Dominic Cummings: The unelected official with enormous power in Downing Street

James Morris
Senior news reporter, Yahoo News UK
Dominic Cummings is Boris Johnson's most senior adviser (Getty)

Sajid Javid has stunned Westminster by resigning as chancellor.

Javid quit rather than obey Boris Johnson’s demand to fire his aides, something understood to have been driven by Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s senior adviser.

So, what does Javid’s resignation tell us about Cummings’ power in Number 10?

Yahoo News UK – with the help of Tim Bale, a leading politics professor from London’s Queen Mary University – explains all…

First of all, how did Cummings get in this position?

He was appointed as special adviser by Johnson as soon as he became PM in July last year.

Cummings had previously worked with Johnson when he led the successful Vote Leave campaign in the 2016 referendum.

Before that, he was special adviser to education secretary Michael Gove, much to the angst of David Cameron, who described Cummings as a “career psychopath”.

What do we know of his personality?

Cummings has cultivated a Machiavellian image since entering Number 10, to the extent that he is probably talked about in Westminster circles more than any elected cabinet ministers.

Eccentricities include his unconventional office wear...

Dominic Cummings in Downing Street (PA)

...a blog post in which he appealed for “weirdos and misfits” to apply for jobs in Downing Street, and answering a reporter’s HS2 questions with PJ Masks quotes.

Why do people need to know who he is?

“Because he is extremely influential over Johnson,” Prof Bale says. “He was the man who many credit with Leave winning in 2016 and with the strategy Johnson has pursued since taking over as PM.

“He is someone who believes the institution of British government is dysfunctional, hasn’t caught up with the 21st century, and needs reform.

Dominic Cummings and Boris Johnson in Downing Street in October last year (AP)

“He believes Number 10 should have more control over the ministries that make up government, which means more control over ministers themselves and their special advisers.”

Have Cummings and Javid clashed in the past?

Yes. There had been long-standing rumours of a power struggle between the pair, dating back to August when Javid’s aide, Sonia Khan, was sacked and marched out of Downing Street.

Has Cummings’ power grown with Javid’s resignation?

Yes, according to Prof Bale, who says: “It does suggest Dominic Cummings’ vision of a centrally directed government machine seems to have persuaded Johnson.”

Read more: John McDonnell brands new chancellor 'Dominic Cummings' stooge'

But he adds: “Johnson has an incredibly important year of [Brexit transition period] negotiations and can’t afford to have a chancellor who he doesn’t see eye-to-eye with.”

Dominic Cummings headed up the Leave campaign (Getty)

Will anyone in government now dare to stand up to Cummings?

“There’s always an extent to which politicians are jealous of non-politicians who appear to have the ear of the PM,” Prof Bale laughs.

“They may feel, as secretaries of state, they have more right to be listened to, and to act independently.

Read more: Labour's Angela Rayner tells sacked Tory ministers to stop 'moaning'

“But any ministers looking at this would have to say, for the moment, Dominic Cummings and his vision of government seems to be winning over Johnson. They will need to think twice before pushing things too far.”

Does Mr Cummings now have equal power to Johnson?

“No,” Prof Bale says. “Ultimately, it’s the pleasure of the PM to appoint an advisor. Cummings can’t sack him, but he could always sack Cummings.”