In 2004, when I applied for a traineeship at The Guardian, they asked me to do a short interview with someone interesting. I didn’t get it. But he did turn out to be fairly interesting I suppose.
Spotty Teenager Takes on Europe
Shortly before the end of Iain Duncan Smith’s reign as party leader, Lord Tebbit decried the ‘spotty teenagers’ running the Conservatives.
The chief upstart – IDS’s 31-year-old head of strategy, Dominic Cummings. Cummings quit last autumn after only eight months, exasperated at the party’s reluctance to modernise.
“They refused structural changes to create a forum for policy, market research and medium-term planning,” says Cummings. “Its absence meant no agenda, no progress and IDS’s demise — ‘Strategy is simple, but not easy’.”
His nonchalant quoting of Napoleon is revealing. Cummings has spent his brief, meteoric career in frontline politics fending off the advances of European centralisation. The former head of the runaway-success ‘no-euro’ campaign is now running the new anti-euro think-tank New Frontiers Foundation with help from luminaries such as Bob Geldof.
Perhaps Cummings’ most controversial moment was his remark early in his role at Central Office that “the only thing less popular than the euro in this country is the Tory party”. This is typical of a figure who does not fit reductive political type casting. Cummings was reportedly best remembered at CCO for using the ladies’ bathroom.
When I ask him if Michael Howard’s party is fit to govern the country, he replies without hesitation that none of the parties are: “This country needs a constitutional revolution if it is to get serious. Clowns are running everything.”
Blair, a clown? “He’s been discredited,” says Cummings, “he’s admitted that he never asked about a piece of intelligence that he used as a basis for war and said made Saddam a threat to British lives. He’s just not interested in important details…and that’s no way to go about wars.” It is hard to disagree.
He is dismissive of the prospect of Brown too. “He could unite the party,” he admits. “But what is the point of the Left after 1989?…Collectivism lost the seventy-year experiment versus markets, so what do they stand for other than a sort of Tory-lite economics while describing the right as neo-fascists so they can win elections? Unless they decide that 1989 is not the end and socialism could still work.”
Such cavalier intellectualising, while breathtaking, can be a symptom of teenage-itis. But it is Tebbit’s withering diagnosis which smacks of real immaturity.
Like many old Tories, he seems intimidated by Cumming’s uncompromising radicalism. I suggest that, paradoxically, had the Tories accepted modernisation, the unelectable IDS would still be leader. Cummings agrees.
Will he be buying a ticket for IDS’s one-man show? “No.” Like adolescence, there are certain rites of passage most of us would like to forget.