Boris Johnson has resisted calls from MPs, the media and the public to dismiss Dominic Cummings, despite police concluding that his senior adviser probably broke the law.
After an investigation, Durham police concluded Cummings might have broken lockdown rules, but it would have been a “minor breach” and would result in no further action.
Following the police statement, Johnson said he intended to “draw a line under the matter”.
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According to the Daily Mail’s Henry Deedes, that means the danger for Cummings has probably now passed. “Barring revelations in the weekend newspapers that Mr Cummings breakfasts on marinated puppy dogs’ tails, the PM’s aide seems now to have ridden the storm,” he says.
The Guardian columnist James Butler agrees, saying: “There is a moment in all British political scandals when a prickly sensation creeps up the spine: ‘He’s going to get away with it, isn’t he?’”
The decision to keep Cummings on despite the public outcry reveals that a calculation has been made in Downing Street that the scandal will soon dissipate, says The Times’s Philip Collins. “The prime minister has clearly decided that it is a passing storm,” Collins writes. “He refuses to countenance that Mr. Cummings might have done anything wrong, even when the Durham constabulary politely disagrees.”
Yet the cost to the prime minister has been immense, Collins says.
“Even if you kid yourself that Mr. Cummings won the last election, you have to see that he is helping to lose the next one. He is responsible for a big drop in trust and support for the government, which is unlikely to come back.”
Indeed, polling numbers out this week reflect a broad loss of confidence in the government.
By Tuesday, the Conservatives’ polling lead over Labour had dropped by nine points in a week. Separate polling showed that Boris Johnson’s personal approval rating had plunged 20 points in the same period.
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The decision to stand by Cummings has damaged not just the Conservative Party, but the country as a whole, says The Independent’s editorial board in a leading article.
“Messages, already muddled by a botched comms strategy, are being rendered irrelevant when the man who invents the slogans makes a mockery of them,” it says.
The concern was shared this week by cabinet ministers. In an email to constituents earlier this week, the Paymaster General Penny Mordaunt said the row “undermined key public health messages”.
Scotland's Health Secretary Jeane Freeman agreed, saying: “My worry about the situation that is developing and emerging elsewhere in the United Kingdom is that that public health message, that really important message becomes confused in peoples' minds.”
If nothing else, the episode has blown a hole in Cummings’ mystique, says The Spectator’s Katy Balls, citing mutinous murmurings from within the cabinet.
“Whether or not Cummings stays in post, cabinet ministers see in the latest drama an opportunity to change the power balance to their advantage. ‘He will struggle to command the same respect as before or even to give orders,’ argues one. Others agree: ‘We need to stop treating him as some high prophet rather than an adviser.’”
The only mystery here is how the Conservative Party, which “prides itself on realism and ruthlessness... has squandered so much political capital on an overrated adviser”, says Philip Collins.
“They have averted their eyes from a takeover by an insecure prime minister and his flawed svengali. They have stood idly by while Mr Cummings drives the government into a wall because he cannot see where he is going,” he concludes.
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