But with the British public insisting that Cummings breach the coronavirus lock that millions had dutifully followed, and a growing number of Tory MPs demanding his resignation, can they endure?
And if Cummings does not come from his own will, will (or can) Johnson remove him? Don’t trust it, said one person who worked with both men on Vote Leave. “The whole operation is Dom. The whole of No. 10 is staffed by Dom protégés. Ministers, secretaries of state and special advisers are only present if he says so … If he doesn’t want to go, it would be a dirty thing for Boris to try to get him. “
Given a seasoned commentator, the editor of the reaction site Iain Martin, Johnson is “psychologically dependent”
But those who know both men say that they are complementary. “As a big-screen person, Boris needs a detailed man. And as a frontman, he needs a guy, says another leading person from the Vote Leave campaign and talked about anonymity to discuss former colleagues freely. “They fill this set of knowledge better than anyone else in Westminster, which makes him almost (but not entirely) unchangeable.”
Johnson, the former voting figure said, would be disgusted to share business with Cummings even in ordinary times. In the midst of the worst public health crisis of a century, a collapsing economy and the imminent end of the transition period after Brexit, he will keep him ever closer.
“In quieter times, it is conceivable that a more collegiate figure [than Cummings] maybe it works, ”they said. “[Now] The PM needs clarity and garbage, so I don’t expect them to go anytime soon. “
In addition to the operational effects of losing Cummings himself – he is the chief architect of the government’s policy agenda and the person who, through relentless choice and focus groups, ensures that No. 10 remains focused on what Johnson calls “people’s priorities” – there is the risk of who can join him.
Vote Leave veterans occupy several top 10 jobs and Cabinet: from Communications Director Lee Cain and Brexit Adviser Oliver Lewis to Foreign Minister Dominic Raab, Prime Minister Michael Gove and Interior Minister Priti Patel. Johnson may have been a front man, but until very recently some of the key figures who now answer him in their own right endeavored. Some of them are more indebted to Cummings than to Johnson.
Gove in particular has a much deeper relationship with Cummings – his former special counsel – than Johnson does. Even the young and popular chancellor, Rishi Sunak, the first song count said, was “very much a Gove protégé” during the EU referendum days.
Farewell companies with Cummings may appear to be a simple choice for Johnson, given the level of public anger over his alleged breach of rules he helped create, but if he does not choose to go, the prime minister risks jeopardizing the balance of power within the influential government set of which he is the figure but not the spiritual leader.
Cummings himself, unwilling to enter the government at all when Johnson sought him out last year and initially intended to remain in the post until Brexit was achieved, now seems determined to stay, in his own words, to help the country through the crisis faces. He is, say colleagues, loyal to his boss – and for Johnson, the loyalty of such a figure is very important.
“For all leaders, the circle of people they can completely trust is one that tends to decrease,” said a third former Vote Leave figure, campaign chairman Gisela Stuart. “And for Boris, it started with a narrow core to begin with.”
If Cummings goes, it seems likely that it will happen in consultation with Johnson, not under orders.
Cummings is known for his ability to read and respond to public opinion, and if it is likely to make him think he must fall on his sword, it is new evidence of a free fall in government support.
According to research firm Savanta, Johnson’s personal ratings have dropped from +19 to -1 in just four days, while the government is down to -2, the London Evening Standard reported. Meanwhile, a survey on YouGov on Tuesday found 59 percent of Britons think he should quit.
So far, Cummings and Johnson show no sign of giving in to what they used to call “the will of the people.”
“The key strength of Dominic Cumming during the referendum and election campaigns was to understand what the public does and don’t care about and then focus on the important things,” said Chris Curtis, political research director at YouGov. “But one of the reasons why the last few days have played particularly poorly for the government is because they have judged that calculation at this time. They thought the story would continue but it did not.”
Johnson may be aware that criticism of the government’s coronavirus response has already occurred, that giving up and losing his top adviser risks being characterized by opposition parties and media critics – and making himself even more vulnerable.
“The prime minister – after deciding to keep him – must keep him,” said a former prime minister. “Losing him now would be a huge loss to the prime minister. You either dig in or you don’t. The capital is now spent. If he got rid of him he would lose even more capital and he would be weakened. If he got rid of him now the blood would be in the water and the sharks smelled it. “
Johnson has faced “media trial” previously, the ex-minister added, and has “taken it out.”
“He doesn’t like the idea of people quitting unless they have done something wrong. I expect him to sympathize with Dom over it and stand by him. “
But public dissatisfaction makes this section different from some of the criticism Cummings and his set have faced before, for example, over their misleading use of figures during the Brexit referendum or apparent disdain for constitutional norms in breach of parliament on Brexit.
For Johnson, unless attitudes change, it looks more and more like a problem without good solutions: lose Cummings and with him the engine of his government or keep him and lose the public.