'Rasputin' Dominic Cummings will not last a year in Downing Street, says ex-No.10 chief of staff

Written by Kevin Schofield on 10 January 2020 in News
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Civil service needs to be persuaded to change because they are the vehicle for delivery of public services, says former Blair adviser Jonathan Powell

Jonathan Powell Photo: Photoshot

Dominic Cummings will not last a year in Downing Street, a former top aide to Tony Blair in Downing Street has predicted.

Jonathan Powell also said that while he agreed that the civil service needed reform, Cummings's radical approach to the task was "likely to be counter-productive".

Powell, who was Blair's chief of staff for the 10 years he was prime minister, also compared Boris Johnson's top adviser to Rasputin, the mysterious holy man who advised the Russian royal family.


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Cummings has said he wants "weirdos and misfits" to apply for jobs in No.10 as he sets about a radical shake-up of the civil service.

But appearing on the Institute for Government's latest Inside Briefing podcast, released today, Powell – who alongside Alastair Campbell was controversially given the power to direct civil servants as a special adviser in Downing Street – said he doubted whether Cummings would be in place long enough to see his reforms through.

He said: "One prediction I think I am fairly safe in making for this year is that Boris Johnson will survive this year politically, but I don’t believe Dominic Cummings will.

"When you put yourself front and centre and make yourself public in this way, you do end up like Rasputin in the River Neva in chains. That’s what happens. You become the target. Maybe he wants to. He says he doesn’t want to stay there long. I don’t think he will be staying there long.”

However, Powell said that he hoped Cummings's exit would not stop what he said was necessary civil service reform.

“Both in the civil service and goodness knows in public services more generally and the way that spending is allocated across the country. So I hope that he isn’t a victim in his public dance with death."

He added: "I do have some sympathy with the need for reform of the civil service. I was a civil servant for 16 years before I went to work for Tony Blair in opposition in the Labour Party and I did see in that time the need for some very radical change.

"The problem I have with the approach that Dominic Cummings is taking is it is more likely to be counterproductive. Already the things he is saying have been rowed back by other spokesmen from government, and trying to make it about weirdos rather than about serious change in the civil service is actually probably counterproductive.

"His own time in the Department for Education was not notable for its success in persuading the civil service to change. And the thing about the civil service is you need to persuade them to change because they are the vehicle for delivery of the changes that you want in public service. So simply attacking them doesn’t achieve that much."

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Kevin Schofield
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Kevin Schofield is the editor of PoliticsHome, where a version of this story first appeared. He tweets @PolHomeEditor.

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