Not even the premature launch of the Contact Tracing scheme or further easing of lockdown could distract large swathes of the population from the ongoing Dominic Cummings saga this week.
If the PM was under the impression that it would just go away then he has underestimated the country’s collective anger.
The question is, where does it go from here, and can Johnson survive, with or without his sidekick Cummings?
Why are we in this predicament?
There is, of course the question, why are we in this predicament? Has it not been the case that the role of the SPAD was to support the Minister, and as soon as they became the story, they were out the door? Did the PM know about Cummings road trip, and in not stopping him effectively authorise his breach of the lockdown rules? Is there something darker binding him close, perhaps a marriage of convenience as we face all those impending international trade-deal negotiations? Or is it simply loyalty to a caring and supportive friend?
Hopefully, in time the answer to this question may become clear, but right now we have to console ourselves with the simple fact that the PM is unwilling to let Cummings go, in fact, seems determined to keep him, despite the risks and damage it may cause.
Johnson wishes to ride it out and hope it will all go away. He refuses to answer further questions on the matter in the afternoon briefing, and is quick to ensure that the scientists don’t either. A well-timed story in the Daily Mail revealing that Cummings intends to quit later on in the year anyway, has the air of a desperate plea for leniency, comparable to a young child pleading to watch just one more cartoon when it’s already way past their bedtime.
No intention of walking
It seems clear that Cummings has no intention of walking, nor does Johnson show any inclination to sack him. The irony is, if he had just put up his hands and accepted a telling off, he could well have got away with it. If he had only slipped quietly out the front door, only to re-enter from the rear to carry on just as normal.
The anger and furore may well continue and become too much to stand, and Cummings may well end up being pushed, or even jump of his own volition. If that does happen, will it have irrevocably damaged the PM? The answer to that is almost certainly yes.
If Cummings remains, the question remains the same, will he have irrevocably damaged the PM?
Again, the answer is a probable yes.
Two major events
There are two major events that will prevent his immediate demise and the crowning of a new leader. The first is the current COVID-19 crisis. A political coup within the Tory party in the midst of the greatest crisis since World War II is pretty unimaginable. There is also the fairly major issue of the diabolical way in which this government has been handling the whole affair, even the greediest of self-serving politicians would rather Johnson sees this through and take responsibility for it all.
And then there is Brexit.
Danny Kruger, the Tory MP and PM’s former Political Secretary, sent a letter this week to all of the party’s MPs, instructing them to save Cummings in order to get Brexit done. In an extraordinary, event revealing a broader belief that the PM can’t operate without the assistance of Cummings, it became clear that in the midst of Coronavirus, this government was still focused on Brexit.
Rebuilding for the next election
Cummings may well survive the current storm of anger, and the PM’s status may be permanently tarnished, but it seems unlikely that Johnson will be leaving any time soon. In fact, it seems unlikely that he will be going anywhere until he has at least ensured our complete exit from the EU.
Who knows? The great British voting public are fickle, and their memories can be short. On the other hand, this could all be too much and the Conservative Grandees could well see a benefit in moving Johnson on, in time to rebuild for the next election, with any blame being passed on to the previous incumbent in Number Ten.
And Cummings? Well, I suspect he’ll still be around, outliving the PM, and still pulling the strings in some form or other.
Who knows though, I never thought people would fall for a lie written on the side of a big red bus.