It would seem that Johnson thinks he can keep Cummings, simply by grinding down the media until they give up the demand that he go, even if it is now very clear that he did break lockdown regulations.
I note that John Crace describes Johnson as both ‘quite dim’ and ‘totally amoral’ in the Guardian today. As is Crace’s knack, he gets the measure of the man. I’d add that the amorality leaves the supposed great communicator either actually quite unable to read the sentiment of others, the majority of the nation included, or utterly indifferent to that sentiment.
The net effect is the same. Now the veneer of ability has been shattered it cannot be recreated. The real Johnson has been seen. It can’t be unseen now, even by all those who had overlooked two decades or more of warnings. This man really does not care.
Indifference can be a virtue in a politician. If it implies an ability to do the right thing even at personal cost it is seen to be a merit. But when it implies that the opinion of the electorate simply does not matter then it is something else: then it is a millstone that will inevitably drag the politician down. When once the popular reaction to the acts of the politician was one of tolerance and acceptance of best efforts, the moment indifference is exposed then the lens through which their actions are seen changes. From then on every failing (and every politician always has many failings; they go with the job) becomes further evidence of their incompetence. Or indifference, and even contempt, in this case.
What even Johnson must know is that this affair has cost him considerable political capital. And if he does not, his party does. Weekend opinion polls will be interesting.
Johnson thinks he can survive the media onslaught. He will believe that the right wing papers will tack back into line. But he faces three problems.
The first is that his latest moves on Covid 19 fly in the face of the scientific advice he has been given. His claim that his actions are guided by the science no longer stacks. He’s now defenceless if his reopening after lockdown does, as many expect, results in increasing death rates. They will be his responsibility.
Second, as South Korea is now finding, renewed lockdowns might be required after reopening. And Johnson no longer has the moral authority to make any such demand. In that case the current failings will rebound on him.
Third, he might be indifferent, but his party is not. People give up more financially valuable careers to become Tory MPs for only one reason, and that is to taste power. That might imply systematic amorality on their part. But it also suggests a collective ruthlessness if under threat. And Johnson now threatens Tory MPs. Being a single term Tory MP elected in December 2020 is not going to deliver much cash value to those Tory MPs in what really do remain marginal seats. And they will, you can be sure, act on the one conviction that they definitely share, which is self interest.
Put these three issues together and we’re down to one thing that determines Johnson’s fate now. Macmillan may not have said everything in politics is down to ‘events, dear boy’, but if he did not then he should have done. That’s because to a very large extent that is true.
And events to come look to be hopelessly bleak for Johnson. If a new Covid 19 outbreak does not get him, mass unemployment, major corporate failures and a Brexit induced slump will. There is simply not a glimmer of hope on his horizon now.
You might say that such would be the fate of any prime minister at this moment. To some extent that would be true. But Johnson has personally created the impression that he is dim and amoral to the point of indifference in the face of these difficulties. Those impressions can only be reinforced as events overwhelm him in weeks and months to come.
In the face of the disaster that this will spell out for the Tories their liking for the man who took them to victory will very rapidly fade. I strongly suspect a coup will be organised. I cannot say when. That will depend on events. And there may be a desire for delay so that as much of the bad news sticks to Johnson as possible. But come I think it will.
Johnson had one good day in office. It was February 3, when he delivered his celebratory speech on leaving the EU. In that same speech he cocked-a-snoop at coronavirus and said he would be indifferent to international opinion on the issue. We have already paid for that with far too many deaths in the UK. And as matters get worse, as they will, Johnson will pay the price for that.
I accept Johnson may survive this Cummings crisis. But he is engaged in a battle he cannot win. It’s just time before his party ditch him. And he’s too dim to realise.