Politics Explained

How will Dominic Cummings’ Nasa-style Whitehall command centre work?

Boris Johnson’s chief adviser has set up a new ‘mission control’ office next door to 10 Downing Street. Jack Brown, a historian of the building, looks at the pros and cons of the plan

Thursday 03 September 2020 17:40
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Cummings arrives in Downing Street in June
Cummings arrives in Downing Street in June

No 10 Downing Street, official residence of the British prime minister for 285 years, was not built for its current purpose. It is a rambling, labyrinthine building, full of disorienting asymmetric networks of corridors with few practical meeting rooms of any size. In some ways, it is surprising that it has taken so long for someone to decide that a substantial chunk of the prime minister’s office should be moved elsewhere. Could this week’s exodus of Downing Street advisers and officials to 70 Whitehall mark the end of No 10 as we know it?

In January, it was reported that Dominic Cummings sought to persuade Boris Johnson to move from his small office in No 10 to a “Nasa-style mission control office” in No 12. Senior advisers and screens displaying real-time data would surround the prime minister, making for better decision-making. This plan was rejected at the time. However, rather than vanish, it appears to have mutated into something more substantial.

In late July, Cummings was spotted wandering around neighbouring 70 Whitehall with a floorplan. The building, connected internally to 10 Downing Street, has been home to the cabinet secretary and a portion of the Cabinet Office since the early 1960s. Having failed to convince the prime minister to leave No 10, Cummings now planned to shift a very substantial chunk of No 10’s operations into 70 Whitehall. As of Tuesday this week, a new era for the geography of power at the centre of government finally had lift-off.

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