‘What planet are they on?’ — UK press attacks Johnson and Cummings

Normally Tory-leaning outlets criticise prime minister and adviser for restrictions attitude

British prime minister Boris Johnson backed his senior adviser Dominic Cummings after it was revealed that Cummings took a 420km trip while having symptoms of Covid-19 during lockdowm.

 

Criticism has rained down on Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings from the UK’s newspapers, some of it from unlikely quarters.

While attacks from the Daily Mirror and The Guardian were to be expected, even the right-leaning Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph were among the critics, the Mail launching a withering assault on Mr Cummings for flouting lockdown guidelines and on Mr Johnson for his defence of his chief adviser.

“What planet are they on?” the Mail screams on its front page, saying that is the question the nation is asking about the “No 10 svengali who flouted the PM’s own strict lockdown rules”, and about Mr Johnson “brazenly” supporting him.

In a front page editorial, the Mail demands Mr Cummings should resign or Mr Johnson should sack him after the adviser’s clear violation of “the spirit and the letter” of the lockdown, which “has given every selfish person a licence to play fast and loose with public health”.

“Boris Johnson says he ‘totally gets’ how the public feel about this. Clearly, he doesn’t,” the editorial says.

“Neither man has displayed a scintilla of contrition for this breach of trust. Do they think we are fools?”

The Mirror labels Mr Cummings and Mr Johnson as “a cheat and a coward” respectively, calling the adviser a “law unto himself” and saying the PM has been “scared to act” over him.

Power

Questioning the power held by Mr Cummings at No 10, Mirror columnist Kevin Maguire says Mr Johnson has not disciplined him because the PM is essentially his adviser’s hostage.

“Terrified of Dominic Cummings, cowardly Boris Johnson is a dog wagged by its tail,” he writes.

“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.”

The Guardian analyses the political strategy of Mr Johnson’s defence of Mr Cummings in the face of fierce critics including Tory MPs and scientific experts, saying the PM had “staked his political reputation on saving the career of Dominic Cummings”.

The paper comes down hard against the Johnson-Cummings pairing in its editorial, saying: “In one regard only (the government’s) position is now clearer: as long as Mr Cummings remains in place, it is saying that lockdown is for the little people. And as long as it treats the public with contempt it can expect that contempt to be returned.”

The prime minister had “abandoned his already diminished authority for an unelected figure” in Mr Cummings, the editorial continued, adding for Mr Johnson to “praise him for following ‘the instincts of every father’ is an insult to every parent who followed the rules instead”.

The Daily Telegraph, The Sun and the Daily Express ran straight-laced front page leads on Mr Johnson backing his adviser.

But the Telegraph’s editorial was more critical. It attacked the government for its apparent double-standard over lockdown rules, expressed concern over the power Mr Cummings weilds, and suggested his removal should not be out of the question.

“There is more to this affair than allegations of hypocrisy in high places,” the editorial said.

‘Distracting figure’

“Mr Cummings has become a divisive and distracting figure in the Government just at the point where unity of purpose is an absolute requirement.”

It concluded: “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.”

Perhaps equally noteworthy was The Times’s editorial backing both Mr Johnson and Mr Cummings.

It said Mr Cummings’s actions were not cause for resignation, and that calls for his sacking were politically motivated — including from Tory MPs who “cordially detest Mr Cummings and resent the pivotal role he plays in the government”.

While noting insensitivity from Mr Cummings, which ignored the fact the public had undergone “extreme privations” in observing the lockdown, The Times said the saga should not distract Mr Johnson.

“...Mr Johnson has a government to run and a public health crisis to defuse. He should be allowed to get on with it,” the paper said.

The Independent and its stablemate the i highlight the lack of apology and contrition from the two men, with The Independent saying the PM’s avoidance of key questions at his media briefing on Sunday had “left a party divided — and voters angry”. – PA