DAN HODGES: How Sajid Javid was doomed from the day he said he’d vote Remain four years ago
It was four years ago – almost to the day – that Sajid Javid’s fate as Chancellor was sealed.
On February 21, 2016, his article appeared in The Mail on Sunday stating ‘with a heavy heart and no enthusiasm, I shall be voting for the UK to remain a member of the European Union’.
‘Dom never trusted him from that moment,’ a former Vote Leave ally explained to me.
Remainer: Sajid Javid’s decision to make clear his support for Britain to stay within the EU led Dominic Cummings not to trust him
‘Saj had always gone around posing as a Brexiteer. But then, when he came out for Remain, that was it. Dom’s view was he was just all mouth.’
Last week Cummings exacted his revenge.
According to friends of Javid, he wasn’t so much sacked as stitched up – ejected from office with a plan of such ruthlessness and cunning it would have made House Of Cards’ Sir Francis Urquhart glow with admiration.
Contrary to reports, Javid was not locked in a mortal battle with the Prime Minister over his cherished infrastructure schemes.
Both were in agreement on the need to turn on the spending taps after years of austerity.
Javid’s advisers were consistently pointing journalists back to his support for Stephen Crabb in the 2016 Tory leadership campaign, and his commitment to a £100billion Growing Britain Fund.
‘Boris and Saj were on the same page on this,’ one told me.
On the same page: Prime Minister Boris Johnson was on ‘the same page’ as Sajid Javid in their commitment to a £100 billion Growing Britain Fund
The Chancellor was also looking forward to delivering his first Budget, which he was planning to use to frame a ‘levelling-up’ narrative of social advancement.
‘He was going to stand at the Dispatch Box and talk about what you can achieve if you’re given the right opportunities,’ a supportive MP told me.
‘And he was going to be the first Chancellor to be able to do that from a position of personal experience.’
But Dominic Cummings had other ideas.
His antipathy towards Javid’s Brexit flip-flopping had fused with his attempts to exert more direct control over the Treasury.
One idea he was toying with was establishing a formal Office of the Prime Minister to take over responsibility for the allocation of individual departmental budgets, leaving the Treasury to set the macro-economic direction and raise and manage tax revenue.
When Javid resisted this power-grab, Cummings advocated his removal.
But Boris refused. He had publicly backed him during the Election campaign, the two men had a good working relationship and Javid had also enjoyed the support of Carrie Symonds, Boris’s influential partner.
At which point Cummings hatched his masterplan.
If he couldn’t convince the Prime Minister to sack his Chancellor, he would enlist his support in clipping his wings.
Under cover of a general reorganisation of the Government’s special advisers network, all of Javid’s aides would be axed.
And without an independent staff, he would effectively be Cummings’s hostage.
But, according to Javid’s allies, there also needed to be some justification for the cull. Which is when they believe the political fit-up of the second most powerful politician in the country began.
A series of strange articles started appearing in the press. Javid was considering raiding pensions.
Spartan Mark’s claim to stardom
ERG ‘Spartan’ Mark Francois is best known for his bayonet charges against the EU and the British political elite. But I understand the Tory MP has another claim to fame – he helped Meryl Streep win her 2012 Oscar for The Iron Lady.
‘I got sent down to be a technical adviser,’ he explains. ‘There’s a scene where Mrs Thatcher is responding to Labour, and she bellows, ‘My right honourable friend…’ So I said, ‘Ms Streep, just to let you know, she wouldn’t actually call a Labour Member of Parliament ‘my friend’. He’s one of her opponents, so she’d call him ‘the honourable member’.’ And she looked at me, and in her best Mrs Thatcher voice said, ‘If I want to call him my honourable friend, I shall call him my honourable friend.’ But then they did a new take, and she did it the way I recommended.’
In her Oscar acceptance speech, Streep thanked friends, colleagues, her husband and even her hair stylist. But strangely, there was no mention of the Hon Member for Rayleigh and Wickford. You might have to wait till she plays Theresa May, Mark.
He was contemplating introducing Ed Miliband’s mansion tax.
Tory MPs – understandably – were up in arms at this impending assault on their voter base.
Except that Javid’s allies insist he never had any intention of doing any of those things.
They never formed part of his Budget planning.
None of the stories was briefed by him or members of his team. No one in the wider Government had even had discussions about such a major and politically inflammable proposal.
‘Sajid has basically been framed,’ says a supportive MP.
‘People were deliberately making it look like his team were out there briefing this stuff, but they weren’t. Whoever was doing it was trying to damage him in the eyes of the parliamentary party.’
And they succeeded, though not in the way they intended.
The assumption in No10 was Javid would throw his advisers under one of Boris’s new buses, and reluctantly acquiesce to their sacking.
But the man who used to face down abuse from National Front skinheads was made of sterner stuff.
He would not be ‘neutered’, he informed the Prime Minister, triggering a desperate but futile attempt by Boris and his senior aides to get him to remain in post.
Dom Cummings had finally got his revenge, but at a price.
Revenge at a price: Dominic Cummings wanted greater control over the Treasury but Javid refused to be ‘neutered’
One positive is the authority of Downing Street has been asserted.
There will be no Blair/Brown-style psychodramas between Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak. And Philip Hammond’s campaign of guerrilla warfare against his own Cabinet colleagues will not be repeated.
This is also the first reshuffle of the post-Brexit era.
However the various Cabinet Ministers perform, they have at least been appointed on merit, rather than where they can be squeezed on to the Remain/Leave seesaw.
But this was also Boris’s first reshuffle and he was unable to complete it without losing his Chancellor.
That smacks of a carelessness bordering on recklessness.
It’s also a bit early in the Johnson premiership for this sort of mishap.
As one Tory MP said to me: ‘These things happen in Government, but usually after seven or eight years, not seven or eight weeks.’
And while Downing Street’s authority has been reinforced, the authority of the Prime Minister has actually been weakened.
New Chancellor: Rishi Sunak may be the new man in No 10 but Boris Johnson’s authority has been undermined, according to Dan Hodges
This morning people are no longer talking about Johnson’s Government but Dom Cummings’s Government.
Neutering Sajid Javid may have been the objective.
But Cummings is now in danger of neutering his own Prime Minister.
No10 obviously refute all this.
Their official line is that Cummings is blameless.
There is no great conspiracy.
Javid’s resignation was the fault of his own team, who had not served him well and given him bad advice.
But Javid’s backbench allies are adamant – their man was deposed in a classical House Of Cards-style coup.
Was the Chancellor of the Exchequer fitted up? You may think that. I couldn’t possibly comment.
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