British PM’s aide divides, but will he conquer?

By Jill Lawless

LONDON (AP) – To some, he’s a strategic genius. Others call him a mayhem-loving anarchist. Everyone seems to have an opinion about Dominic Cummings. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s most powerful aide – dubbed “Boris’ brain” by some – is an enigmatic backstage operator who shuns media attention, yet has been played onscreen by “Sherlock” star Benedict Cumberbatch.

Since taking office two months ago, Johnson has made a series of bold moves: Promising Brexit “do or die,” dealing ruthlessly with party rebels and controversially suspending Parliament. Many see Cummings’ hand at work in the strategy, which has left Westminster shaken and the governing Conservatives divided.

Former Conservative Prime Minister John Major – not a fan – called Cummings a “political anarchist . who cares not a fig for the future of the party I have served.”

“We have seen over-mighty advisers before. It is a familiar script. It always ends badly,” Major told a business dinner on September 5. “I offer the prime minister some friendly advice: get rid of these advisers before they poison the political atmosphere beyond repair. And do it quickly.”

Cummings, 47, is used to being a divisive figure. He grew up in the northern England city of Durham, where – unfashionably for a northern kid in the 1980s – he was a fan of right-wing Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Dominic Cummings, top adviser to the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, walks towards Downing Street in London. PHOTO: AP

He studied history at Oxford University, where classmate Lebby Eyres remembered him in the Daily Telegraph as “a loner” with “a love of argumentative conversation,” keen on chess and the geopolitics board game Risk.

After university he spent three years in Russia, where he was involved in a failed attempt to set up an airline, before getting involved in British politics.

He worked for Business for Sterling, a group that opposed Britain joining the euro single currency, advised then-Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith and worked for the Department for Education amid a contentious attempt to radically reshape the school curriculum.

Cummings likes big ideas, and for years has explored them in a series of long blogposts discussing everything from game theory to the ancient Chinese general Sun Tzu. He is a particular fan of the military strategy known as the “OODA loop”- “Observe-orient-decide-act” – as a way of deceiving and defeating opposition.

In late 2015, Cummings was hired to help run the “leave” campaign in the following year’s European Union membership referendum. He later said that at the beginning, the Vote Leave campaign amounted to “me and a bike and an iPhone.”