‘Take back control’ seems bad joke as Cummings snubs MPs

by Sebastian O'Meara | 07.06.2018

You’d think former Vote Leave campaign director Dominic Cummings was a big fan of parliamentary sovereignty – that, after all, was at the heart of the “take back control” campaign of which he was one of the key architects. And yet two years on he’s in a standoff with MPs, refusing to appear in front of a parliamentary committee to defend his campaign from allegations of cheating.

The Commons voted today to order Cummings to appear in front of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) committee or be found in contempt of Parliament. Labour MP Rupa Huq said Cummings was “making a joke of our democracy”.

This followed a special report this week detailing the committee’s fruitless attempts to have Cummings come and testify to its “fake news” inquiry. If the Vote Leave chief doesn’t appear he will be found in contempt of Parliament. These began on March 28 with a polite email from Collins, which received an equally polite if rather non-committal response from Cummings a week later.

But last month Cumming’s uncharacteristic mask of politeness slipped, and on May 24 he let rip with a series of broadsides in a stream-of-consciousness blog post, asserting that “most of the country feels contempt for Parliament and this contempt is growing” and that the DCMS committee was itself spreading fake news, alongside accusations that “you” (in this case the government, presumably, rather than Collins) had “failed miserably over Brexit” and on myriad other counts.

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Today’s Commons debate, which Cummings has dismissed as “grandstanding”, looks unlikely to shift the Vote Leave strategist’s position. As he’s previously put it: “I will not come to your committee, regardless of how many letters you send or whether you send characters in fancy dress to hand me papers.”

It’s hard to know how this will play out – Parliament’s formal powers to compel an unwilling witness to testify would seem to be limited at best, and Cummings – unlike, say, Rupert Murdoch before him – doesn’t seem too worried about how his actions might play in the court of public opinion. So he may well be right that he can continue to thumb his nose at Collins and Parliament with impunity. 

Which leaves the question of why? Cummings has never been short of self-belief or a taste for conflict, but the only substantive reason he advanced in his exchanges with the committee evoked Donald Trump’s flawed logic for not producing his tax returns – sorry, can’t help, I’m being audited – or in Cummings’ case being investigated by the Electoral Commission and the Information Commissioner. But both agencies indicated to DCMS that this wasn’t a problem, and others facing similar investigations – not least Cambridge Analytica’s Alexander Nix yesterday – have appeared before Collins’ committee.

All of which suggests that the real reasons Cummings refuses to testify lie deeper. As the special report notes, there is “a strong public interest in Dominic Cummings attending Parliament and putting on the public record the facts as he understands them about the use of data in the Referendum campaign in 2016”. Vote Leave spent a third of its permitted expenditure with data firm Aggregate IQ, and is under investigation for its role in the spending of a further £675,000 with AIQ by pro-Brexit group BeLeave. Cummings, as campaign director, no doubt understands those facts as well as anybody.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

2 Responses to “‘Take back control’ seems bad joke as Cummings snubs MPs”

  • It needs to be understood that Cummings, like many of his fellow travellers, is in most respects following the behaviours of people with whom he would not readily admit to admiring or having followed. He really is a (hard right-wing) Leninist in his approach. His view is that the “ends justify the means” and that the opportunity has to be grabbed now – rather than when circumstances might otherwise be more propitious. It is a mindset that ran right through the Leave campaign in which Josef Goebbels’ dictum that “If you make a lie big enough and repeat it often enough, then you can get the public to believe you…” was widely employed: witness the claims about over a million Turks heading our way and the fabled red bus dissembling of an extra £350millions each and every week extra for the NHS.

    The latter claim had Cummings’ finger prints all over it and the highly combative Treasury Select Committee session between Cummings and Andrew Tyrie MP are entirely instructive about the former’s mindset and intellectual hubris and arrogance.

    Whenever Cummings gets involved in an issue, it’s seldom long before truth and fact starts to take a hammering.

  • Parliament may not have formal powers to make him attend, but I imagine they are free to infer guilt from his refusal to do so. Certainly the court of public opinion ought to.