A bad case of limelight deprivation may not have been the only reason Dominic Cummings was happy to enter into talks with Rishi Sunak about making a potential Downing Street comeback. Mandrake can disclose that Cummings’ income – which exceeded £140,000 a year in his glory days working for Boris Johnson – has fallen dramatically.
Siwah, Cummings’ technology consultancy firm, has managed to rack up only £84,287 in earnings since he founded it two years ago. Its net worth is £6,768 down in its latest full-year accounts, but it still retains two employees on undisclosed salaries. Cummings also owes the firm £79,431.
This is loose change compared with what Lee Cain, Cummings’ former underling in the No 10 press office, has managed to make since leaving Johnson’s employ. His consultancy, Charlesbye, already has a cool £698,086 sitting in its bank account.
Cummings recently told a journalist that he had met Sunak last summer to discuss taking on an advisory role in relation to the next general election. The prime minister – conscious of the toxicity that attached to Cummings’ name – insisted that he work for him under the radar, which may well have been too much for Cummings’ ego, and no job materialised.
The former campaign director of Vote Leave who went on to become Johnson’s Downing Street guru could certainly have used not just the cash, but also the discipline of an office routine. I hear he has been spending a lot of time idling away the days at his modest holiday cottage on Lindisfarne, off the Northumberland coast, which he purchased two years ago fearing an imminent nuclear war after Vladimir Putin began his assault on Ukraine.
Still, one positive thing may have come out of the meeting so far as Sunak is concerned. Isaac Levido, his in-house election strategist, appears to have decided he has a full-time job on his hands. He resigned his directorship at Fleetwood Strategy, the communications firm he co-founded in 2020, on New Year’s Eve, the day after the Sunday Times quoted Cummings saying he’d been talking to Sunak.
The Lib Dems have been without a communications supremo with a real media background since Mark Leftly – Sir Vince Cable’s spokesperson – quit the party to join the PR outfit Powerscourt in 2018. This may go some way towards explaining the panic within the party after the ITV drama Mr Bates vs The Post Office brought their leader Sir Ed Davey’s inertia over the Post Office scandal into focus. Davey was postal affairs minister in the coalition government between 2010 and 2012 as the Horizon IT software problems were becoming increasingly obvious.
As the TV series was still running and the first concerns about Davey were being expressed, the party leader went ahead regardless with his communications adviser Olly Grender’s latest larky stunt, which saw him arriving in Guildford in a hi-vis jacket at the wheel of a van emblazoned with the words “Ed Davey’s Tory removals”.
After finally being browbeaten on social media by the likes of Michael Crick into giving some interviews about the scandal – Davey said he had regrets and that he was “misled” by individuals he didn’t identify at the Post Office – the party began a desperate operation that began on Saturday night when they got wind that the Sunday Times planned to lead on the story the next day. It involved former leader Tim Farron talking on social media about “lies and smears” being lobbed around about Davey.
One senior member of the party tells me: “The comms team was in meltdown on Saturday night and we were all issued with the line to take on the affair – that Ed had eventually met with the Post Office campaigners – but we were not advised what to say if anyone were to point out that, while a meeting did take place, he still did nothing. Ed has made it clear he’s not stepping down, which leaves us wide open to attack as the general election approaches, and the question now is whether anyone challenges him.”
A poll I conducted on the X social media site that asked if Davey should lead the Lib Dems into the election resulted in 84% of the 3,192 people who voted saying he should not.
If the rumours are true that the Daily Mail boss Lord Rothermere is considering replacing his current editor, Ted Verity, with Chris Evans – currently presiding over the Daily Telegraph – Mandrake wonders what it was that could have caused the incumbent to fall from grace.
One theory in the Mail newsroom is that Verity might have irritated Paul Dacre – Rothermere’s editor-in-chief, who has long hankered after a peerage – when he had one of his minions interrupt Dacre’s sojourn at his British Virgin Islands retreat over Christmas.
The hapless reporter had to ask Dacre what must have seemed a grotesquely insensitive question: would he care to comment on the MBE that the paper’s octogenarian sports writer, Jeff Powell, had been awarded in the New Year honours?
Lord Colin Moynihan, the former Tory sports minister, had apparently been instrumental in securing the honour, but the gong – along with the vast amount of space devoted to it in the Mail – has caused much gnashing of teeth among his fellow hacks.
“Jeff shouldn’t have got it for services to journalism, but services to the legal profession,” one grumbled. “We had £100,000 to pay in damages – and a vast legal bill – after he made some damn fool remarks about Sir Alan Sugar being mean when he was in charge at Tottenham Hotspur.”
With Mandrake still waiting for a response from Wayne Bontoft in the Downing Street press office to my inquiries about the Tory Party donor Akhil Tripathi – Wayne assured me on November 15 last year that he would get back to me “as soon as possible” – the Labour MP Neil Coyle is now calling on the Electoral Commission to launch its own investigation.
Coyle wants an answer to the same questions: the source of a £50,000 donation to the Tories in November 2022, which was registered as coming from a firm called Balderton Medical Consultants. Coyle is interested because a subsequent £38,500 donation made to Rishi Sunak, which was used to jet the PM to Tory events, was listed in the MPs’ register of interests in May 2023 as being from Tripathi, before the identity of the source was changed, as I was the first to reveal, to Balderton.
Coyle has asked if the £50,000 Balderton donation was, in fact, made by Tripathi. MPs and political parties are legally obliged to confirm the true source of a donation before it is accepted or declared.
A spokesman for Tripathi said: “Mr Tripathi has made a number of donations to the Conservative Party in a personal capacity, including for the costs of air travel for the prime minister and colleagues on April 29 2023. As far as he is aware, all of these have been disclosed on the public register. Any donations made by Balderton Medical are a matter for it. Mr Tripathi can confirm that any donations made by Balderton Medical were not made by him or on his behalf.”