Brexit, Boris the Narcissist Clown and “Career Psychopath” Dominic Cummings


Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings, in an image produced for the Daily Telegraph.

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It’s now two weeks since 92,153 members of the Conservative Party voted for Boris Johnson to be the new Party leader — and Britain’s new Prime Minister. 

Johnson, in case you’ve just landed on earth from outer space, is an Etonian who pretends to play the buffoon (although behind it lurks a vile temper), and who, for eight dreadful years, was London’s Mayor, when he showed little or no interest in the actual requirements of the job, indulged in countless expensive vanity projects, and pandered shamefully to foreign investors with money. 

Johnson’s elevation to the leadership of the UK was greeted by his former editor at the Daily Telegraph, Max Hastings, with the most extraordinary put-down of his unsuitability to be PM in an article for the Guardian entitled, ‘I was Boris Johnson’s boss: he is utterly unfit to be prime minister.’

“[W]hile he is a brilliant entertainer”, Hastings wrote, “he is unfit for national office, because it seems he cares for no interest save his own fame and gratification.” He also observed that “[a]lmost the only people who think Johnson a nice guy are those who do not know him”, and added that Johnson “would not recognise truth, whether about his private or political life, if confronted by it in an identity parade.”

Instead, Hastings nails Johnson, “[l]ike many showy personalities”, as being “of weak character”, explaining how he is a coward — or, to my mind, more particularly, a narcissist — with “a willingness to tell any audience whatever he thinks most likely to please, heedless of the inevitability of its contradiction an hour later.”

In 21st century Britain, we have made a habit of electing — or having foisted on us — spectacularly bad Tory Prime Ministers. The first was David Cameron, who, propped up by the Liberal Democrats, embarked on a cynical austerity programme, using the global economic crash of 2008 as an excuse, that has cruelly and pointlessly savaged the living standards of millions of British people. 

In 2015, however, in an act of startling cowardice and hubris, he promised a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU to pacify the Eurosceptic wing of his own party, and also to try and stop the rise of the reptilian Nigel Farage and UKIP, failing to remember that one of the few pieces of advice that was Margaret Thatcher’s legacy was to sit on the box containing the Eurosceptics and to never, ever let them out. Tory Leavers presumably think that Thatcher was anti-EU, but in fact she was a huge supporter of our membership of the EU and the single market, and all her bluster and apparent antagonism towards the EU was designed to do exactly what it did — to secure more favourable deals for the UK. 

After Cameron’s hubris led to the EU referendum result, Theresa May was foisted on us — in part because even the Tory Party was appalled that Boris Johnson was so unprincipled that he had led the Leave campaign without even believing in it, thinking only that the Leave campaign would lose, but that having led it would be good for his long-term ambition to be Prime Minister. 

Throughout her three years as the country’s leader, May tried to fulfil the only requirement of the job after the referendum — to negotiate the UK’s departure from the EU via some sort of deal that didn’t completely destroy the British economy. 

However, this was an impossible task, because the only viable deal that isn’t suicidal involves not leaving the EU at all. 60 percent of our trade is with the EU, on a frictionless basis that is unlikely to survive any kind of departure, as business-busting tariffs will make British goods and services less attractive to EU countries than those from other member states, and we are tied to the rest of the EU by a web of laws and treaties that are far too complex to be wished away by fantasies about our illusory “sovereignty”, and a desire for some sort of bizarre isolation from the rest of the world.

Nevertheless, calling the whole thing off was never regarded by May as a viable option, even though the outcome of the referendum was only advisory, and not legally binding, and, in any case, referendums involving major constitutional change generally require at least a two-thirds majority. Fulfilling the “will of people” became an obsessional mantra for her, but even while she was trying to fulfil her impossible task, the Tory Leavers became increasingly hysterical, urged on by our dreadful right-wing media, and by the airtime given to members of the European Research Group, an anti-EU group of Tories whose chair, since January 2018, has been the implausible toff Jacob Rees-Mogg, who, like many other pro-Brexit Tories, is already profiting, via investments, from the damage caused to the pound by Brexit.

And so to the present, with Theresa May gone, and Boris Johnson now in the top job, having told the Leavers what they wanted to hear, and now enthusing about his determination to leave the EU on October 31, regardless of whether or not any kind of deal is in place. As I explained on the day he was elected by his Party, echoing Max Hasting’s assessment, above, “Because he has no leadership skills whatsoever, and constantly says to people what they want to hear, this treacherous chameleon, having sucked up to the geriatric, Europe-hating lunatic wing of the Tory Party to get elected by them, is now going to try to secure Britain’s exit from the EU without a deal, which may destroy his career, and the Tory Party, but which will also cripple the British economy at the same time.”

Meet Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s closest advisor and a “career psychopath”

It’s bad enough having a narcissist as Prime Minister, but what’s just as troubling is that Johnson has chosen, as his chief advisor, Dominic Cummings, the former campaign director of Vote Leave, who was famously described by David Cameron as a “career psychopath”, and it is this relationship that most particularly seems to vindicate Max Hastings’ suggestion that Johnson’s premiership “will almost certainly reveal a contempt for rules, precedent, order and stability.”

A powerful profile of Cummings on the Reaction website portrays him as a self-declared establishment “outsider”, a public school-educated Oxford history graduate with a kind of teenage contempt for the establishment that he is clearly part of (his wife is the aristocrat Mary Wakefield, the deputy editor of the Spectator).

As the article explains:

Cummings has long made his disdain for Whitehall technocrats, parliamentary politicians, and the civil service no secret. The system “keeps out great people”, it “hoards power to a small number of people who are increasingly crap.” He thinks the Eurosceptic right of the party are a “narcissist delusional subset.” He sees the Westminster machine as designed to attract incompetents who are focussed on their status and desire to get ahead, rather than people who get stuff done.

Cummings has a history of driving what would now be called “populist” campaigns. From 1999 to 2002, he was the campaign director at Business for Sterling, where he helped to defeat Gordon Brown’s efforts to get the UK to join the Euro, and in 2004, he led a successful campaign against Tony Blair’s proposal for a devolved North-East Regional Assembly. 

He also, as the Reaction article explains, “worked as Director of Strategy for Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith, before eventually quitting and labelling Duncan Smith as ‘incompetent’ – an insult he grew fond of over the succeeding years for the entire political class.”

After meeting Michael Gove through the anti-Euro campaign, he ended up joining him at the Department of Education in the coalition government led by David Cameron, where, as the Reaction article explains, “his hatred of private schooling, which he saw as propelling mediocrities into positions of great power and influence, acted as an impetus to revolutionise the system.”

At the Department of Education, “[w]hile trying to uproot the private system that allowed ‘incompetents’, as he would describe [them], to gain influence beyond their ability,” the Reaction article explains that “he transformed English schooling … expand[ing] the system of academies, run by private trusts and foundations”, but leaving behind “a flawed system.” He also drove efforts to make the UK into a “technopolis” whose primary focus was maths and science, even though that drive came at the expense of humanities and the arts, despite their massive contribution to British life. 

Eventually, Cummings alienated so many people that he left the Department of Education, but he then joined Vote Leave, where he and CEO Matthew Elliot “are credited with being the masterminds of the campaign that secured the narrow victory.” Cummings, notoriously, came up with the slogan ‘Take back control’, and the infamous NHS bus bearing the message, “We send the EU £350 million a week, let’s fund our NHS instead”, suggesting, implausibly, that the Tories, hell-bent on privatising the NHS, would actually spend money supporting it instead.

And so to his new role, in which he is is “deeply committed to taking the UK out of the EU, and by virtue of being effectively persuaded into Number 10 by Boris Johnson, has signed up to the government’s commitment of leaving 31st October, ‘do or die’, ‘deal or no deal.’”

However, his hatred for the political class — despite the evident hypocrisy of working for the Prime Minister — extends to the ERG and the Tory right, who he “cannot stand  – he thinks they are electoral obstacles, eurosceptic for all the wrong reasons, ‘difficult to work with’ and ‘self-serving.’”

Cummings is apparently “a genuine eurosceptic”, but “that scepticism is rooted in a desire to shift the structures of government. He sees the EU as a vice trapping the UK because those who run the show feel accountable to the higher powers in Brussels, not to their constituents. With no EU there are no higher structures for Whitehall to blame for their inability to change the state of the UK’s global position, and the state of the lives of those in the regions.”

And to achieve his aims, it seems, he “would happily see the party set on fire as a necessary casualty in accomplishing his evisceration and then rebuilding of the entire structures of government.”

The Reaction article concluded however that, “[a]t his core, Cummings is a fundamentally inconsistent character”; namely, “[a]n elite anti-elitist, who hates superficial careerists, shacked up with one of the most ambitious men ever to occupy number 10. He wants to be an outsider, but can’t claim he is while he holds the reigns of the highest power in the UK. He clearly wants to mark himself as different from the SW1 lot, but he has an office inside Number 10 Downing Street. He wants to make Britain into a maths and science focussed ‘technopolis’ but is trained as a historian. The real fear is that this eschewal of norms and casual disdain for those around him could be hugely dangerous.”

The article added, “or it could produce an extraordinary political success”, but I don’t see that as a potential outcome. It is still abundantly clear that a hard Brexit cannot be anything but a disaster, and with Cummings in such an influential position, Boris Johnson not only risks alienating the traditional Eurosceptics — those deluded champions of the UK’s illusory significance like would-be hardman Steve Baker and the fatuous Mark Francois — but is also actively enraging Remainers, or, as we used to call them, the Tory establishment.

As for what happens next, no one knows. MPs, lazy as ever, are on holiday (“recess”), when they should be back responding to a national emergency. Options for when they do finally sluggishly get back to work at the start of September include holding a no-confidence vote on Johnson’s premiership, leading to a general election before the October 31 Brexit deadline, although Cummings’ greatest contribution to enraging pro-EU figures like Dominic Grieve has been to suggest that Johnson was entitled to ignore the result of a confidence vote and to call a general election that would be held after Britain leaves the EU, leading to Grieve suggesting that, if that scenario were to proceed, the Queen might have to sack him, but, as is typical of Brexit-related constitutional issues, opinion is divided as to whether this is possible. 

What is clear, however, is that the UK’s mission to become a global laughing stock continues relentlessly, thanks to the Conservative Party members who, as Max Hastings described it, have “foist[ed] a tasteless joke upon the British people”, a self-serving clown who, in turn, has hired an untrustworthy establishment “rebel” to finally drive the UK off a cliff in an unprecedented act of national suicide.

* * * * *

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (click on the following for Amazon in the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US), and for his photo project ‘The State of London’ he publishes a photo a day from seven years of bike rides around the 120 postcodes of the capital.

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of a new documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June 2017 that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London. For two months, from August to October 2018, he was part of the occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, to prevent its destruction — and that of 16 structurally sound council flats next door — by Lewisham Council and Peabody. Although the garden was violently evicted by bailiffs on October 29, 2018, and the trees were cut down on February 27, 2019, the resistance continues.

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, The Complete Guantánamo Files, the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

28 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article – my first about Boris Johnson since he became the almost unspeakably unsuitable Prime Minister of the UK, elected by just 92,000 members of the Tory Party. I look at his chronic narcissism, his laziness, his poor track record as London’s Mayor, and his inability to be a coherent leader, and I also profile his chief advisor, the alarming maverick Dominic Cummings, formerly the campaign director of Vote Leave, and described by David Cameron as a “serial psychopath”, who is enthusiastically promising to deliver a “no-deal” Brexit by October 31 – in his case, to fulfil some warped dream of destroying the entire British political establishment.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Glenn Rikowski wrote:

    Thanks for this Andy.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    You’re welcome, Glenn. Thanks for your interest.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Ann Alexander wrote:

    Great article Andy. Thanks.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    You’re welcome, Ann. Glad you liked it.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    David Knopfler wrote:

    Good piece. I think Cummings is maybe a bit less difficult to fathom if you think that like Steve Bannon he wants to tear it all down. The word we used to be less coy about using for anti-democratic white nationalists looking to destroy democracy, was fascist not alt-right. He is on the record as saying he regards leave supporting Tory MPs as “useful idiots.” He’s paving the way for a pretender like Farage.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    I don’t think there’s any love lost between Cummings and Farage, David. Cummings seems to regard Farage as being as useless as all the other politicians he criticises, and he also doesn’t strike me as a racist; instead, he seems to be obsessed with destroying the existing power structures without really knowing what will replace them, rather like a petulant teenager.
    Here’s Simon Heffer in the New Statesman on Farage and Cummings:

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    David Knopfler wrote:

    Andy It’s only my opinion but folk on the far right hell bent on tearing down a democracy, even one as deeply flawed as ours usually have a pretty good idea what they’d like to replace it with and it usually ends up as memos to firms like Mercedes to please send trucks with stronger back axles for when the zyclonB is tossed into them.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    I know what you mean, David, but I remain more worried in general by Farage and UKIP/the Brexit Party, as their racism is so blatant and troubling – and if Brexit goes ahead I’d expect them to be pushing for forced repatriations. However, I also obviously don’t trust Johnson or anyone associated with him to be able to demonstrate entry-level values of humanity either, even if they generally appear to be more obviously concerned with political power than with the elimination of the “other.” That said, if their hard Brexit somehow becomes real, and we’re instantly plunged into martial law and curfews, who knows how easily that could descend into something particularly grotesque.
    It’s frankly unbelievable that we’re having to contemplate any of this. When the first internal report was leaked warning of food shortages and civil unrest, that really ought to have been when some grown-ups called off the whole Brexit nightmare, but the few grown-ups there are in the House of Commons have all been sidelined, and now we’re genuinely just 12 weeks away from possibly having the army out on the streets. It ought to be preposterous, but instead it’s the howling face of Broken Brexit Britain, self-harming and determined to burn the house down.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Pauline Frederica Kieran wrote:

    Excellent, Andy. Have you seen this? I agree that Cummings is the most dangerous man in Britain now.
    ‘ANDREW ADONIS: Dominic Cummings is intent on jeopardising our entire political system’:

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    As the great driver of the proposed destruction of council estates, I have no love for Adonis, Pauline, but in Brexit Britain strange alliances exist. I would never have thought that I’d be cheering on Michael Heseltine, Thatcher’s attack dog, who personally led the army at the eviction of Molesworth peace camp in February 1985, which then led to the Battle of the Beanfield four months later, but such is the state of Britain today that Heseltine is now a voice of reason.
    I can clearly see Cummings as one of those opinionated, contrarian little public school pr*cks that I’m sure you remember from Oxford, as I do, but his influence isn’t theoretical, as the success of Vote Leave demonstrated. What’s perhaps most troubling – beyond the love of Bismarck and the reminder of his dreadful role in Michael Gove’s Department of Education – is Patrick Wintour noting in a Guardian article last week that Cummings worked hard to exploit social media as part of Vote Leave’s success. Wintour writes, “He brought in physicists to help Vote Leave properly crunch data. Such people will be involved in his plan for any general election. He will via Vote Leave have a huge bank of very helpful data of how people said they would vote in the referendum and how they did vote and therefore how they could behave in the next general election.”

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Mark C Lord wrote:

    Points well made (again) that it was an advisory vote in the first place, didn’t carry a 2 thirds majority as would be usually needed for the motion to pass and that ultimately all Boris ever wanted was to get to no 10. What stood out about Cummings here is that he wants to share more power/investments out of London, but stood against a move to do that in the north east. Seems unclear to me what he wants, other than to cause trouble, but I can’t figure to what end or why.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Good to hear from you, Mark. Yes, Cummings appears to be a kind of existential troublemaker, more in love with the idea of disruption than with clarifying what he thinks should replace what he hopes to break. It seems very immature to me, and reminds me of the arrogance and immaturity of the Silicon Valley tech entrepreneurs – “Move fast and break things.” And then what?

  14. Anna says...

    Yes, the growing influence of AI in elections and generally in social media is very frightening indeed, starting with Steve Bannon and Cambridge Analytica and ending heaven knows where.
    As for the Brexit tragedy, the arguments of regaining sovereignty etc frankly remind me of a very basic syndrome in human society, that of the potential friction between the individual and the group, which can be seen particularly clearly in nomad minorities. As they are permanently threatened not just by human oppression but also by their often harsh natural surroundings, such as deserts, they understand that in order to survive they must stick together. The rights & priorities of the group come before those of every individual. It has its drawbacks,such as less personal freedom, limited ‘sovereignty’ and many responsibilities towards the group. But those who criticise such social structures and want to break out of them at all cost, usually overlook their advantages. In dire times the individual can count on other members or even the entire group to support him, he won’t have to fight major adversities alone. Supposedly ‘primitive’ societies who never went to university to study sociology understand the necessity of this balance, Brexiteers seem to forget that while being a member of the EU society of countries sometimes indeed means being restricted and feeling frustrated by it, that membership also provides a security in times of danger, crucial support when you most need it.
    If the group’s rules are at times impractical or even ridiculous, try to loosen them rather than renouncing the group altogether. If Britain now would Breturn, the EU’s relief no doubt would be so big, that they would be willing to make some concessions. Which in addition would benefit other member states too. But then we all know that there is no logic here or striving for any ‘common good’ for the nation, just pure, selfish party politics at best and pure private selfish careers at worst. For those they’re ready to sacrify the wellbeing and even basic livelihoods of millions of their compatriots. Unbelievable. Maybe it is time the Queen shook her fist but she probably also invested in the right (off-shore) stocks…

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    I think the biggest problem, Anna, is that the tribal group the majority of Brexiteers are identifying with involves a fictional notion of the UK – or England – rather than the reality of the EU. It’s incredibly frustrating to try to deal with precisely because it’s a fantasy. Imagine we get the hard Brexit, and a destroyed economy as a result. They still won’t be happy, because what they want is some illusory past, of full employment, and no immigrants, forgetting that our lives now, for better or worse, are quite fundamentally international, in terms of almost every aspect of our material lives.

  16. Damo says...

    You’d have thought that after 9 years of the tories doing whatever they please that people would have had enough the tories have shown their utter contempt for the population by installing this freak into no 10, no 10 downing Street doesn’t mean anything anymore I’m amazed that these torie mps aren’t being dragged out in the street and hanged.. Brexit will destroy this economy.. It’s just so unfair

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, it’s endlessly infuriating, isn’t it, Damo, how so many people vote Tory regardless of how useless and/or damaging their policies are – and, of course, how infuriating it also is that we have such a poor mainstream media – either outright right-wingers or supposedly liberal or centrist outlets that, nevertheless, give far too much time and space for right-wingers to promote their increasingly dangerous and unhinged views.

  18. Damo says...

    Reading about the repulsive obese Crispin odey who makes his money betting on company’s collapsing in a no Deal brexit.. He’s one of the tories main backers and a close friend of Boris their now spending public money on spin about a no Deal brexit.. It’s all a game it’s all playing it’s all betting like it’s a sweep stake at the grand national.. It’s people’s lives their livelihoods their homes the future.. They are fucking everybody up and over.. And people sit there supporting them and the thing that’s pitiful and tragic is a lot of support for a no Deal comes from people who have nothing and will loose everything and there’s no telling them otherwise

  19. Damo says...

    Wouldn’t it be refreshing to have something positive to say about all of this but there is nothing positive to say about any of it do we put our heads in the sand and completely ignore and hope it will all go away I was reading that people are hoarding food and medicine it’s only when people are hungry that they will end this government

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    Crispin Odey is a slimeball I hadn’t come across before, Damo. It’s so disgraceful that part of what’s driving Brexit on the Tories’ part is personal profit, as though the whole thing is a game, as you say. Surely profiting off the demise of you own nation ought to be some form of treason, shouldn’t it?

  21. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, I’d heard about hoarding taking place too, Damo: “Research suggests one in five people have a food, drinks and medicine hoard worth £380”, according to the Press Association:
    Meanwhile, MPs are still on holiday, as though it was all business as usual. It’s pathetic, really.

  22. Damo says...

    I think after the banking crash then almost 10 years of unessasery torie austerity were all feeling exhausted, frazzled and growned down the corrupt tories blairites and mercenary corporate cannibals have eaten us and everything alive they won osbournes divide and conquer has been a success.. The only thing he’s ever got right.. This government should literally be being physically removed from power before they do any more harm.. What else is there left to say that hasent already been said what more warnings can be given.. Except brace for impact

  23. Andy Worthington says...

    “Brace for impact” indeed, Damo. Although I note that talk of an emergency coalition government continues, so maybe all is not lost:

  24. Anna says...

    Dear Andy and other Brits, my sincere condolences with the murderous attack on your democracy by an infantile, unscrupulous, a-moral, autocratic, ridiculous little dictator. And having a Queen who chooses to support the sorry idiot.
    Entitlement blindly supporting entitlement.
    Time to get rid of that royal bunch too…

  25. Anna says...

    Forgot to add ‘self-serving, smug, arrogant, disgusting, unreliable, lying, conniving, abominable, despicable’ and several other ones.
    Could probably list appropriate adjectives beginning with every single letter in the alphabet and still not run out of options.
    Tusk’s ‘special place in hell’ for those who inspired this mess may soon run out of space to accommodate all of them.

  26. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for your sympathy, Anna. It’s genuinely quite a shocking situation here in the UK tonight.
    There’s a huge protest outside Parliament, and I’m hoping it becomes permanent. I’m planning to get down there tomorrow.
    Report here:

  27. Anna says...

    Suppose you’ve seen the petition which already garnered more than a million signatures in half a day :
    Like with the previous one, I don’t understand why there is so little support for it in Northern Ireland, which I seem to remember was against Brexit and stands to not only lose out like the rest of Britain but to slide back into war in addition.
    Why don’t they react?
    Not that I expect it to have any impact, but it’s good to know that one is not alone feeling miserable. Wonder how many millions it would need to have any impact on political decisions?

  28. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, it currently has 1,071,970 signatures, Anna, and may well reach millions – but it won’t make any difference to Boris Johnson, just like it didn’t do to Theresa May. Either the House of Commons finds a way to take Boris Johnson down, or the people need to make their voices heard like never before.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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