“Weirdos and misfits”, policy experts and “unusual” mathematicians and computer scientists are among those being sought to work in No.10 in a recruitment drive led by Boris Johnson’s top adviser, Dominic Cummings.
In a job advert posted on his personal blog, Cummings, who has said he wants to overhaul civil service recruitment, said he wanted “true wild cards” to email him directly if they believed they were qualified.
He said he was seeking applications in seven categories: data scientists and software developers, economists, policy experts, project managers, communication experts, junior researchers – one of whom will act as his personal assistant – and “weirdos and misfits with odd skills”. The recruits would work as special advisers "and perhaps some as officials", he said.
In an apparent rejection of the working culture he has previously said pervades Whitehall, the former Vote Leave chief said: “I don’t want confident public school bluffers. I want people who are much brighter than me who can work in an extreme environment. If you play office politics, you will be discovered and immediately binned.”
The ex-Department for Education spad has been extremely critical of the civil service, which in 2014 he said treats “failure as normal” and “promotes people who focus on being important, not getting important things done, and it ruthlessly weeds out people who are dissenters, who are maverick and who have a different point of view”.
The wave of appointments in the first public steps in Cummings's plans to overhaul how government works, including a review of civil service hiring and firing rules.
“It is obvious that improving government requires vast improvements in project management. The first project will be improving the people and skills already here,” he wrote in the job ad.
Cummings has been particularly critical of what he sees as a surplus of generalists in the civil service, at the expense of skills such as entrepreneurship and scientific expertise.
“At the moment I have to make decisions well outside what [American investor] Charlie Munger calls my ‘circle of competence’ and we do not have the sort of expertise supporting the PM and ministers that is needed,” he wrote in the job post.
To fill some of these gaps, Cummings said he was seeking “unusual” mathematicians, physicists, computer scientists and data scientists, economists, and specialists with "deep expertise" in their chosen policy field.
“If you want to work in the policy unit or a department and you really know your subject so that you could confidently argue about it with world-class experts, get in touch,” he said.
By hiring such experts, Cummings aims to reduce the rate at which civil servants move between jobs in Whitehall. He has previously called for small policy teams, separate from delivery groups, that can “[preserve] institutional memory” by staying in place within departments.
“One of the problems with the civil service is the way in which people are shuffled such that they either do not acquire expertise or they are moved out of areas they really know to do something else. One Friday, X is in charge of special needs education, the next week X is in charge of budgets,” he wrote in the job ad.
In the seventh and final category of candidates, Cummings said he was seeking “true wild cards” but that “by definition” he was not seeking people to fit a specific mould.
“We need some true wild cards, artists, people who never went to university and fought their way out of an appalling hell hole, weirdos from William Gibson novels like that girl hired by Bigend as a brand ‘diviner’ who feels sick at the sight of Tommy Hilfiger or that Chinese-Cuban free runner from a crime family hired by the KGB.”
Such people would bring diversity of thought to Whitehall that is needed to address complex policy and political challenges, he said. “If you want to figure out what characters around Putin might do, or how international criminal gangs might exploit holes in our border security, you don’t want more Oxbridge English graduates who chat about Lacan at dinner parties with TV producers and spread fake news about fake news."
“People in SW1 talk a lot about ‘diversity’ but they rarely mean ‘true cognitive diversity’. They are usually babbling about ‘gender identity diversity blah blah’. What SW1 needs is not more drivel about ‘identity’ and ‘diversity’ from Oxbridge humanities graduates but more genuine cognitive diversity,” he added.
"We need to figure out how to use such people better without asking them to conform to the horrors of ‘Human Resources’ (which also obviously need a bonfire)."
No weeknights or relationships
One of the junior researchers – described as “VERY clever young people either straight out of university or recently out with extreme curiosity and capacity for hard work” – will work as a “sort of personal assistant” to Cummings for a year, according to the ad.
“This will involve a mix of very interesting work and lots of uninteresting trivia that makes my life easier which you won’t enjoy,” he said.
The advert stressed that the job would be time-consuming and difficult. You will not have weekday date nights, you will sacrifice many weekends – frankly it will hard having a boy/girlfriend at all. It will be exhausting but interesting and if you cut it you will be involved in things at the age of ~21 that most people never see,” Cummings said.
The 3,000-word job ad was posted the same day that Rachel Wolf, who helped draw up with Tory election manifesto, said "seismic" plans were in motion to change how Whitehall operates, which could mean regular exams for civil servants and an end to the "merry-go-round" of frequent job changes.
Responding to the job ad, Garry Graham, deputy general secretary or Prospect, the union for over 30,000 public servants responding to the job advert posted by Dominic Cummings, said the advert was more inkeeping with “how you would seek to recruit to an insurgency or sect. Perhaps that was his intention – the arch disruptor”.
He added: “Government is more complex though; it demands both continuity and change. Evidence-based policy, not policy-based evidence. The confidence to speak truth to power and to challenge political orthodoxy. That does demand challenge to the status quo and new ways of thinking and doing. But it also demands rigour, stability and robustness. It is not just political reputations at risk, but in a very real sense people's lives.
"If Cummings intention was not just to provoke, but to prompt debate and discussion, let's have that debate, but let's also talk about pay and resourcing and how we build the public services citizens want and deserve.”
FDA general secretary Dave Penman added: “Following comments from both Rachel Wolf and Dominic Cummings, it’s clear the prime minister’s aides don’t fully understand the modern realities of the civil service or, indeed, the impact of a decade of pay stagnation.”