MANDRAKE: Dominic Cummings fails to rouse the literary world

Boris Johnson's chief advisor Dominic Cummings

Special political advisor for the prime minister of the UK Dominic Cummings. (Photo by WIktor Szymanowicz/NurPhoto via Getty Images) - Credit: WIktor Szymanowicz/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Seemingly unsackable and above the law, Dominic Cummings can legitimately lay claim to being the most powerful man in the land. Boris Johnson’s omnipotent adviser has still, however, to be the subject of a single biography.

Mandrake hears that one journalist, who has lately stepped down from a national newspaper, has shown publishers what I am told is an “intriguing dossier” on Cummings, but there are as yet no takers.

“One or two writers have touted the idea around, but there isn’t much enthusiasm,” one leading literary agent tells me. “There’s probably a great chapter to be written about the period Cummings spent in Russia, but the rest of his life is, on the face of it, pretty well-documented and pretty boring. A book needs to have some trans-Atlantic appeal, too, to command a good advance and a lot of people haven’t heard of him on this side of the pond, let alone on the other.”

Another agent says: “I think there’s resistance to it just because of the idea of Cummings’ face on the cover. It’s like when you see Johnson’s now. It just makes a lot of people – certainly the kind of people who read hardback books – feel nauseous and it’s frankly the last thing they want to read.”

If a book does get off the ground, I trust Cummings’ biographer will talk to his former friend, the art historian James Beechey. He told me earlier this year how Cummings had once admitted to him “he was emphatically not a Tory, but an anarchist”.

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Tom Bower’s biography of Johnson – the third so far – comes out next month from W H Allen. Shrewdly, perhaps, Johnson saw to it that the Brexit-supporting author’s wife Veronica Wadley was elevated to the Upper House in his last controversial honours list.

Wrong Ron

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The playwright and Oscar-winning screenwriter Sir Ronald Harwood was laid to rest in a traditional Jewish ceremony on Sunday where numbers were restricted because of the coronavirus crisis. The obituaries in the Daily Telegraph and the Times made much of how politically incorrect he was – which is quite true – and the implication was that he was right wing. Michael Cashman, the actor, went so far as to state he was Margaret Thatcher’s speechwriter.

That dubious distinction happened to belong to Sir Ronald Millar – a common mistake – and this Ronald was a passionate defender of the weak against the strong. He was a former president of PEN – which promotes the freedom to write and to read, even in oppressive states – and he was also, although this was not mentioned, passionately opposed to Brexit.

“His admirable daughter Deborah was an influence here, but Ronnie could see for himself how damaging it would be to the country and how all there was at its rotten core was prejudice, which he hated above all things,” one of his friends tells me. “Even at the Garrick club – where the members include Michael Gove and the former Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre – he made no secret of how he felt on this issue.”

In the money

One question Sarah Vine may care to address in her inaugural column for the Mail on Sunday this weekend is how, despite the humongous salary she’s reputedly paid by her proprietor Lord Rothermere, the Barlby Group, the private company she set up to channel her journalistic income, still trades at a loss. Its latest accounts to Companies House show a net deficit at £21,742 for the year ended November 30, 2019. Vine set her firm up in 2012, and, despite posting an annual profit on occasion, it has still to report a surplus on its balance sheet.

Her husband Michael Gove is, meanwhile, raking it in. He’s in receipt of £45,003 in ministerial pay on top of his basic £81,932 annual salary for being an MP. Gove has also declared £65,000 worth of ‘support’ donations in the Register of Members Interests, including £35,000 from Lord Harris of Peckham. His lordship may be hedging his bets perhaps for a future leadership battle.

Lying King

The theatre critic Mark Shenton wondered out loud last week what a Boris Johnson musical might be called. The hills were soon alive with the sound of great ideas.

My favourites were The Lying King, Scamalot, Gobspell, Gove Never Dies, Fiddler With the Truth, Worst Snide Tory, The Non-Commitments, Top Prat, Shamilton, The Prince of Eejit, Illegally Blonde, The Book of Moron and Seven Sons From Seven Mothers.

The humour here would probably be lost on Johnson as I’ve never once seen him in a theatre. Shamilton was, by the way, the idea of the splendid actress Kathy Burke.

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