deployed to get his master’s way". In 2014, Prime Minister David Cameron described Cummings as a "career psychopath", although the two had never met.
During his time as an official working for Gove, Cummings received a warning from the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) for use of private Gmail accounts to deal with government business, saying it should be 'actively discouraged'. The ICO uncovered an email from Cummings in which he said: 'i will not answer any further emails to my official DfE account or from conservatives.com – i will only answer things that come from Gmail accounts from people who I know who they are' [sic].
In 2014, Cummings left his job as a special adviser and noted that he might have a go at opening a free school. He had previously worked for the New Schools Network charity that advises free schools, as a volunteer from June 2009 and then as a paid freelancer from July to December 2010.
Campaign to leave the European Union (2015–2019)
Cummings became campaign director of Vote Leave upon the creation of the organisation in October 2015. He is credited with having created the Vote Leave slogan, "Take back control", and with being the leading strategist of the campaign. His campaign strategy was summarised as: "Do talk about immigration"; "Do talk about business"; "Don’t make the referendum final"; "Do keep mentioning the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the over-reach of the European Union's Court of Justice". Board member of Vote Leave Bernard Jenkin tried to remove Cummings and merge Vote Leave with the other campaign, Leave.EU. Cummings and Vote Leave CEO Matthew Elliott left the board in February 2016 following reported infighting. The June 2016 referendum resulted in a 51.9% vote to "leave" the European Union. Cummings was praised alongside Elliott as being one of the masterminds of the campaign. He was named as one of "Debrett's 500 2016" people of influence.
He advised Babylon Health on its communications strategy and senior recruitment up to September 2018. Jon Ashworth said the links between Cummings, the health secretary and Babylon were “increasingly murky and highly irresponsible”.
In March 2019, the Commons Select Committee of Privileges recommended the House issue an admonishment for contempt of Parliament after Cummings failed to appear before the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee inquiry into claims of false news during the referendum campaign. The resolution admonishing him was passed by resolution of the House of Commons on 2 April 2019.
Senior adviser to Boris Johnson (2019–present)
On 24 July 2019, Cummings was appointed as a senior adviser to Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
On his appointment, The Guardian noted that at a conference in 2017 Cummings had argued that: "People think, and by the way I think most people are right: 'The Tory party is run by people who basically don't care about people like me'"; and that "Tory MPs largely do not care about these poorer people. They don't care about the NHS. And the public has kind of cottoned on to that".
The Daily Telegraph reported on Cummings's past rivalry with Nigel Farage from the 2016 referendum campaign, and quoted Farage as saying that: "He has never liked me. He can't stand the ERG. I can't see him coming to any accommodation with anyone. He has huge personal enmity with the true believers in Brexit".
Cummings was accused of hypocrisy when, not long after his appointment, it was revealed that a farm that he co-owns had received €250,000 (£235,000) in EU farming subsidies. Cummings had previously described such subsidies as "absurd", complaining that some of them were handed out to "very rich landowners to do stupid things".
On 31 August 2019, The Guardian reported that Cummings had fired one of Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid's aides, Sonia Khan, without Javid's permission and without informing him. Allegedly, "Having summoned her to No 10 on Thursday evening to question her, Cummings took her two phones, one used for private calls and one for work, and fired her after seeing she had talked to an ex-aide to Philip Hammond the previous week. Cummings then went outside No 10 and asked an armed officer to enter the building and escort Khan off the premises." The following month, The Times reported that Cummings had "seized new powers to sack ministers' advisers", as their new employment contracts stipulated that responsibility for disciplinary matters rested with the Prime Minister's Chief of Staff as well as with their respective ministers.
In November 2019, a whistleblower raised questions about Cummings' interactions during his years in Russia; The Sunday Times reported that Whitehall was keeping certain government business from Cummings.
According to Politico, Cummings played a role in the Conservative Party's victory in the 2019 general election, despite having passed the party's running of the election campaign to Isaac Levido. After the election, in what was described as an "unusual move", Cummings called for people interested in working in government to contact him through a private Gmail address. In a blog post, he said he wanted to recruit data scientists, software developers and economists to help improve the performance of government, making his own role "within a year largely redundant".
In January 2016, five months prior to the 2016 European Union referendum in the United Kingdom, Cummings said:
"Extremists are on the rise in Europe and are being fuelled unfortunately by the Euro project and by the centralisation of power in Brussels. It is increasingly important that Britain offers an example of civilised, democratic, liberal self-government"
At an Ogilvy conference in 2017, Cummings stated his belief that the EU, rather than solving issues, was fuelling radical and extremism due to a perceived lack of control over issues such as economy and immigration:
"For me ... the worst-case scenario for Europe is a return to 1930s-style protectionism and extremism. And to me the EU project, the Eurozone project, are driving the growth of extremism. The single most important reason, really, for why I wanted to get out of the EU is I think that it will drain the poison of a lot of political debates ... UKIP and Nigel Farage would be finished. Once there’s democratic control of immigration policy, immigration will go back to being a second- or third-order issue."
Cummings has been highly vocal over what he believes is a London-centric political system that failed to countenance the United Kingdom’s voting to leave the European Union. In December 2019 following the General Election, which returned an 80-seat Conservative majority, he stated:
"After the shock of the referendum, MPs and journalists should have taken a breath and had a lot of self-reflection [on] why they misunderstood what was going on in the country. Instead a lot of people just doubled down on their own ideas and f***ed it up even more. That’s why something like this happens against expectations."
He has expressed his dismay that many voters' concerns, particularly in Northern England and the Midlands, have been ignored by both the Conservatives and Labour and 'taken for granted'. He criticised New Labour's attempt at re-balancing inherent structural deficiencies within the British economy following de-industrialisation with a system of tax credits.
Cummings has claimed to have never been a member of a political party. Despite this, he was second in a list by LBC of the 'Top 100 Most Influential Conservatives of 2019'.
In December 2011, Cummings married Mary Wakefield, who became the commissioning editor of The Spectator, and is the daughter of Sir Humphry Wakefield, of Chillingham Castle in Northumberland. In 2016, they had a son.
Cummings is reportedly an admirer of Otto von Bismarck, Richard Feynman, Sun Tzu, and U.S. fighter pilot and military strategist John Boyd. Journalist Owen Bennett claimed that Cummings "is a Russophile, speaks Russian, and is passionately interested in Dostoyevsky" while Patrick Wintour in The Guardian reported that "Anna Karenina, maths and Bismarck are his three obsessions."
Depiction in fiction
Cummings was portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch in the 2019 Channel 4 drama Brexit: The Uncivil War.
Cummings is registered as a director of the non-trading company Klute Ltd, which formerly owned the Klute nightclub in Durham, and Dynamic Maps Ltd, an information technology consultancy. He runs another company called North Wood that "tries to solve problems" related to management, politics and communications.