Eight years ago, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port gave a character assessment of the then education secretary in a debate on the Education Bill. Michael Gove was an ‘honourable man’, Lord Griffiths said, but ‘behind him lurks a lean and hungry man…Such men are dangerous’.
When I reported this at the time I did not know that alongside Gove was another such ‘lean and hungry’ man: Dominic Cummings.
Cummings’ role in the mischievous briefings, misleading press releases and manipulated data which appeared during Gove’s tenure was exposed in David Laws’ Coalition Diaries 2012/2015. Cummings later became the strategist behind Vote Leave and in March this year was found to be in contempt of parliament.
Now Gove and Cummings are at the heart of government. Parliament is being prorogued. And Cummings, an unelected advisor, has arbitrarily sacked a key member of Sajid Javid’s team at the Treasury, Sonia Khan.
Khan used to work for former Chancellor, Philip Hammond. Cummings, in what The Times describes as an ‘angry meeting’, accused Khan of misleading him over her contact with Hammond.
The accusation led to Khan being escorted from Number Ten by a policeman.
Javid was not told beforehand of Khan’s dismissal. This has provoked a ‘furious’ row between the chancellor and the prime minister Boris Johnson, who, it is alleged, had also not been consulted.
The Times writes that Javid ‘is understood to have said that Mr Cummings had undermined his authority as chancellor.’ The paper reports that a former aide told the Politico website that ‘The truth is they see Saj as a patsy. That’s why he’s in there...’
Another source told The Times that ‘they’ were ‘trying to weaken him [Javid] as much as possible; they want to put Sajid in his proverbial place… The adviser [Khan] is collateral damage in this.’
Who, then, are the ‘they’ who are alleged to be behind the emasculation of the Chancellor? Gove has a history of falling out with the Treasury – its officials were once banned from the DfE when he was education secretary. David Laws describes how Gove inspired fear: Cameron was afraid of confronting him. It was Gove who backstabbed Boris Johnson before launching his own post-referendum leadership bid. And all the while, Cummings was at Gove's side.
According to The Times, Cummings did not regret dismissing Khan. Government advisors were told at a meeting, ‘If you don’t like how I run things, there’s the door. F*** off!’
The PM was said to be ‘apologetic’. But mere apologies from the PM suggest weakness not strength. It’s almost an admission he can’t control his senior adviser who once boasted how ‘we’ (presumably Gove and Cummings) deliberately subverted ‘every W/hall and No 10 process’.
In the meantime, Javid has told the media he has a 'fantastic' relationship with the PM. Worse, Javid and other ministers who opposed the prerogation of Parliament before it happened now seem perfectly fine about it.
Such are the politicians now leading the country.