*** DEBUG END ***

Mark DArcy: Cummings is Johnson’s Cromwell  

23 August 2019

He is embedding a new a new Brexit Establishment, says Mark D’Arcy


Dominic Cummings in Downing Street

Dominic Cummings in Downing Street

WHEN the hardened Whitehall warrior Sir Nicholas Macpherson compared the Prime Minister’s senior adviser (and de facto chief of staff) Dominic Cummings to Henry VIII’s formidable minister Thomas Cromwell, the former Treasury mandarin was thinking of Cromwell’s brutal end, beheaded when his master turned against him.

He wrote on Twitter: “My main advice to public servants, whether political or official, is to avoid self-promotion and believing your own myth. Otherwise it tends to end badly #thomascromwell.”

But the comparison could go deeper. Political leaders, whether Tudor monarchs or 21st-century prime ministers, have always surrounded themselves with courtier-fixers. The press are invariably fascinated by them — think Nick Timothy in the May era, Alastair Campbell under Tony Blair, or, for those with longer memories, Charles Powell or Bernard Donoghue, in the Thatcher and Wilson years.

They tend to be seen as secondary figures, consigliere rather than godfather, but, every now and then, they can divert the course of history . . . and Cromwell was probably the greatest example. As the Revd Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch’s majestic biography argues (Books, 28 September 2018), the qualities that the King valued in Cromwell — administrative brilliance and political ruthlessness — allowed him to dissolve the monasteries, bringing untold wealth to the Crown. Meanwhile, he quietly used his power to shape the English Reformation into a much more Evangelical form than Henry probably envisaged (Features, 2 August).

The point is that that fixers can have agendas that go beyond their masters’. Cromwell had allies, notably Archbishop Cranmer, and helped many of them to positions of power. Five hundred years on, Mr Cummings’s former patron, Michael Gove, now presides in the Cabinet Office, the engine room of Whitehall. Next door, Matthew Elliot, his colleague from Vote Leave, the campaign that Mr Cummings led to victory in the EU referendum, is a special adviser in the Treasury. A willingness to embrace a no-deal exit on 31 October has become the litmus test for ministerial office, and Vote Leave alumni throng Downing Street.

What we are seeing is the entrenchment of a new Brexit Establishment, which may embed at least some of the Cummings analysis and approach in the Government and a reshaped Conservative Party, even if his tenure in Downing Street is just a fraction of Cromwell’s decade at the epicentre of Tudor power.

Any reading of Mr Cummings’s extensive blogging reveals his contempt for conventional politics, and those “courtier-fixers” who live by its methods — one essay on them is entitled “The Hollow Men”. In his polemics, they are experts without expertise, locked into hopelessly inadequate institutions, endlessly repeating the same mistakes with undented confidence.

He believes that there are enormous gains to be reaped by a State that masters a “systems approach to delivery, where public policy is informed by big data and delivered by high functioning teams of super-smart visionaries”.

And, while delivering Brexit will of itself be a gigantic undertaking, he wants it to be a mere overture to a transformative era — his real reformation, you might say — in which a genuinely competent government can solve the problems facing a fragile civilisation. Blimey.

The word ambitious hardly begins to capture the sweep of Mr Cummings’s vision. He may have been hired to steer the Johnson government safely out of the political quagmire around Brexit, just as Cromwell provided answers to Henry VIII’s marital entanglements — but, for him, Brexit is just the beginning.

Mark D’Arcy is the Parliamentary Correspondent for BBC News.

Paul Vallely is away.

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Letters to the editor

Letters for publication should be sent to letters@churchtimes.co.uk.

Letters should be exclusive to the Church Times, and include a full postal address. Your name and address will appear below your letter unless requested otherwise.

Forthcoming Events

Green Church Awards

Closing date: 30 June 2024

Read more details about the awards


Festival of Preaching

15-17 September 2024

The festival moves to Cambridge along with a sparkling selection of expert speakers

tickets available



Festival of Faith and Literature

28 February - 2 March 2025

The festival programme is soon to be announced sign up to our newsletter to stay informed about all festival news.

Festival website


ViSIt our Events page for upcoming and past events 

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)