By Tom Sheldrick - Political Correspondent

The story that's dominated the last week has been about Dominic Cummings' actions as a visitor to our region, but it's worth remembering that the Prime Minister's chief adviser is a North-Easterner. One who has an increasingly complicated relationship with the place.

He grew up in County Durham, attended the fee-paying Durham School, and helped run the infamously grotty Klute nightclub in the city. He went away to Oxford University, then Russia and, of course, London. Several times in recent years, he's said to have hibernated on his father's farm near Durham for long periods of deep thinking and blog-writing.

I'm not going to rehearse the arguments around his return there at the end of March. Durham Police has now concluded he "might" have committed a "minor breach" of lockdown rules in driving to Barnard Castle, Mr Cummings has insisted he acted within the guidelines, and the whole episode does certainly seem to have undermined the government’s coronavirus messaging.

Dominic Cummings held a press conference in the Downing Street rose garden. Credit: PA

During that extraordinary press conference in the Downing Street rose garden on Bank Holiday Monday, he pronounced 'Bar-ned Castle' as the locals do, his accent containing a North East twang from someone who's spent a long time away.

The Durham Miners' Association, who are far from natural allies, said this week: "Dominic Cummings may be from Durham, but he is not of Durham... We look after each other. We do not put people in danger through acts of selfishness.”

Perhaps, but his track record as a political strategist does suggest he holds a deep understanding of voters here and how to appeal to the maximum number of them.

In 2004, he was a key part of the campaign against setting up an elected regional assembly in the North East, focusing on the cost and using a huge inflatable white elephant to show what it could become. His side won an enormous 78% of the vote, trashing the plans of Tony Blair's government. It now seems though that Mr Cummings might have changed his mind about giving more powers to the regions - more on that below.

As has been well-documented, he was the central figure in the official Leave campaign at the 2016 EU referendum. With the red bus claiming 'We send the EU £350m a week' and the 'take back control' slogan, 58% in the North East voted out, despite predictions that the region's economy has the most to lose.

He was also the driving force in Boris Johnson's general election campaign last December. With the promise to 'Get Brexit Done', they took the number of Conservative MPs in the North East from three to 10. Their gains included 'red wall' seats that had never been held by the Tories before - like the Bishop Auckland constituency, which takes in Barnard Castle.

Mr Cummings was a key part of the campaign against setting up an elected regional assembly in the North East in 2004. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

This week, though, he and the government have misread the public mood, and the anti-establishment adviser has become the symbol of damaging 'one rule for us, another for them' feeling.

More than 40 Conservative MPs have called on him to resign or be fired - but none of those in the North East, whose voices would have echoed loudest, joined the list.

Wiltshire MP Danny Kruger is reported to have messaged the recent intake of Tory MPs saying that Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings "...are why we won the 2019 election and them together is the only way to GBD [Get Brexit Done], level up the regions, and fix Whitehall - the only things that will win us the next election too."

The government's self-declared mission to level up prosperity around the country is thought to have been initiated and led by Mr Cummings. It's about spreading power and investment away from London and the South East and into regions like ours, and it could make a huge difference if you believe the hype. The shape of Britain's future relationship with the European Union is also of critical importance here, and we have been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus crisis.

While the furore over Mr Cummings' actions dies down, memories are likely to linger longest in our part of the world. There may be a tourist boost, but residents of Barnard Castle will surely get thoroughly fed up with hearing the same response any time they tell someone where they're from. People will feel differently about whether his visit brought any increased risk to the area, but it's unlikely to have made many more likely to vote Conservative the next time they are asked.

The fact Dominic Cummings has kept his job at the heart of Downing Street shows how much the Prime Minister depends on him, and means how he's likely to continue playing a key role in shaping our region's fortunes.

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