The failure of Boris Johnson to sack Dominic Cummings exposes him as a coward, according to the Daily Mirror today, The paper says the Prime Minister was 'scared to act' against his chief adviser as it continues to go for his jugular.
Its visually quite powerful front page also damns him as a cheat – or perhaps it means Cummings is a cheat for allegedly breaching the lockdown rules. Anyhow, let us park the 'cheating' accusation, whoever it is aimed at, and focus our attention on cowardice.
It’s a very curious charge to level at Johnson and almost the opposite of the truth. Inspecting Johnson’s political CV, one could certainly mount a case for him to be considered reckless but signs of timorousness are very thin on the ground.
Setting out to win the mayoralty in Labour-dominated London was hardly the act of a coward. He could easily have crashed and burned in a manner that caused him long-term damage, as it did to his would-be successor Zac Goldsmith when crashing and burning four years ago. Neither was running for a second term (and by the way winning it) the act of a coward.
Nor was it the easy path to take when he decided to campaign for Leave in the EU referendum just as the majority of the Cabinet decided to keep in the good books of David Cameron by campaigning to Remain even if, like Sajid Javid for instance, they later claimed to have been sympathetic to the Leave cause. One recalls a local leftist crowd gathering outside his family home to barrack him, just as they are now doing to the unfortunate Cummings.
Resigning from the glittering prize of the Foreign Secretaryship in protest at Theresa May’s Chequers sell-out – while more focused climbers of the greasy pole such as Michael Gove went along with that betrayal – was certainly not a cowardly thing to do either.
Standing for the Tory leadership when May fell also took guts as Johnson must have known that his many enemies in politics and the media would unleash a campaign of character assassination against him and indeed that there were enough skeletons in his cupboard to form a chorus line.
Above all, last autumn Johnson showed amazing grace under fire as various pro-Remain branches of the British establishment really opened-up on him in a bid to prevent him negotiating and then implementing a more meaningful Brexit deal. How they raged when he took the party whip away from dozens of senior Conservative MPs, even while lacking an outright Commons majority. Many pundits predicted this would be seen as a 'lurch to the Right' and prove electorally disastrous. But Johnson stuck to his guns, boldly went to the country, turned up for the big TV debates – unlike May before him – and romped home with a majority of 80.
And if you can put together an argument for Johnson having been cowardly during his personal battle with coronavirus, which saw him carry on working while laid low with the illness and then taken to the brink of death, then congratulations on your inventiveness.
So, then, is sticking by Cummings the act of a coward? Hardly. In fact the easy thing to do would have been to sack him. It would be an early contender for understatement of the year to point out that Cummings has no great following within the Tory parliamentary party. The grudge that the liberal Remainer tendency has against him is only eclipsed by that held by all the pro-Leave MPs he was so rude to during the referendum campaign.
And don’t believe those who think Johnson understands himself to be incapable of governing without the presence of his Svengalian sidekick. The PM might well balls-up many political decisions in the years ahead, but it is pretty obvious he is not a man who considers that a likely course of events.
On the contrary, a brutal cost-benefit assessment of the Cummings situation might have told the PM he had got the best from his high-octane adviser: Out of the EU and a landslide majority in the bag, so close the door behind you on your way out while I mend some of the broken fences, Dom. Instead, he sat down with him for several hours yesterday and reached the conclusion that despite the hue and cry, Cummings had done nothing wrong. So he went out to bat for him at a press briefing he had not been due to take. It was the boldest thing Johnson has done since his return from illness and will hopefully herald the return of his natural brio.
So call Boris Johnson a chancer, an egotist and a double-crosser if you will. Point out that the unvarnished truth has not been a constant companion to him. Even call him downright unreliable and you might have a case. But a coward? I hardly think so.