I must confess to having a soft spot for mavericks such as David Cameron's Spad Steve Hilton and Michael Gove/Boris Johnson's Spad Dominic Cummings. They were rightly critical of Whitehall's many faults and fizzing with ideas of how to improve things. But they were very poor at understanding the concerns of those with whom they worked, and seldom willing to devote much time to consultation, explanation and persuasion. Their critics said that they lacked empathy and therefore failed to read what was happening in their meetings.
Fellow Spad Giles Wilkes said that Steve Hilton was unable "to grasp a system he hoped to control. He did not so much collide with reality as arrive late to meetings with it, shout at it, question what makes it tick, and then storm off, appalled at reality's obstinacy".
Immediately after his appointment by Prime Minister Johnson, Mr Cummings told all Whitehall's other Spads that he, rather than their Secretaries of State, was now effectively their line manager. He then, only a few weeks later, dismissed one of the Chancellor's Spads without even telling, let alone consulting, the Chancellor, Sajid Javid. As the IfG's Jill Rutter noted:
- this was unprecedented,
- it showed that No.10 was determined to make clear to all Secretaries of State their lowly pace in the pecking order compared with Mt Cummings, and
- No.10 could get away with it because Mr Johnson had appointed a Cabinet of unequals unwilling and unable to challenge him.
Ex-Minister David Laws commented that Mr Cummings is "very good at defining himself against things like the north-east assembly, the EU ... or David Cameron. Now he has to show he can deliver not just bloody good campaigns but something positive".