Britain’s newspapers today gave a mixed reception to Boris Johnson’s decision to back his chief aide Dominic Cummings last night.
The Guardian and The Mirror have continued calls for the under-fire adviser’s head to roll, but The Sun and The Times have approached the scandal with a more measured response.
The Daily Mail has said Mr Cummings ‘must resign,’ compared to the Times, which states he only has ‘questions to answer’.
Brexit-backing papers have paid tribute to Mr Cummings record at the 2017 referendum, but are treating this latest news in an entirely different light.
The Daily Mail and The Independent have both accused Mr Johnson of getting the public’s mood drastically wrong as the scandal enters its fourth day, while The Daily Express has defended Mr Cummings as acting ‘as any good father would’.
Each paper’s thoughts come after a weekend of celebrities, MPs and members of the public calling for Mr Cumming’s resignation.
After Mr Johnson declared his support for his chief adviser, the PM announced there had been 118 more coronavirus deaths on Sunday, bringing Britain’s total death toll up to 36,793. A total of 259,559 people have now been officially diagnosed with COVID-19.
The Mirror – What has Dominic Cummings got on Boris?
In a damning comment, The Daily Mirror warns Mr Johnson’s reaction on Sunday has undermined the importance of the coronavirus lockdown.
It writes: ‘How on earth could the PM brazenly claim his chief aide didn’t break coronavirus rules by driving 260 miles to his parents, when he and his wife were going down with the virus.
‘Lying comes easily to Johnson and his arrogant associate is at best evasive, but what is most remarkable is that neither of them seems to care about the public hostility this has aroused. Millions who do the right thing and follow the rules are incandescent.
‘The lockdown is instrumental in controlling the spread of the virus, but it’s being undermined by the selfishness of Cummings and arrogance of Johnson.’
Writing in his own column, Associate Editor Kevin Maguire described Mr Cummings as the PM’s ‘gravest weakness,’ commenting: ‘Cummings knows where the bodies are buried and Johnson knows the hired help has interred the corpses of many rivals.
‘No way will a man David Cameron condemned as a “career psychopath” walk away quietly. So Johnson cowers, a hostage held by Cummings, the zealot who sneaked the Brexit vote then helped deliver an election win.
‘Johnson dodged questions on the telly because there is no credible defence to the charge that Cummings broke the rules. He is now Johnson’s gravest weakness, an exposed Achilles.’
The Guardian – Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?
In its own daily comment, The Guardian warns Boris Johnson has treated the public with ‘contempt’ over the row, even making a ‘Trumpian’ comparison with Downing Street’s response to reports that began on Friday.
It writes: ‘If Downing Street truly believed that he had done nothing wrong, it would not have obfuscated about where he stayed during the lockdown, nor refused to comment when the Guardian first asked about the adviser being seen in Durham.
‘Nor would Mr Johnson refuse to address the new claims that Mr Cummings further breached lockdown rules by visiting a town 30 miles from Durham – with No 10 instead adopting the Trumpian ploy of attacking “campaigning newspapers.’
Columnist Martin Kettle added in his own comment: ‘The poison in Cummings’s journey to Durham is the taint of hypocrisy it injects into the public bloodstream at precisely the time when public confidence in the handling of the crisis is already beginning to fray.
‘One rule for him, another for us. It’s an absolutely lethal tag for any government project, but it’s doubly, triply so in a pandemic. The arrogance and ineptitude are staggering.’
The Independent – Johnson shows scant regard for public
There is ‘real anger’ among families in similar circumnstances, writes The Independent, which also draws a comparison to Donald Trump in its daily column.
It tells readers: ‘They feel that they have followed the rules, while Mr Cummings was allowed to follow his instincts instead.
‘There is an unfairness there that can’t be argued away, no matter how hard you try and how sympathetic you try to sound. There even were moments in his press conference when the prime minister took on a Trumpian aspect to fudge questions. It won’t work. It doesn’t deserve to work.’
Other comments in the paper made for similar reading. ‘The damage has been done,’ read columnist Andrew Grice’s headline, beneath which he would quote a friend of Mr Cummings as saying: ‘The trouble with Dom is that he thinks he is the Messiah.’
Mr Grice himself adds: ‘Cummings is sometimes right to dismiss media stories as the product of an out of touch Westminster bubble. But not this time.’
The Daily Mail – Cummings is taking us for fools
Echoing a disconnect between the Boris Johnson and the public, The Daily Mail writes: ‘The Prime Minister says he ‘totally gets’ how the public feel about this. Clearly, he totally doesn’t. Neither he nor his principal adviser have displayed a scintilla of contrition for this outrageous breach of trust.
‘Do they think we are fools? Boris Johnson has already expended too much political capital in the Government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis to waste more on his devil-may-care sidekick.
‘This offensive ‘one law for you, one law for me’ style of leadership must end. Mr Johnson may judge Mr Cummings to be indispensable.
‘But there are no indispensable men. As the former French premier Georges Clemenceau once ruefully remarked, the graveyards are full of them.’
Henry Deedes added: ‘We hoped for an apology. Or at the very least some contrition, a decent dollop of ‘umble pie served up to an angry nation. Instead, what we got was just undiluted praise for his most trusted adviser.
‘By driving 200 miles to his family estate during lockdown, Mr Cummings had actually been a rather sensible fellow, apparently.’
The Sun – Dominic Cummings ‘bent the lockdown rules’
In it’s own daily comment, The Sun has not immediately addressed the ongoing scandal, instead focusing on the next steps out of lockdown.
The Sun Says comment reads: ‘Most people think the economy will right itself in a year or two and few seem bothered. They are more fixated on the furore over whether Dominic Cummings bent the lockdown rules to look after his child than with the looming catastrophe unless they are soon lifted.’
The Times – Boris Johnson’s adviser should stay
While others demand a resignation, The Times writes Mr Cummings has ‘questions to answer,’ before adding: ‘On the evidence that has so far emerged, however, his conduct is not a cause for resignation.
‘The calls for him to go are not politically disinterested, but come from longstanding critics of Boris Johnson among opposition parties and the press, along with a few Conservative MPs who cordially detest Mr Cummings and resent the pivotal role he plays in the government. It would be wrong for Mr Johnson to accede to these on their own.’
Columnist Clare Foges added the breach ‘captures the arrogance that many accuse him of,’ later adding: ‘Still, though, a full apology would have rectified some of the damage and perhaps, if given early enough, neutered calls for his resignation. Though not a fan of some of his tactics, I appreciate the urgency that Cummings brings to the job.
Her comment goes one step further than The Times’, ending with: ‘Given the current dangers — and the fear of another surge of infection — it is scarcely believable that clarity and solidarity on the lockdown have been sacrificed so that one adviser can’t be.
The Daily Telegraph – Johnson ‘gambles’ over Cummings
Writing on the front page of today’s Daily Telegraph, Associate Editor Camilla Tominey says Boris Johnson ‘hates any kind of confrontation’.
She explains this is ‘why he hired Dominic Cummings in the first place’.
‘The inconvenient truth is that Mr Johnson needs an enforcer willing to do Downing Street’s dirty work for him.
‘Or to use David Cameron’s description of Mr Cummings: “A career psychopath”; the type of maverick adviser who didn’t seem to give much thought to the consequences of travelling to Durham during lockdown despite his omnipotent role at the heart of government.’
Further back the paper describes Boris Johnson’s decision to back Mr Cummings as a ‘gamble’.
It adds: ‘The central problem for Mr Johnson is that, in sticking by Mr Cummings, he risks jeopardising the entire anti-Covid strategy.
This is based on maintaining the British public’s trust in the integrity of the public health message in order to accept restrictions on their liberties never seen before.
‘Unquestionably, that has been harmed by the way this affair has been handled. Ministers have lined up to deny Mr Cummings has broken the rules and yet there is prima facie evidence that he did.’
The column later adds: ‘In the end, the Prime Minister must decide whether the authority of his Government and the public’s trust in him to see the country through its gravest crisis for 70 years is enhanced or diminished by the continued presence of Mr Cummings.’
The Daily Express – Cummings did what any parent would
Perhaps one of the staunchest defences in today’s papers came from the Daily Express, which wrote: ‘If Mr Cummings were not so close to Boris Johnson, and did not have so many political enemies, would his actions in seeking the safest solution for his family when no better alternatives were available have attracted the same degree of hostility?
‘As Mr Johnson said, he surely did what any father or parent would. Without evidence that he further flouted the lockdown, or put anyone else’s health at risk, the humane reaction would be to accept that he behaved reasonably and legally, albeit not to the absolute letter of the rules.’
Columnist Leo McKinstry added: ‘Much of the fevered assault on Cummings appears politically motivated.
‘As the uncompromising architect of both the victorious Brexit campaign in 2016 and 2019’s Conservative election triumph, he is loathed by most of the Left.
‘Indeed, the Prime Minister said at his briefing yesterday that Cummings “acted legally, responsibly and with integrity”.
‘Nevertheless, this bitter dispute not only prompts accusations of hypocrisy but is also a severe drain on the Government’s authority.
‘Precious political capital, so badly needed to tackle the pandemic, is now being expended on his defence.’