Boris Johnson demonstrated strength when he refused to bend to immense pressure for a Cabinet inquiry into the behaviour of his top adviser, Dominic Cummings. Johnson believes that Cummings has not broken the rules of the lockdown by travelling with his family to his parent’s house in Durham for valid reasons of childcare, while he and his wife had coronavirus symptoms. A No.10 spokesman said, “The Prime Minister has said he believes Mr Cummings behaved reasonably and legally, given all the circumstances and he regards this issue as closed.” The Durham police statement concluded there might have been only a minor breach of regulations, but not of social distancing.
But not everyone agreed, as many as 60 MPs did not support the PM’s view, and thousands of constituents, who have obediently obeyed lockdown protocols, have complained to their local MPs that there is one rule for the mandarins and another for them.
This week the cross-party Liaison Committee, which is the only committee entitled to summon the PM, grilled Johnson on various issues including Cummings’ position. Johnson remained adamant that it was time to move on.
The attack on Cummings had various motivations. Cummings is the guru behind Brexit and Johnson’s general election campaign. Remainers and pro-EU media do not view him respectfully. Even some Brexiteers do not approve of his annihilistic methods. His dishevelled appearance gets some hackles up. Cummings’ attire is considered unfitting for a senior position in public office. Cummings is a notoriously straight talker: MPs who have had opposing views to his, say he is unspeakably rude and has upset many.
This so-called lockdown breach was considered by some Cummings deniers as payback time—disaffected MPs and journalists ganged up to displace him. If MPs were using previous grievances against Cummings under the pretext of his visit to Durham, this was misleading the public.
Cummings is the superspad—spad is shorthand for special adviser. Spads are partisan temporary civil servants who advise ministers. In February, Cummings had a plan to bring all spads and strategy under his control but this went noticeably awry during coronavirus times. Now is the time to bring the messaging back under control, for UK’s independence and sovereignty Cummings is the keycard. Cummings is essential for Brexit. The loyal Brexit Cabinet knows this and leapt to defend him in an obviously coordinated effort. Without Cummings, UK’s negotiating resolve with the EU would be weakened, with the transition extension period expiring at the end of June. So Cummings’ skills are crucial.
Johnson trusts Cummings. His genius touch is proven and he does not want to be Prime Minister, all the others who would like to replace him would have their eye on the top job. If Tories elected Johnson to get Brexit done, then Cummings is part of that package.
Parliament is due to resume on Tuesday. With the new social distancing measures, only 50 MPs will be admitted to the chamber at a time. It will not even be 25 Conservative and 25 Labour, as Green and LibDem MPs will also be within the first come first seated. Nobody knows how this will work; meetings and committees are still only permitted virtually. If Parliament is for passing laws then there is the option of electronic voting, which is a gift to government as it avoids much of the scrutiny. If Parliament‘s purpose is to be the checks and balances necessary for democracy, the full complement of MPs will be required for proper scrutiny. Otherwise, the media will continue to occupy the role of the opposition.