Dominic Cummings: voice of the people?

Lauren E. White

Dominic Cummings – the man who invented “take back control”, the Vote Leave slogan associated by many with the negativity surrounding 2016’s EU referendum. It was a time of tension for the nation, none of which was helped by Cummings’ scarily pinpointed campaigns that targeted not just the minds of voters, but their hearts.

He has done something that politicians have been failing to do for years – understand the public.

You may think that Dominic Cummings, who is now a senior advisor to Boris Johnson, as morally questionable. You may think he has powers that disrupt democracy and play with people’s livelihoods like they’re a game of Monopoly. And you may be right. But, what we really shouldn’t do is disregard everything he has to say, and everything that he has done. Of course, he’s been absolutely out of order numerous times, but he has done something that politicians have been failing to do for years: understand the public.

When it comes to understanding the public, politicians have had trouble doing so ever since the expenses scandal. People are becoming less trusting of politicians, particularly in the north-east of England where people have been so let down by those in power that many have stopped believing in a better tomorrow. That’s why it’s no coincidence that Cummings, who comes from Durham himself, has managed to tap into public feeling. He grew up in a predominantly working-class city meaning he is aware of the belief amongst some of the public, that politicians don’t care about general population. 

The EU referendum was about taking control back from politicians

The EU referendum, if you really look at it, wasn’t so much about immigration as the media and ‘Remainers’ like to frame it – it was about taking back control. Not control from Europe necessarily, but from politicians themselves. David Cameron called the referendum on a whim, really. He never expected to lose – and his recent interviews show just that. Yet Cummings knew he’d win. Why? Because he dared to listen to people. Ordinary people.

Take Sunderland, for example. In the referendum, 61.3% of the vote was to leave the EU. In 2016, Sunderland had a net migration figure of 750. From June 2015 to 2016, the UK had a net migration figure of 336,000. So, the proportion of immigration in such a prominent ‘Leave’ area is miniscule, yet the passion for the cause of Brexit was strong. The referendum result was about more than immigration and that’s what we can learn from Dominic Cummings.

People in the north-east feel left behind by Westminster

Yes, it may have been hypocritical for him to leave his multi-million-pound home in London and encourage the media to talk to people who aren’t ‘rich Remainers’. But he has a point. And he knows it. So does his boss Boris Johnson.

People in the north-east feel left behind by Westminster and the south in general. That’s why plans for devolution in the north have been controversial, for some councils seen as a sign of the government leaving the north to solve their own problems; but for other councils it offers a chance to fix the wrongs of the Etonian saturated Whitehall. 

If the left is to succeed again, it must take note of how it has left the working people behind.

So, whether you’re left, right, centre, don’t just dismiss Dominic Cummings. He understands a lot of people, even if he is a megalomaniac. He knows that if any politician is to mask themselves as caring for the working people of this country, he will have a lot of people listening – and ultimately voting. 

And make no mistake: the left too can learn from what Cummings has tapped into. If the left is to succeed again, it must take note of how it has also left the working people behind. Harness the mindset that politicians are to blame and create a campaign that changes things before Dominic Cummings does. 

It’s a race against time if anyone wants to stop Dominic Cummings. But to win the race, it requires listening to someone we all find rather unsavoury ourselves.

Image: Free Images via Flickr.

2 thoughts on “Dominic Cummings: voice of the people?

  • No, who happened was not about listening at all.

    In 2010, our membership of the EU wasn’t even a headline issue in election manifestos. Cameron used the issue in 2015 to keep his own right wing in check (so he calculated, but the great fault of both sermon an Osborne was the propensity to go for short term tactical gain without seeing the longer term strategic issues it was creating down the’d have though the Scottish IndyRef would have given him pause for thought, but not. He’d learned nothing).

    Cummings was not about listening, it was about planting messages and exploiting them. “Take Back Control” was a case in point. This only works if you assume we weren’t in control. If you have a mainstream press like The Sun, Mail and Express and Telegraph banging on that line and forcing that message how, playing to that message does create a resonance. The Remain campaign never really had a cogent reply to that: in times of upheaval and trouble, continuity is never a good message – people are very suggestible to change, especially if it’s just vague enough, and difficult enough to pin down. I’m not sure “Vote Leave and get years of economic uncertainty, food shortages and job losses.” would have played quite as well. In the end, it’s a marketing push, fronted by a man who’s railing against “a metropolitan elite” of which he’s an actual member, what with his wife’s family connections and all.

    If it were not so tragic it would be funny.

    • (with apols for typos)

      “No, who happened was…” – >”No, what happened was…”
      “…both sermon an Osborne” -> “Cameron and Osborne”
      “and forcing that message how” -> “and forcing that message home”


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