Richard North, 25/04/2021  

The Sun on Sunday will certainly strike a chord with some of its readers when it dismisses Cummings's "rants", declaring that they "won't amount to much if PM unlocks Britain further".

By igniting his explosive row with Dominic Cummings, the paper says, "the PM has re-energised a dormant opposition and inspired every two-bob critic to speak out".

This evidently includes "that failed politician Dominic Grieve". He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme (recounted by the Guardian) that Johnson was a "vacuum of integrity" – a rather appropriate description given the Dyson leaks and one which is self-evidently true.

The Sun chooses to cast him as an "embittered Tory", resorting to its own tu quoque moment, writing: "How rich to hear this democracy-denying Remainer fanatic bemoan a lack of integrity in No10. Where was his integrity when he plotted to overturn the biggest mandate in UK history?"

Also mentioned is Nicola Sturgeon, "fresh from a muck-throwing inquiry into her own conduct", who "now has the cheek to start lecturing Westminster". But, says the Sun, "these nauseating blasts show the needless aggro Boris has stirred up".

Worse will come, it says, when Cummings appears before a Commons select committee in May. But, before then, "Boris has far more important business to attend to. Like further unlocking Britain, revitalising our economy and capitalising on our brilliant vaccine rollout".

"Do that", concludes the paper, "and the rantings of yesterday's man Cummings won't amount to a hill of beans".

And to an extent, the paper is probably right. As the vaccine programme has progressed, Johnson has enjoyed a sustained "bounce" in the polls. The current Opinium poll on voting intentions puts the Tories ahead on 44 percent with Labour trailing on 33 percent.

Johnson, as prime minister, remains on net plus one approval with 41 percent approving and 40 percent disapproving. He matches Starmer who is on net plus one as well. But, in his case, 33 percent approve and 32 percent disapprove. These figures (recorded by the Cummings intervention) are largely static.

The clue to the government's popularity is to be found in polling data. Its handling of the pandemic remains positive, even if it has fallen back slightly from the plus eight figure in the last poll to an approval rating of plus four. This, we are told, is mostly driven by strong approval numbers for the vaccine rollout: 72 percent approve while eight percent disapprove, identical to the last poll.

But what is highly illustrative is another part of the poll (pictured) where respondents are asked to mark certain people and institutions as either "corrupt" or "clean and honest". Over a third (37 percent) described Johnson as mostly or completely corrupt versus 31 percent who considered him as "clean and honest".

This largely confirms that which we've experienced for some time: Johnson's corruption has been "priced in". That he is a congenital liar with the morals of a retarded tomcat is regarded as a given and, for the moment, has no electoral impact.

One cannot say, however, that this will always be the case. There is the phenomenon known as the "switch". I don't recall the first person to use this term, but it describes the fortunes of every government in office.

Up to a point, it can do no wrong but there then comes the "switch", after which it can do no right. Things that would have left the government untarnished then take on a monumental importance, building towards its eventual downfall.

There is another way of putting this: the "rocks in the pool" analogy. Through the course of the life of a government, the "rocks" thrown at it splash into the pool but sink without trace. But, over time, the number of submerged rocks accumulate until there are so many that the next one does not sink out of sight. It sits there, resting on all the others, there for all to see.

In his own way, that is what Cummings has been doing – chucking rocks in the pool. And the Sun might be right. They might sink without trace and do no immediate damage. But they will still be there, and there will be more "rocks" to come.

The problem for Johnson, though, is that no-one knows how many rocks Cummings has in his bag. That, at least, is the "take" of the Sunday Telegraph which headlines its obligatory Cummings story with: "Number 10 fears Dominic Cummings bombshell dossier".

"Downing Street insiders", we are told, "are increasingly fearful that a devastating 'treasure trove' of internal memos and emails from Dominic Cummings will paint the Government in the worst possible light at the height of the Covid crisis".

Cummings is to appear before a joint committee of MPs investigating Whitehall's response to the virus crisis next month. And Jeremy Hunt, the chairman of one of the committees that will question him, has said that that MPs will publish whatever Cummings gives them "as long as it did not put national security at risk, as long as the MPs on the committee agree".

Downing Street insiders have no idea the extent of the material Cummings claims to have and say they are "terrified" about further revelations. One Westminster insider says there is extreme nervousness about an apparent "treasure trove" of embarrassing documents that Cummings might want to get published.

Whether the MPs publish or not is largely immaterial. Cummings is quite capable of doing his own dirty work, and there are plenty of papers only too willing to use anything they are given.

The Sunday Times in the meantime is doing its best to be helpful in reducing the uncertainty about what Cummings might have. It tells us that he is preparing a dossier of evidence that will attempt to blame Johnson personally for the tens of thousands of deaths during the second wave of the pandemic.

This is amplified in the Mail on Sunday which has Number 10 raging at a "nasty, sexist" Dominic Cummings as he is said to be plotting to accuse Boris Johnson of being so determined to avoid another lockdown he would tolerate big Covid death toll.

Allies of the prime minister are said to have levelled the damning charge that those loyal to Cummings had been behind "nasty and sexist briefings" against Johnson's paramour, Carrie Symonds, in which they exaggerated the influence she wields in No 10.

At the same time, Downing Street is furiously denying that Johnson made the graphic remark – in which he is claimed to have ruled out any more "f****** lockdowns", regardless of the "bodies" – in front of what are said to have been ‘shocked’ political and civil service advisers. This, according to a No 10 source, is "another lie" from Cummings.

In what might turn out to be the "battle of the liars", however, Johnson could well find that he is outmatched. This is not so much the prime minister bringing a knife to a gunfight as a water pistol to a tank battle – in the pouring rain. Cummings might get a little wet, but Johnson has a whole lot more to lose.

While that battle develops, though, the papers are playing one of their favourite games – "spot the leaker". Coming up fast in the list of suspects is the anonymous "Redthroat", said to be a left-leaning civil servant suspected of leaking secret government information to Starmer's officials. 

And if there is another rock-thrower in place, that pool could well fill up a lot faster than Johnson might anticipate. One hopes they start showing before the popcorn runs out.

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