Dominic Cummings’ push to decide who works in the Special Adviser tier across government and his desire to lash the Treasury to No. 10 has led to one of the biggest reshuffle upsets in living memory.
Dominic Cummings wanted to get rid of Sajid Javid for some time. It looked like he had lost that war and Whitehall sources were briefing overnight that Mr Javid would keep his job. But Dominic Cummings’ push to decide who works in the Special Adviser tier across government and his desire to lash the Treasury to No. 10 has led to one of the biggest reshuffle upsets in living memory.
Dominic Cummings and his allies wanted a Treasury relationship with No. 10 that was very distant from the Brown/Blair (2 centres of power) model. In an hour long chat this morning with Sajid Javid, the Prime Minister insisted that what he had in mind was the Osborne/Cameron (equals) model. But George Osborne had his own advisers who were very much his choices for the job. No. 10 did not crawl all over George Osborne’s Budgets before they were formed. I’m told that Mr Javid came away from No. 10 with the impression they had a very different relationship in mind, more servant/master.
Even without the many disagreements there have been while Sajid Javid has been at the Treasury (is he giving a speech or not, what are the current Spending controls, who should run the Bank of England and many more), there has been a hostility to the Treasury in Dominic Cummings’ mind for a long time. The Treasury was portrayed as the enemy in the Vote Leave camp in 2016 and in the years after that they and their offspring around Whitehall were blamed for softening Brexit beyond recognition.
As recently as the HS2 announcement in the Commons on Tuesday, Boris Johnson mentioned how the Treasury was forever against the best and most worthwhile projects when they were in their early phases.
The very fact Sajid Javid’s conversation happened in No. 10 not in the Prime Minister’s Commons office tells you this wasn’t meant to happen like this. In the Commons office, those who were meant to go were asked in one by one for chats with the PM. He sat with his adviser Ed Lister and the Chief Whip and two others on one side of the meeting room table. One he sacked said he was on “great form,” effusively thanking them for their role in his government but repeatedly saying “we need to make changes.” One other line this ex-minister recalls hearing was: “”We’ll look after you.”
Sajid Javid’s meeting wasn’t in that conveyor belt of gloom but in No. 10 itself. Did Dominic Cummings always secretly hope that he could jettison the Chancellor at this late hour or just chasten and reduce him? For his part, the PM persisted for one hour trying to persuade Mr Javid to stay in his job. Mr Javid decided he would not have credibility if he did it on the terms offered.
No. 10 has asserted control but risks looking chaotic. It has a new Chancellor with weeks left to draft a Budget at a critical juncture in the nation’s history.
Is it now a government that will spend more than it would have done under Sajid Javid? Is it a government in which “challenge” is accepted? One who was sacked today said to me: “I’m free of the Downing Street Thought Control Police.”
When the reshuffle started, Dominic Cummings wasn’t getting the dramatic re-jig he truly wanted. He still hasn’t got the re-design of Whitehall he pondered but he has got a mighty scalp.
Will some reflect that the last few hours are not the way things should happen? In his blog, Dominic Cummings recently advertised for outside brains to join the government and make his brain redundant. But, to some, today looks like a centralising mission to entrench government by one brain alone. And it is a brain that has dark thoughts about much of the machinery of British politics: the parties, the officials, institutions like the judiciary and more besides.