The scandal costing Boris Johnson his mojo

When Boris Johnson was elected British prime minister in a landslide victory a few days before Christmas, he was the shiny present that everyone wanted.

Now he's the crumpled wrapping paper.

The UK has the highest coronavirus death toll in Europe and the nation is in its worst recession in 300 years.

Mr Johnson's decision to back his adviser Dominic Cummings, who was found to have breached coronavirus lockdown rules, has split his party - 45 of his own MPs have demanded the adviser's head.

 

Dominic Cummings, Chief Advisor to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, was not self-isolating with COVID-19 symptoms at his home in North London, police have confirmed. Picture: Peter Summers/Getty Images
Dominic Cummings, Chief Advisor to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, was not self-isolating with COVID-19 symptoms at his home in North London, police have confirmed. Picture: Peter Summers/Getty Images

The question some in his own Conservative Party are asking is can their scruffy Messiah resurrect his country and his own political fortunes?

Mr Johnson, who wrote a biography on his political hero Winston Churchill, would remember that the war leader was booted out just two months after the Allied victory in Europe in 1945.

Polls out this week show that Labour, who were a rabble under communist leaning leader Jeremy Corbyn, have gained nine points on the Conservatives in a week.

 

The Conservatives' wounds have been self inflicted, although forensic Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, a former lawyer, has been actually laying a glove on Mr Johnson in parliament.

"I don't believe this is a fatal blow because of the extent of the damage that Jeremy Corbyn inflicted on the Labour Party," British Foreign Policy group director Sophia Gaston said.

"This is certainly the darkest moment that Boris Johnson has faced since he became leader a year ago."

Mr Johnson's red boxes are full.

He has to find a way out of lockdown for Britain without creating a second coronavirus wave, but there was some hope on that front.

Friends are able to meet up from Monday with barbecues in backyards - even though the British idea of that is an aluminium tray with coals bought from a supermarket - with schools also returning.

 

"For many people I know this will be a long awaited and joyful moment," Mr Johnson said.

But with the UK coronavirus death toll nudging towards 38,000 - more than the number who died in the London blitz in World War II - he has a mountain to climb.

He has to try to find jobs for 2 million unemployed people, and negotiate a Brexit deal with the European Union by July or risk a no-deal departure on December 31.

And the UK's 14-day quarantine rule, which was set to be introduced on June 8 after millions of travellers were let in at the peak of the virus unchecked, may be wound back before it starts.

The travel industry has been heavily lobbying against the move.

The only thing that has gone right for Mr Johnson was that the UK has endured its sunniest May since records began in 1929, distracting from the chaos in Downing Street.

A new document has warned, however, that a second spike in the UK was "inevitable" after all schools went back in September.

In the background to all of this, he will be getting his hands dirty with the nappies of his sixth child, baby Wilfred, who was born to his 32-year-old fiancee Carrie Symonds in April.

 

But Mr Johnson's colourful love life - he divorced his barrister wife Marina Wheeler, who has battled cancer, just days before he announced his engagement to Ms Symonds - has not seemed to impact his popularity.

Mr Johnson nearly died of coronavirus himself, only recovering shortly before Wilfred's birth in what must have been an enormously stressful time for Ms Symonds who also caught the bug.

The illness has shaken Mr Johnson.

He has told friends that you "don't want to be a fatty in your fifties" if you get coronavirus, with obesity one of the complications that has added to the worldwide death toll.

Mr Johnson, 55, has now been running most days in Buckingham Palace after getting permission from the Queen, 94, who remains in isolation at Windsor Castle.

Critics had always written off Mr Johnson, who made his name as a regular on comedy chat shows in the UK with an eccentric English gent persona - the political equivalent of Top Gear's Jeremy Clarkson.

 

However, that's merely a mask worn by a sharp Eton educated student who has always wanted to be the world king.

He was the face of Britain's Leave campaign in 2016, waited in the wings until Theresa May was knifed last year before taking the job as Prime Minister, and then managed to trick Labour into calling an election that he won with an 80-seat majority on the simple slogan of "Get Brexit Done."

Mr Cummings was by his side during all those events.

Mrs May, who supported Mr Johnson on Brexit, was scathing of his performance on Mr Cummings' alleged lockdown breach.

"One of my biggest concerns has been that the ongoing focus on Mr Cummings has been detracting from the most important task, which is dealing with coronavirus and starting the process of recovery and easing lockdown," she said.

Mr Cummings usually operated in the shadows, annoying media commentators and the political elite.

But he was in the bright sunshine of a Press Conference in the Rose Garden at Number 10 Downing Street this week.

Some people in London parks watched it on their smartphones, glued to it like it was a Champions' League penalty shootout.

 

Mr Cummings was forced to endure the modern equivalent of being placed in the stocks, which used to happen quite regularly at the Tower of London a few miles away.

His crime was to drive more than 400km to his parents house during the UK's hard lockdown, accused of breaching the rules he helped write.

The anti-Establishment Oxford graduate, who appears homeless with his dishevelled, yet expensive dress sense, is proud of winning GQ's World Worst Dressed Man award.

Mr Cummings gained some sympathy when he said he went to his parents property in Durham, northern England, in case both he and his wife were ill with coronavirus and were unable to look after their four year old child.

However, his claim that he went on a 30-minute drive to Barnard Castle, also in the north, to "test his eyesight" has been widely ridiculed.

The Daily Star newspaper published a cut out mask of Mr Cummings' face on its front page above the mocking headline: "It's Official. Cops: Don't Drive If You're Blind".

 

Dominic Cummings, the top aide to Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson. leaves his north London home the day after he a gave press conference over allegations he breached coronavirus lockdown restrictions. Picture: AP
Dominic Cummings, the top aide to Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson. leaves his north London home the day after he a gave press conference over allegations he breached coronavirus lockdown restrictions. Picture: AP

Comparisons have also been drawn to Prince Andrew's claim in a BBC interview last year that he could not have had sex with Australian-based woman Virginia Roberts-Giuffre because he was at a Pizza Express in Woking.

A YouGov poll found 71 per cent of Brits say Mr Cummings did break lockdown rules and 59 per cent said he should resign.

Mr Johnson, who was questioned whether he could do his job without Cummings, stood by his man.

Former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott did the same when he was under pressure from his MPs to remove his influential staffer Peta Credlin.

Mr Johnson was not always so forgiving. He threw James McGrath under the bus after he made a "racist" comment during an interview when he was working as a chief of staff for the then London Lord mayor.

Mr McGrath, now an Australian Senator, had told an independent journalist when asked if Mr Johnson's appointment as mayor would lead to an exodus of Caribbean people from London.

"Well, let them go if they don't like it here," he reportedly said.

Mr Johnson told the UK Telegraph at the time that Mr McGrath's comments "would only provide 'ammunition' for his own critics if Mr McGrath was to remain in post."

"James is not a racist. I know that (...) James' remark was taken out of context and distorted, but he recognises the need for crystal clarity on a vital issue like this," Mr Johnson said.

 

 

A decade on, Mr Johnson runs the world's sixth largest economy and Mr McGrath has a successful political career.

Time will tell if Mr Johnson should have treated Mr Cummings in the same way that he dispatched of Mr McGrath.

stephen.drill@news.co.uk

Originally published as The scandal costing Boris Johnson his mojo



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