Gavin Havery looks at the local connections of political strategist Dominic Cummings, and how the brains behind the Leave campaign used the regional assembly referendum as a dry run for the Brexit vote.

DOMINIC CUMMINGS, the mastermind behind Vote Leave and the Prime Minister’s leading political advisor, is at the top of his game and at the heart of power in Westminster. But the 47-year-old’s journey there is an interesting one, which has its roots deeply embedded in the North-East.

An interesting fact about Cummings’ background is he used to work at Klute nightclub, popular among Durham’s students for its infamous “quaddies”, or quadruple shots. It is a venue where people were advised to “wipe their shoes on the way out” – in 1996 it was even voted Europe’s second worst nightclub by FHM magazine.

The Northern Echo:

The worst, located in Belgrade, was destroyed in a fire shortly after and Klute became the winner by default.

Klute was once owned by Cummings’ Uncle Phil, and he worked there in his youth, taking money on the door, and not, as has been reported elsewhere, as a bouncer.

Cummings, the son of an oil rig project manager and a special needs teacher, was born in Durham in 1971.

He went to Durham School, which is fee-paying, before going on to study Ancient and Modern History at Exeter College, Oxford, where he got a first-class degree, graduating in 1994.

After university he moved to Russia for three years to work on various projects including one in which he tried to set up an airline connecting Samara, in the south, to Vienna but the venture reportedly fell foul of the KGB and was abandoned after one flight.

It is understood his father bought North Lodge Farm, on the A167 Darlington Road, on the outskirts of Durham, after retiring from the oil industry, at around this time.

Cummings is listed as co-owner and last week he faced allegations of hypocrisy after it emerged the family has claimed £235,000 in EU handouts for the farm, more than was paid for it, despite his own private opposition to the subsidies scheme.

The Northern Echo:

From 1999 to 2002 he was the director at Business for Sterling, the campaign against the UK joining the Euro, before he went on to become director of strategy for The Conservative Party.

He returned to the farm in 2002 after quitting his role and spent two years in a “bunker” he built with his father, reading science and history and “trying to understand the world”, according to his profile on the Conservative Home website.

During the 2004 North-East referendum campaign on regional devolution, he honed his skills on what would be a precursor for his success with Vote Leave 12 years later.

With his leadership, the campaign defeated Tony Blair’s New Labour Government, with 78 per cent of voters rejecting a North-East assembly.

CUMMINGS also is well connected in the region on his wife’s side. In 2011, he married Mary Wakefield, the deputy editor of The Spectator magazine, daughter of Sir Humphrey Wakefield and Lady Mary Cecil Grey, a descendent of Earl Charles Grey II. The family own Chillingham Castle in Northumberland.

Before the EU referendum in 2016, Cummings worked an advisor to Michael Gove in the Department for Education, where he development a reputation for his “blunt style”.

Former Prime Minister David Cameron once described him as a “career psychopath,” but his maverick approach to politics and campaigning have earned him a place at top table in Boris Johnson’s Government. He is widely seen as one of the brains behind the team who helped persuade the public to vote to leave the European Union.

It is Cummings who is credited as creating the “Take Back Control” slogan used during the campaign and the “£350m a week for the NHS” slogan on the side of the Brexit bus.

The Northern Echo:

Thom Brooks, Dean of Durham Law School at Durham University, an outspoken critic of Brexit, says: “Is Cummings the most powerful person, behind the throne, or the second most powerful person behind the throne? He is certainly at the very top.

“He is driving the agenda behind Boris Johnson so he is in a very strong position of influence.

“As guard dog to the Prime Minister, he is someone who will always be at his side.

“When he first came into Number 10 he was in the background and photographed in the shadows, maybe that was how he wanted it. He is kind of like an Alastair Campbell, who was very close to Tony Blair. He is very much a figure like that like that in terms of closeness and influence.

“They will be very close because of their work together on Vote Leave, and also what brings them together is also neither is afraid of controversy or ruffling feathers.”