What is Substack? Online platform where Dominic Cummings publishes his blog explained

Boris Johnson’s former aide published a string of WhatsApp messages on his blog in which the PM apparently called Matt Hancock ‘f**king hopeless’

What is Substack? Online platform where Dominic Cummings publishes his blog explained (Photo by Jonathan Brady-WPA Pool/Getty Images)
What is Substack? Online platform where Dominic Cummings publishes his blog explained (Photo by Jonathan Brady-WPA Pool/Getty Images)

The prime minister’s former adviser has created another political row after publishing a series of texts reportedly from the prime minister on his new blog, through the subscription platform Substack.

Dominic Cummings published a lengthy post on the platform on Wednesday (16 June) which expanded on previous allegations he has made about health secretary Matt Hancock, and the prime minister’s critical view of him.

Sign up to our NationalWorld Today newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

What is Substack?

Substack is a relatively new subscription newsletter platform, which allows users to self-publish their work and have their audience pay to receive it in their inbox.

Writers sell subscriptions to their work with Substack receiving a fee of around 10 per cent.

Launched in 2017 by Hamish McKenzie, the platform has become increasingly popular in the last few years, with a number of high profile sign-ups, the latest of which being Dominic Cummings.

The platform allows content creators to easily monetise their writing, and allows subscribers to support the individual writers they like or are interested in directly.

While typically used by writers, some of the creators on the platform use it to monetise other types of work, such as music curation.

Most users choose to offer a few different levels of subscription, with a basic level of content often available for free, but further additional levels of content available to those who are willing to pay more.

Some people have criticised the platform, as it allows users to publish unverifiable content without any editorial oversight.

Though intended as a self-publishing platform, Substack has also been criticised over decisions to pay certain high-profile writers to join the platform, or offering preferable deals to established names.

Father Ted writer Graham Linehan joined the platform after he was banned from Twitter for violating Twitter’s rules on “hateful conduct and platform manipulation”.

What did Dominic Cummings say on it?

In a lengthy, free-to-read post on the Substack platform, Cummings published a number of allegations, accusations and rebuttals relating to the ongoing dispute following his committee appearance last month.

In that hearing he alleged that Hancock had lied to parliament and the public about care homes, that the prime minister had intended to sack Hancock but decided against it, and that he believed Boris Johnson to be unfit for the job of prime minister.

In the latest 7000+ word post, he published what he claims are WhatsApp exchanges with the prime minister, in which the PM refers to Hancock as “totally f*cking hopeless” and ponders replacing him with Michael Gove.

Cummings wrote that Johnson never confronted the health secretary over any of the failings, “despite dozens of requests from two cabinet secretaries, me and other ministers and officials.”

He also sought to reiterate his claims that the government initially followed a herd immunity strategy, before realising it would lead to too many deaths and changing course late, resulting in an extended lockdown, greater economic damage and more deaths than necessary.

Cummings says that an inquiry into Covid must happen rapidly, as Boris Johnson does not intend to stay on as prime minister for very long, and large scale government enquiries can often take years.

Cummings has said he will use the Substack to share “a lot of stuff on covid and some of my experience in government” for free.

He also said that paid subscribers will be able to read “more recondite stuff” on topics such as the 2019 general election, Westminster and the media.

He wrote that part of the aim of starting the newsletter is to “help… those campaigning for an immediate, urgent and open Parliamentary inquiry into what really happened with Covid”.