There was a woman on Twitter yesterday making a telling point. Not a natural Tory voter, she was in a constituency where the Tories were in the majority. She was discussing Dominic Cummings with her Tory neighbours.
She was astonished by the sheer amount of rage coming over the garden fence. These people hadn’t seen their grandchildren for months because they had obeyed the rules. As people like them do. And now they learn that only the little people are expected to obey those rules.
Note, this was well before Johnson’s apparently ill-judged defence of his aide, a time when we all assumed he would be sacked. Tory MPs will be receiving heart-rending letters from angry constituents in their hundreds – you will have seen some. That elderly relative that died alone in pain because they were not allowed to visit. Two months spent in lonely isolation. The new grandchild they have yet to see.
Some of those Tory MPs will be running scared, especially those in the former Labour constituencies. (The job of MP is one of the few from which you can be removed at random because of events beyond your control. Think of it as a zero hour contract.)
So why did Johnson back Cummings, a stance which has attracted vitriol and outrage from even the Daily Mail?
Three factors. As I suggested here the other day, the two are locked in a cycle of co-dependency. Cummings does the work Johnson is too idle to do. He runs Number 10 and handles the press.
The second, largely unappreciated, is that if Cummings is ousted he could pull the temple down around him. He knows where the bodies are buried. There will be a diary. He could walk into any newspaper office, even those now pouring out the vitriol, and walk out with a column. Or there could be a hastily assembled book.
It would suit his faux Machiavellian style if stripped of power to take down the powerful.
There is a third factor here. I think Johnson is looking for an exit strategy. This is not the job he signed up to do – bumbling around Being Boris, the adoring party conferences, Getting Brexit Done, that was it. Beating the virus requires a level of commitment he conspicuously lacks. It threatens his place in history, how he will be viewed, something of huge importance to him. He must be aware he is failing.
He has a new family, a long way from his first, true, but this must exert its emotional pull.
I doubt he is fully recovered from the virus. He must be aware that affects his performance and threatens that historical legacy.
The final and I think clinching point is the EU. Negotiations appear to have broken down, largely unnoticed in all the kerfuffle over Cummings. The EU is tearing itself apart which does not make it any easier.
This means a hard crash-out and all those things written off as Project Fear. A hard Northern Ireland border seems certain. Queues of lorries outside Dover. A shortage of vital pharmaceuticals. None of these can feasibly be blamed on the coronavirus.
It would be typical of Johnson to walk away first. He could say, I got you out of Europe. Others screwed up in the aftermath. He, as he so often has in the past, evades the blame.
He needs a reason to go, though. Just resigning would look like cowardice. A point of principle? Supporting a loyal aide all others had turned on? Throw in the lingering effects of the virus, to make him a victim. That would work.
All speculation, but I suspect he will be gone by the end of the year. But who on earth would be insane enough, among that Cabinet of non-entities and no-hopers, to want to replace him? This would require someone devoted to public service and prepared to risk their reputation to get the country out of this mess. I don’t see too many of those.