A lot of people – including quite a few in Britain’s Conservative party – don’t like Dominic Cummings, special adviser to PM Boris Johnson and a key figure in the Vote Leave campaign in the 2016 Brexit referendum and the 2019 Brexit-focused general election.
So there was some undisguised joy when it was suggested that he had – like some other prominent and now departed public figures – broken the lockdown rules, in his case by travelling from London to Durham to ensure emergency childcare.
The media gathered for a feeding frenzy (they have to do it virtually via Zoom these days, which is not quite the same) with the expected pleasurable outcome of a resignation, regrets and perhaps a tear or two.
But so far it hasn’t gone according to script.
Boris faced the camera and explained. Cummings had not broken the law; he had exercised his judgement (as envisaged by the law); and he had acted to minimise risk in dealing with a difficult situation.
Now you might not agree with this interpretation (and of course a lot of people don’t) but that is not the (main) point.
What is significant is that in a case turning on discretion and judgement, where there is a good argument that senior officials should be whiter than white, Boris seems to have decided that there is no mileage in trying to strike a middle course / stay onside with the mob (which includes some of his own MPs).
No doubt he believes that the lockdown rules require good faith judgement and need to be interpreted flexibly. And he will surely be reluctant to lose such an influential mind. But more than that, he seems to believe that his own supporters – and the crucial median voters – will either agree with him or regard the matter as being of little importance.
By the time you come to read this, Boris may of course have changed his mind, say if more damaging revelations emerge or if he judges that pressure has become unsustainable.
But for now he seems to be taking a leaf from Trump’s book: that it’s best to confront your enemies – albeit in a more diffident and apologetic sort of way than the Donald usually manages.
Rather like the approach Dominic Cummings is thought to have urged him to take during last year’s Brexit negotiations with the EU and the subsequent general election.