The last twenty four hours have destroyed any credibility the Government still had over their handling of the coronavirus crisis. The flouting of the rules on lockdown by the Prime Minister’s senior adviser Dominic Cummings, combined with both Johnson’s and Cummings’ defiance and unapologetic stance, has outraged the public and even some Conservative MPs. Many have reported receiving a flood of angry emails from constituents and rightly so. Millions have been forced to stay at home away from loved ones, even those who have been sick or dying, whilst those in government are apparently exempt from the very rules they are imposing.
This is not about Brexit or Cummings as a person (as intolerable as he may be). This is about fairness and no one being above the law. By defending Cummings, Johnson has not only undermined trust in his government but also undermined the efforts being made to protect public health. Even the very scientists who the Prime Minister has claimed to be following the guidance of have roundly criticised his performance today.
But the fact that Johnson has jumped head over heels to defend an unelected adviser also speaks volumes about his leadership. For months, it has been alleged that Cummings has been the man really in control and guiding policy, and Johnson’s refusal to dismiss him only gives those rumours greater credence. That Johnson seems to think that the Government can not do without him begs questions about whether he has his own vision for the country or whether he is simply having his strings pulled from elsewhere.
Time will tell what the long-lasting implications of this may be. A YouGov poll released yesterday had suggested 52 percent of people wanted Cummings to resign, and the Daily Mail is publicly calling for his resignation. Even in the Tory backbench WhatsApp group, made up of over 200 MPs, only three are defending Johnson’s position.
Johnson has taken a huge gamble in defending his adviser – one where he can only lose. If he is forced into firing him now, it will be seen as a humiliating U-turn by the Government. Should he stand firm, the anger felt by the public may turn support away from his government, only five months on from his landslide majority. Either way, damage has already been done.