MANDRAKE: How Dominic Cummings became a walking contradiction
- Credit: PA
TIM WALKER learns more about the rise to power of Downing Street's key adviser, and delves into the accounts of Nigel Farage's firm.
Few people have been more startled by Dominic Cummings' rise to power than James Beechey. The art historian recalls Cummings making repeated nocturnal visits to his London flat almost 20 years ago – unannounced, dishevelled, a bottle of whisky in hand – to moan incessantly about his then boss Iain Duncan Smith.
'Duncan Smith was then the Tory leader and Dominic was his director of strategy, but he regarded him as an idiot and he saw himself as his puppet master,' Beechey tells me. 'Dominic said one night he was emphatically not a Tory, but an anarchist. He spoke, too, about Russia, where he'd spent some time and I only wish I could recall the stories he came out with, but the whisky didn't help.
'He'd always show up around 11pm, but I indulged him because we had some aristocratic friends in common and he was a lonely oddball. He wasn't a great political mastermind, but he enjoyed debate, as I did, and we had very different views. This was the height of Tony Blair's power and I couldn't really see why he'd hitched his wagon to Duncan Smith.'
Beechey says there were many contradictions about him – a man who professed to be contemptuous of the establishment, but spent his life hanging around its members – and adds he was exercised even then about the idea of Britain signing up to the euro and getting into a closer relationship with the EU.
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'I never got to the bottom of his motivations,' says Beechey, a Lib Dem supporter. 'Russia was about money for a lot of his friends, but with him I think it was more doctrinal. It's as if he could see where Russia was going, but at the time the country appeared to most people to be on the path to becoming more liberal.'
Beechey says Cummings flitted out of his life as abruptly as he had flitted into it. 'He came to my flat no more than about eight or nine times over a two-month period in 2002 and it ended when my then girlfriend's patience was exhausted and she told him to 'f*** off,'' he says. 'The next time I saw him was on TV when he'd become a force in Vote Leave during the referendum. I imagine he must have contempt now for Boris Johnson, but is playing a longer game.'
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These are at least the best of times for Nigel Farage. Latest accounts for his firm Thorn in the Side show it made a profit of £134,000 last year, which means it currently has £554,000 net in the kitty. Last summer Farage reported in his declaration of interests as an MEP that he was making £27,248 a month from the firm.
Even without expenses, a matter left unaddressed in the accounts, he's then raking in £500,000 a year. Farage is one of the few to have been substantially enriched by Brexit. In its first set of accounts in 2012, Thorn in the Side made a paltry £3,289, but since the EU referendum earnings have soared.
Warmest greetings to Lord Heseltine who celebrates his 87th birthday this weekend. A number of readers asked if we shook hands when I interviewed him for The New European. We agreed only to nod and sat some distance apart. At the best of times, journalists make Hezza wary.
Nigella Lawson has up until now always made it a rule to keep her own counsel on political matters. The other day, as European countries introduced measures in response to the coronavirus outbreak, she broke it. 'Have all those take-back-controllers noticed that countries in Europe have been closing their borders independently?' she asked on Twitter. 'It's almost as if they had control over them.'
An hour later she added: 'I'm sorry. Just thinking aloud. Probably unwise. Certainly ill-judged right now. Shouldn't have.'
Nigella is the daughter of Lord Lawson, the high priest of Brextremism, and the brother of Dominic Lawson, one of its principal evangelists in journalism. Dominic saw coronavirus as an opportunity to make a few useful political points about chlorinated chicken. 'You would be much safer eating a US battery chicken which had received the mandatory pathogen reduction treatment,' he's asserted. 'Still, I admit I'm not an expert...'