Dominic Cummings has developed a somewhat unsavoury reputation since taking over as Boris Johnson’s senior aide. But his nefarious influence over the machinations of No 10 stretches back much further, David Cameron claims in his forthcoming memoir.
Extracts printed in Saturday’s Times reveal that, in 2013, Cameron suspected a “bilious” Cummings of “dripping his poison” into the ear of Michael Gove, even though he was no longer serving as a special adviser to the then education secretary.
The resulting episode led Cameron to warn Gove about the perils of becoming “a wanker”, the former prime minister writes.
In the extracts, he explains that he had convinced Gove to take a job as chief whip, fearing that his poor reputation among teachers was putting the government’s programme of education reforms at risk. Gove had expressed an interest in the role, had indicated a willingness to take it, having been sounded out, and had even started his work.
But a bump appeared in the road. “Michael emailed to say he had changed his mind. What had happened? I smelt Dominic Cummings, and totally flipped.” Cameron said that he rang Gove, telling him that he had agreed to the job, must withdraw his email and that he wanted him to take on the role as part of a reshuffle.
The Times extract continues: “I followed this with a text: ‘You must realise that I divide the world into team players and wankers. You’ve always been a team player. Please don’t become a wanker’.” Gove went on to serve as chief whip for almost a year.
The reshuffle was partially precipitated by a remarkable spat between Gove’s Department for Education and the Home Office, then run by Theresa May. Gove was suspected of briefing against the latter, while it was suspected of leaking documents to publicly undermine him.
And, the Times extracts reveal, Cameron suspected others close to Gove of having a malign influence. “Dominic Cummings was still in the business of bilious briefing to the papers. Having left government in 2013, he could now put his name to his insults. I knew he was still dripping his poison into Michael’s ear as well.”
Other episodes covered in the extracts include Cameron’s time at boarding school, both at Eton, where he smoked cannabis, and earlier at Heatherdown, where he was sent as a seven-year-old and said he was frequently beaten. They also cover his pride at introducing gay marriage and his efforts to promote a no-fly zone to help anti-Gaddafi rebels in Libya.
The serialisation will continue in the Sunday Times.