September 6, 2019 12.05 pm This story is over 55 months old

Barry Turner: Why Dominic Cummings must go

His influence has been pernicious and corrosive

The decisions of Parliament this week have made an early general election inevitable. The failure of Boris Johnson to get his own MPs behind his strategy for leaving the EU has destroyed his credibility as Prime Minister far more than the incessant jibes about his lying and untrustworthiness.

The most damaging of decisions of the past week however was the sacking of the Tory rebels which removed the government’s majority in the house conclusively. The PM has alienated friend along with foe by this decision, and the root of that decision has caused serious consternation even among those loyal Tory MPs who steadfastly support Brexit on his terms.

While it is perfectly correct that a political party has the right to expel members who repeatedly defy the whip and attempt to obstruct policy and manifesto pledges, it is probably better that that decision is made by the party rather than some sinister grey eminence lurking in the corridors of power.

The sacking of two former chancellors, one of whom was the current incumbent’s predecessor, eight privy councillors, and grandees such as the grandson of Winston Churchill is, to use Sir Nicholas Soames’ view himself, crass. Crass indeed that decisions of that nature are being strongly influenced by a special advisor to the PM who is contemptuous of both Parliament and extraordinarily the Conservative Party itself.

The role of ‘special advisors’ has for some time been controversial to say the least. On Wednesday, Margot James MP, former business minister and one of those rebels expelled from the party, reminded the PM of a maxim of Margaret Thatcher. “Advisors advise and ministers decide” — something that today’s politicians on both sides of the House seem to have long forgotten.

Of course, ministers and the PM need advisors and researchers to keep them informed of the massive amount of information that might affect decisions they must make. No one suggests that politicians have either the time or the expertise to digest and analyse the information that forms part of the decision making process, but the lines between advising and deciding are clear, and Mrs Thatcher was absolutely right in saying so.

The current leadership of the Tory party and government is undoubtedly being dictated to by an unelected bureaucrat driven by a personal ideology utterly alien to a modern political party. This individual would be more than happy to see the Conservative Party driven to extinction to get his way over Brexit, an end that justifies any means, including attacking politicians who have served the party loyally for decades, but who cannot support the current ideology over Europe.

The media constantly inform us that Mr Cummings is a brilliant strategist. Someone whose political instincts, insight and experience of running the Vote Leave campaign make him the go to guy to make Brexit a reality. This is a very odd notion indeed. Is it really the case that our elected politicians need to be ‘advised’ on a decision already made by the British voters? Where exactly is the strategy, let alone the brilliant strategy of Mr Cummings?

So far his influence has been pernicious and corrosive. Far from smoothing the way and oiling the wheels of Brexit, his ‘strategy’ has resulted in embarrassing defeats for Boris Johnson and a further splitting of the Conservative Party — to the extent that former members may even stand against it at the imminent general election. Along with the threat posed by the Brexit Party, that is all they need.

Boris Johnson must sack this individual well clear of any election date. If he is still sneaking around Downing Street in the short few weeks during an election campaign, he will do even further damage to the party and seriously threaten their chances at the ballot box. That he could in any way be an asset to a party he holds in contempt during an election period is risible.

The strategy to leave the EU is a simple one, leave. Carry out the wishes of the British electorate by negotiating a workable withdrawal agreement as part of a process of leaving, rather than some magical notion of instant liberation from the EU. It is long since past the time that that fantasy was dismissed for good.

After Brexit we will spend many years developing our working relationship with the EU, deal or no deal. No special advisor, however much a brilliant strategist, has the formula for that it will be built by trade, cooperation and trust. It certainly won’t be established on adversarial grandstanding devise by ‘special advisors’

Cummings must go and for that matter so should some of those advising other parties and party leaders. The days of the advisory tail wagging the ministerial dog must end.

Brexit was designed to restore Parliamentary democracy, not to take it from one bunch of unelected functionaries to hand it to some equally unelected potentate whose power extend beyond that of the Prime Minister himself. What a strange irony that a man who wanted from his childhood to occupy the top job, then obtained it, handed the real power of it to a T-shirt clad schemer.

Barry Turner is a Senior Lecturer in War Reporting and Human Rights and a member of the Royal United Services Institute.