A piece published by the Telegraph three weeks ago, which somehow fell under our radar at the time. Dominic Cummings has since left Number 10, sadly.
Dominic Cummings and Lee Cain have been accused of presiding over a “laddish” culture in Downing Street prompting complaints from female advisers that they have been picked on in meetings.
Mr Cain, Mr Johnson’s most loyal aide, announced on Wednesday night that he was instead quitting as director of communications and will leave before Christmas.
One female insider has told The Telegraph that she believed “Lee and Dom”would pick on young female special advisers in meetings.
“Women were treated way more differently to men,” said the source. “Women were always reprimanded more and women were always accused of leaking more than men.
“As a woman, you knew you weren’t part of the ‘lads’ club’ in which many of the people in Number 10 were. In meetings, women would be picked on in the spad meetings by Dominic and Lee to answer questions they couldn’t answer, especially very young women. These were microaggressions.”
The Telegraph has been told that so-called “Brexit Boys” working inside Government under the control of Mr Cummings and Mr Cain had taken to calling Ms Symonds “Princess Nut Nuts” behind her back.
A source said she was labelled a “princess” for allegedly being high maintenance and acting regally. The first “nut”, according to the source, alluded to her being “crazy” – there is no evidence for that – while the second “nuts” reference comes from a belief among the “Brexit Boys” clique that she bears some facial similarity to a squirrel.
A Number 10 spokesman said: “These are malicious allegations which are totally untrue.”
The epithet used behind her back may say more about the attitude inside Downing Street, with Mr Cummings and Mr Cain accused of presiding over a laddish culture whose management style has seemingly been gleaned from the playbook of Malcolm Tucker, the fictional hard-man spin doctor from the BBC’s “Thick of It”.
Ms Symonds, however, has had the last laugh. On Wednesday, she intervened to prevent Mr Cain’s elevation to chief of staff.
She was aided by Allegra Stratton, a former BBC and Guardian journalist, picked to be the face of Number 10 press briefings, who had objected to Mr Cain being her boss, and apparently also by Munira Mirza, the head of the Downing Street policy unit, who was also reportedly alarmed at the prospect of giving Mr Cain so much clout.
The “Carrie Crew”, as the newspapers put it, had seen off Mr Cummings’ “Brexit Boys”.
In Downing Street, Mr Cummings, 48, and Mr Cain, 38, have been accused of ruling with a rod of iron, and not a little fear.
Mr Cummings’ behaviour will come under the spotlight in an employment tribunal case being brought by Sonia Khan, a former aide to the then chancellor Sajid Javid. Ms Khan was accused of leaking sensitive information about Brexit and fired on the spot by Mr Cummings and escorted off the Downing Street premises by police officers last year, prompting Mr Javid’s resignation.
Government lawyers had tried unsuccessfully to keep Mr Cummings’ name off the list of respondents in the case but at the tribunal, due to take place next month, he will now be grilled over his behaviour towards her. The case goes to the heart of allegations of control-freakery and paranoia inside Mr Cummings’ Downing Street operation.
Mr Cain is not involved in that case, but The Telegraph understands he has been central to the sacking of another (male) special adviser to another Cabinet minister, who was also accused of unauthorised leaks. The special adviser was sacked but only after mobile telephones had been examined.
An insider claimed: “The female special advisers particularly don’t like Lee for his laddish, confrontational style. Inside Downing Street it’s just chaos. They get run over by events.”
One minister said he was delighted at Mr Cain’s departure, and hopeful Mr Cummings would follow. In reference to Mr Cain’s short stint working on the Daily Mirror when he was tasked with dressing up as a chicken and following David Cameron around to taunt him during the 2010 general election, the minister said: “When he was a chicken, he had been over-promoted at that stage.”
Admirers of Mr Cain disagree. One female special adviser didn’t recognise the macho culture claims or the suggestion women were singled out for ill-treatment.
“I don’t see it like that,” said the source, pointing to the promotion of Cleo Watson, the 31-year-old head of the PM’s campaigns team who works closely with Mr Cummings and Mr Cain, and to female spads thriving in other senior, elevated positions.
A friend of Mr Cain believes he has been hard done by. The former communications chief, who will leave his post at Christmas, went to a comprehensive in Ormskirk in Lancashire and enjoys watching boxing in his spare time. The source suggested he was the victim of snobbery.
“A lot of what has been written about Lee is genuinely wide of the mark,” said the friend. “Lee leads a massive team of people – of men and women – who are incredibly loyal to him and love him. These are not just Vote Leave people. He has done a brilliant job in the face of the pandemic.”
Mr Johnson is reportedly planning on softening the Government’s image as he resets his premiership in the wake of Mr Cain’s departure.
Mr Cummings is at “the beginning of the end” of his time in Downing Street after he and Mr Cain lost the bitter power struggle within No 10, sources said on Thursday night.
The Prime Minister’s chief adviser signalled he could be gone by Christmas as he said his plan had always been to make himself “largely redundant” by the end of the year.
Mr Cummings was left hugely weakened after Mr Johnson effectively called his bluff over the resignation of Mr Cain as director of communications.
He had allegedly threatened to walk out immediately if Mr Cain was allowed to go, and had said up to half a dozen staff would follow him, but he failed to carry out the threat leaving him diminished after the bruising civil war.
Asked about rumours he would be gone by Christmas, Mr Cummings told the BBC: “My position hasn’t changed since my January blog,” when he wrote that he intended to make improvements to the Downing Street operation that would mean he was no longer needed by the end of 2020.
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