Dominic Cummings says ‘regime change is coming’ after leak of No 10 party video – so is HE behind release of clip from press centre that was his brainchild?
- Leaked footage shows Downing Street aides joking about the festive gathering
- Allegra Stratton filmed last year – four days after the alleged ‘boozy’ party
- Mr Cummings tweeted: ‘Fish rots from the head. #Regimechangeiscoming’
- Re leak Tory MP: ‘It has to be someone senior. It feels like a Cummings operation’
Dominic Cummings today suggested that Boris Johnson could be forced from office over the No 10 Christmas party scandal and declared ‘regime change is coming’ as Tories pointed the finger at the rogue advisor and his supporters for the leak of a bombshell video.
The Prime Minister’s former chief adviser spoke out as Downing Street insiders panicked that Mr Johnson will soon face the same public fury as his trip to Barnard Castle at the height of the first lockdown.
Mr Cummings tweeted this morning: ‘[The] Fish rots from the head. #Regimechange’.
Team Johnson will be desperately hunting for the mole who was behind the leak of a bombshell video showing aides including Allegra Stratton joking about their ‘illegal’ Christmas party in a rehearsal question and answer session in the £2.6million No9 briefing room.
One Tory MP told MailOnline today that Mr Cummings and his allies might have been involved in leaking the video that has sent Downing Street into meltdown. ‘It has to be someone senior. Who had them and kept them this long? It does feel like a Cummings operation,’ they said.
Mr Cummings left Downing Street in November 2020 – a month before the alleged party – after losing an internal power struggle said to have involved Carrie Johnson and here allies, including Miss Stratton. He continued to work from home until Christmas.
Since leaving No 10 he has used Twitter and an appearance before MPs to repeatedly claim Boris Johnson is a ‘liar’ and unfit for high office.
An inquiry could be launched into how a recording of a practice press conference could have entered the public domain. Insiders who contribute to security provision for the Government have claimed previously it is simple to find the source of video leaks because all employees leave behind a digital trail on Whitehall computers.
Dominic Cummings left Downing Street a month before the alleged Christmas party but continued to work from home up until the festive period last December as speculation was rife that he was involved in the leak
Mr Cummings has not commented on accusations he may have been involved in the leak but tweeted his belief that the scandal could hasten the end of Boris Johnson’s tenure as PM
The web of connections in Downing Street, which has been reeling from factional infighting during the coronavirus crisis that led to Team Cummings being broken up and booted out of No 10
Allegra Stratton, who is married to political journalist James Forsyth – Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s best man – was portrayed as an ally of Symonds at a time when the factionalism between the two warring camps that led to Cummings’ exit with then communications director Lee Cain.
She had recently been given the job of the Prime Minister’s TV spokesman, was practising with other senior aides ahead of the launch of what, at the time, No 10 hoped would be regular televised briefings.
But last night’s video leak of the 40-second-long damning exchange now threatens to have serious political consequences for the Government. During the practice run, filmed on December 22 last year just as sweeping Covid restrictions were being re-imposed, Miss Stratton was pressed by a fellow aide, Ed Oldfield, about ‘reports’ that there was a Christmas party in Downing Street the previous Friday.
Asked if she recognised the reports, Miss Stratton smiled and laughed, at first saying that she ‘went home’ before apparently agonising over what the correct answer should be.
The video showed Mr Oldfield then pressing her for a response, asking whether the Prime Minister would ‘condone having a Christmas party?’
Laughing again, she then asked aides ‘what’s the answer?’ before staff in the press room appear to suggest ideas, with one proposing that ‘it wasn’t a party’ but rather ‘cheese and wine’.
‘Is cheese and wine alright? It was a business meeting,’ Miss Stratton replies, to more laughter in the room, before deciding that the ‘fictional party was a business meeting’. But she then admits: ‘It was not socially distanced.’
Mr Cummings also suggested that Mr Johnson had downplayed the seriousness of the pandemic in its initial stages, viewing it as a ‘scare story’.
The Tory MP said: ‘He (Boris) needs to come out today and just be straightforward and say what happened. Not answering won’t work. Maybe they are planning to fire some people.’
The backbencher pointed out that future inquiries will uncover details anyway. ‘If you have done something wrong, go to parliament and explain it. You have much more chance of getting away with it.
‘The cover-up is the thing that gets you. So you have got to be brutally honest. They won’t be the only people to have an illegal party at that time, but you don’t have an illegal party in No10 do you?’
In the bombshell video a No 10 aide asks a question about ‘a Downing Street Christmas party on Friday night’, to which Allegra Stratton laughed and replied: ‘I went home.’ Downing Stree
Who’s who in the civil war between Cummings’ Brexit Boys and the ‘Carrie Symonds crew’
Cummings pictured outside Downing Street in one of the outfits that has made him an unlikely style icon
Official title: Chief Adviser to the Prime Minister
Boris Johnson’s maverick Svengali, who gained national notoriety for his lockdown-breaking trip to Barnard Castle to ‘test his eyesight’ before a trip back to London.
The former Vote Leave director backed his former campaign staffer Lee Cain to take over as the PM’s chief of staff – prompting a bitter wrangle with Carrie Johnson, who warned it would be a ‘mistake’.
Cummings, who is known for his acerbic demeanour and preference for hoodies and ‘slob’ style jackets over suits, eventually lost the vicious tug-of-war, prompting Cain’s resignation.
He is known to have a difficult relationship with Carrie, with reports suggesting she was opposed to his aggressive approach to politics and tendency to ‘pick unnecessary fights’ which could harm the PM’s image.
Mr Cummings was born in County Durham and is married to Mary Wakefield, a senior journalist with the Spectator magazine, a Tory bible that Boris Johnson once edited.
Cummings ally Cleo Watson seen outside No10
Official title: Head of the Prime Minister’s Priorities and Campaigns
It has become a familiar ritual in Downing Street: photographers clamour to take pictures of elegant Cleo Watson as she strides towards the No 10 door with a dishevelled Dominic Cummings, the pair looking, as one wag put it, like ‘a gazelle with a pit pony’.
Watson was Cummings’ special adviser and the pair share a close relationship, with one Whitehall source describing her as ‘the Cummings whisperer’ because she is one of very few people who can calm him down when he flies into a rage.
Watson is one of five high-achieving sisters from an extraordinary family whose story could come from a Jane Austen novel. Indeed, she is the second of her siblings to work closely with a Tory leader. Her sister Annabel, 41, known as Bee, was Theresa May’s Chief of Staff.
Watson worked with Vote Leave during the 2016 EU referendum, before landing a top job in the policy unit in No 10 during May’s premiership.
Oliver Lewis is another Vote Leave member to now work in No10
Oliver Lewis (nickname ‘Sonic’)
Age: Late 20s
Official title: Brexit policy adviser
A former Vote Leave staffer, Brexit policy adviser Oliver Lewis is a close ally of Cummings – who is known to address him by the nickname ‘Sonic’.
Oxford-educated Lewis has been working closely with Michael Gove on No Deal preparations, and was inspired by Cummings’ love of science to construct an enormous spreadsheet to model difference scenarios styled on techniques used by NASA.
He has also worked closely alongside chief Brexit negotiator David Frost, and earlier this year was accused by EU sources of repeatedly trying to shut down negotiations.
Carrie Symonds – seen at a Remembrance Day service in Whitehall on Sunday – has emerged as a force to be reckoned with in Downing Street
Official title: NA
Boris Johnson’s wife and a former Conservative Party head of media, she has emerged as a force to be reckoned in No10.
She is known to have a difficult relationship with Cummings and blocked his bid to install his ally Lee Cain as the PM’s chief of staff, insisting this would be a ‘mistake’ given how the campaign against the pandemic had gone so far.
A brutal stand-off ensued before Symonds emerged as triumphant – with Cain announcing his resignation and Cummings said to be also considering his position.
Symonds grew up in west London and attended Godolphin and Latymer School, an independent day school for girls, and the University of Warwick.
She worked for the Tory party from 2009, before hitting the headlines when her affair with Mr Johnson, 56, came to light.
A passionate conservationist, she had a direct impact on government policy after a badger cull in Derbyshire was called off, a move that saved thousands of the animals.
Allegra Stratton is poised to become the face of Boris Johnson’s new US-style TV press briefings
Official title: No10 Press Secretary
Allegra Stratton, the former journalist poised to become the face of Downing Street’s first US-style televised press briefings, was the cause of the power struggle that erupted.
After her appointment, she insisted she would be answerable to the PM only, not Cain. With the former Daily Mirror journalist fearing he was about to be side-lined, Boris offered him the role of chief of staff.
That’s when Stratton and her allies stepped in, determined to prevent that happening.
Stratton is a respected former journalist for the Guardian and ITV among others, and helped Chancellor Rishi Sunak craft his public image before being poached by No10.
Stratton is a fully paid-up member of the metropolitan elite who was educated at Latymer Upper School in London (fees, £21,000 a year) and studied anthropology and archaeology at Cambridge. She is married to James Forsyth, the political editor of the Spectator.
Munira Mirza is the phenomenally-bright head of No10’s Policy Unit
Official title: Director of the Number 10 Policy Unit
Munira Mirza is the highly respected and phenomenally bright head of the Downing Street policy unit.
A long-time Boris aide dating back to his time as London mayor, she prefers to work away from the limelight, but is also said to have made her opposition to Cain’s appointment clear.
The Oldham-born academic is a popular figure around No10. ‘She has a huge brain but wears it lightly. Boris listens to her,’ according to one source.
Mirza’s family came to Britain from Pakistan, with her father finding work as a factory while her mother taught Urdu part time.
She attended Breeze High School and Oldham Sixth Form College, where she was the only pupil to gain a place at Oxford, where she studied English Literature.
A former member of the Revolutionary Communist Party, Mirza is now one of the members in Johnson’s circle, and was named by the PM as one of the five women who have shaped his life.
Mr Cummings has been accused of misogyny towards Carrie, a former Tory party communications chief he clashed with repeatedly until he left Downing Street last November. His allies were alleged to have referred to her as ‘Princess Nut Nut’, which enraged Mr Johnson and upset his then fiancee.
In May, the PM’s former top adviser pulled no punches as he repeatedly attacked Mr Johnson during a marathon evidence session with MPs into the Government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis.
The joint session of the health and science select committees was punctuated by a series of astonishing claims which threaten to destabilise Mr Johnson’s premiership.
Mr Cummings stunned Westminster as he said he believed Mr Johnson was ‘unfit for the job’ of PM.
The Vote Leave maverick said it was ‘crackers’ that Mr Johnson ever ended up in Number 10 as he painted a picture of a vain and dithering figure who is obsessed with the media.
Mr Cummings told MPs that Mr Johnson kept changing his mind on what to do ‘every time the Telegraph wrote an editorial’.
He claimed Mr Johnson is ‘about a thousand times too obsessed with the media’ and argued it was no wonder pandemic communications had sometimes resembled a ‘disaster zone’ because the PM ‘changes his mind 10 times a day’.
Since the story about a No 10 Christmas party first surfaced a week ago, Downing Street has consistently denied that any rules were broken.
The Daily Mirror reported on December 1 that there were two ‘boozy’ parties hosted in No 10 at the end of last year, while London was under stringent coronavirus rules.
The latter party, on December 18, was described as an unofficial Christmas bash, where staff were said to have ‘knocked back glasses of wine during a Christmas quiz and a Secret Santa’.
At the time London was under Tier Three restrictions which banned social mixing indoors. Mr Johnson is not believed to have attended the December party, though is reported to have given a speech at a packed leaving do for a senior aide on November 27.
The day after the reports surfaced last week, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman insisted that ‘at all stages the rules have been followed’ and denied a Christmas party had been thrown. But he did not deny a ‘gathering’ had taken place, when asked by journalists.
At the briefing last Wednesday, Mr Johnson’s current press secretary said she did not ‘recognise’ the account of the party, and added: ‘Covid rules have been followed at all times.’
Mr Johnson has also denied that any rules were broken, and yesterday – before the video of Miss Stratton surfaced – said he was ‘satisfied myself that the guidelines were followed at all times’. The fact that aides joked about what Miss Stratton described as a ‘fictional’ party just days after the event was said to have taken place will cast doubt on Downing Street’s repeated denials.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer last night accused the Government of lying and laughing ‘about those lies’, and urged Mr Johnson to ‘come clean’ and apologise. ‘It cannot be one rule for the Conservatives and another for everyone else,’ he said.
Ex-ITV journalist Miss Stratton was hired last year to host the briefings that Mr Johnson hoped would give the public more ‘direct engagement’ with the Government – but he ditched the idea before she made her first appearance.
The former Guardian and BBC journalist became the Prime Minister’s press secretary in October last year, when the government was planning to hold daily White House-style televised press conferences.
But the plans were dropped six months later and she was given a consolation role as the PM’s spokesman at the COP environmental summit.
Since then she has been ridiculed for a string of gaffes including urging people to join the Green Party, and advising people not to rinse plates before putting them in the dishwasher.
She was even forced to admit she drove a diesel car because the infrastructure was not in place to switch to an electric vehicle – even though her role was to promote the government’s green agenda.
In the summer, she admitted she drove a ‘third-hand’ diesel Volkswagen Golf because she needed to visit elderly relatives ‘200, 250 miles away’, and that having to stop the vehicle to charge it would slow the journey down, particularly with two young children who might otherwise remain asleep for the duration of the ride.
‘I don’t fancy it just yet,’ said Miss Stratton, who lives in north London, because of the length of time it took to make trips to visit her father in south Scotland, her mother in Gloucestershire, her grandmother in North Wales, and her in-laws in the Lake District.
‘They’re all journeys that I think would be at least one quite long stop to charge,’ she said, adding that an electric car would become a more viable option for her if ‘the stop times for recharging improve so much that it’s half an hour’.
In another interview, she suggested people could join the Green Party as a way of saving the planet.
She told the Independent: ‘When people say to me, “what can they do?”, they can do many things, they can join Greenpeace, they can join the Green party, they can join the Tory party.
‘So there’s lots of ways they can get involved in politics, but for those people who wouldn’t, how do you start to change your life in manageable, achievable, feasible, small ways?’
In an article for the Telegraph, she said the British public can help tackle the climate crisis through ‘micro-steps’ such as not rinsing dishes before putting them in the dishwasher, or by putting bread in the freezer to help it last longer.
She also suggested that consumers might buy shower gel in bar form, packaged in cardboard, and could consider walking rather than driving to the shops.
She wrote: ‘Did you know, according to COP26 principal partner Reckitt, who make Finish, you don’t really need to rinse your dishes before they go into the dishwasher?
‘Does your brand of plastic bottle shower gel come as a bar in cardboard packaging? I bet it does. It might be freezing half a loaf of bread when you get it home, to get out later in the week, rather than throwing half of it away when it goes mouldy.’
Green campaigners poured scorn on the interview, which they said shifted blame for the climate crisis on to individuals.
Miss Stratton worked as political correspondent for the Guardian until 2012, when she became political editor of BBC2’s Newsnight programme.
She was Rishi Sunak’s director of strategic communications from April to October 2020, when she was chosen as the PM’s press secretary fronting press conferences.
Her appointment caused a major bust-up in Downing Street which culminated in the departure of communications director Lee Cain.
But within months, the government decided not to press ahead with the televised briefings, even though it had spent £2.6million on a studio.
Miss Stratton’s role was then redundant, and she was given the COP job. Despite this, at last month’s COP summit, she was side-lined.
Boris Johnson’s dog Dilyn was the unwitting victim of an increasingly bitter feud between rival factions in his Downing Street ‘court’ – a canine caught in the crossfire between the allies of ousted adviser Dominic Cummings and the Prime Minister’s girlfriend Carrie Symonds, it emerged last month.
Mr Cummings was accused of being behind allegations that the dog cocked its leg over a No 10 aide’s handbag, and chewed on antique furniture and books at the Prime Minister’s countryside retreat – inspiring Mr Johnson to call for someone to ‘please shoot that f****** dog’.
Earlier this year it was claimed in The Mail on Sunday that Mr Cummings harbours a grudge against Dilyn because the dog once ‘humped his leg’ during a No 10 away day at Chequers. It was asserted he was using Dilyn to fight a proxy war against the PM’s fiancee.
Ms Symonds is said to have played a pivotal role in November’s ousting of Mr Cummings and Lee Cain, the director of communications and a fellow member of the Vote Leave faction.
Stuck in the middle of all the drama was said to be Dilyn. As the feuding has intensified, increasingly negative stories have appeared about the dog’s behaviour. Reports suggested Mr Johnson had been left with a four-figure repair bill for the damage at Chequers.
An insider said: ‘I was at a meeting where Dilyn darted under the PM’s feet with an old book in its mouth. The PM shouted, ‘For God’s sake, I’m going to get another £1,000 repair bill! Someone please shoot that f****** dog!’ Luckily, Carrie wasn’t around to hear him.’ They added: ‘I don’t think he meant it literally.’
It followed another story about ‘Dilyn’s Watergate’, which saw him cock a leg over the handbag of aide Katy Lam – who then left No 10.
It was reported that Ms Symonds was ‘very angry’ with the reaction from Miss Lam. One Tory source pointed the finger at Mr Cummings, and traced the animosity back to an away day at the Prime Minister’s Buckinghamshire home.
One said: ‘Cummings was chatting away to his friends when Dilyn ran up to him and mounted him, leaving him absolutely furious. He was raging as he tried to get the dog off of him’.
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