Transcript: Dominic Cummings On Boris, Brexit, Immigration
The architect of the Leave campaign has a rare podcast discussion with me.
How to introduce Dominic Cummings? I’d say he has a decent claim to be one of the most influential figures in modern European history, whatever you think of him. He innovated Brexit, led the Leave campaign, then guided Boris Johnson into a stinking election victory in 2019. The two allies then fell out, Cummings quit — and he is now “having a think.” He almost never gives interviews — let alone chat for an hour and a half. So this is a bit of a Dish coup.
On US politics: “I would have a party which is pro-startup, pro-entrepreneur, pro-zoning reform, to the right of Trump on violent crime, incredibly tough on the border, and also systematically attacking the privileges of the rich.”
On Boris in the 2019 election: “Our campaign was pitched in this place that doesn’t make sense on a left/right axis, doesn’t make sense in a Labour v. Tory axis, but we got more votes than anybody’s ever got in British history.”
To Boris: “Why the fuck are you spending all of your time rabbiting on at me about what’s on TV today and the media? We didn't do that when we were in an incredibly tight political battle with no majority and an election coming, so why the fuck would we now start focusing like that? It’s completely insane, completely insane.”
“It’s obvious that all the energy and drive has gone, and Boris now is just surrounded by courtiers terrified to say anything to him in case he or his girlfriend executes them. There’s no plan.”
Andrew: Hi there, and welcome to a special edition of the Dishcast. We're interviewing someone who has really not been interviewed very much over the last few years, yet he's had an extraordinary impact on British, and thereby global, politics. An incredibly controversial, polarizing figure, Dominic Cummings, who was the man who put together the Leave campaign, the pro-Brexit position in the British referendum. He went on to help Boris Johnson secure a huge majority in the House of Commons, and subsequently has left the Boris Johnson government and is now actually one of its serious critics. He was also there during the entire Covid chaos at the beginning and as it continued in 2020.
Dominic, I am incredibly grateful for you to come here and chat. I appreciate it. Thank you for coming.
Dominic: It's a pleasure. Thank you for inviting me on, Andrew.
Andrew: American listeners, you'll probably notice an accent that Dominic has — it's from Durham, which is in the northeast of England. You may remember Fiona Hill, the person who testified about the Ukraine shenanigans, has a similar accent. But anyway, just translating a little bit. Tell us how and where you grew up, and how that formed you?
Dominic: I grew up in a place called Durham, which is about 250 miles or so north of London, up in the northeast of England. I went to a little state school primary there, and then I went off to Poland for a couple of years. My father got a job working in Poland in 1978 and '79, so I had an odd experience of living in communist Poland.
Then came back, went to school in Durham, and then went to university at Oxford. Lived in Russia for a couple of years and then came back to England, and started getting involved in politics in January '99 to try and stop Tony Blair from taking Britain into the euro.
Andrew: What was the impact of living in Russia and Poland on you? Was that an influence in the way that your political ideas developed?
Dominic: I'm not sure if Poland really was. I was six or seven at the time. Russia was definitely a hell of an experience, I think. It was for anybody who was in Moscow in 1994, 1995, 1996, just after the Soviet Union collapsed. It was a very, very weird place. There was an incredible energy to it, completely broken and mad in all sorts of ways, and this huge theft was going on as well, obviously, as a lot of the KGB moved into organized crime and just started ransacking the country in all sorts of ways. It was the first time as an adult I'd seen a country like that, seen an environment like that.
I tried to work on a few projects, and I naively arrived trying to work on these things, assuming that the people there were trying to make the enterprise work in the way that you would do if you were in London. Only to find that, in fact, they were really engaged in trying to rip everything off, steal it, get all the money abroad, bankrupt it as soon as possible whilst grabbing what they could. Realizing that when you're 21, 22 — that the world can work in completely different ways to what you have been brought up to expect and what you see in the normal Western world, so to speak. That was certainly very interesting and probably equipped me quite well for politics.
Andrew: Right. Because you've sort of entered things somewhat chaotic, though nothing like as chaotic as that.
What about your state school and all that — how did that form you in any way? Was it formative for you? Did you become a conservative, if we can call you that, in high school or in university?
Dominic: No, I don't ... to be honest, Andrew, I can remember very little of my childhood. It's hard for me to answer questions like that. All I can really think is that my parents are both very big readers, and I learned to read early, and I read a lot of adult books early. When I think back to my childhood, that's probably the most influential thing that I can remember, anyway. Also I wouldn't call myself conservative.
Andrew: No. I realized as soon as I said it that was probably a misnomer. What do your parents do, if you don't mind my asking?
Dominic: My mum was a special needs teacher. My father was sort of a professional manager, and he would manage projects, whether it was building oil rigs, or buying companies and turning them around, starting new companies, things like that.
Andrew: Your first job out of Oxford, what was that? And how did it lead you to your campaign against Tony Blair's attempt to bring the UK into the euro?