There are four stages to most political crises and the Dominic Cummings scandal is now in stage four in which a final decision has apparently been made on his future. But it’s not over yet and the good news for Cummings is that for powerful people like him there’s a get-out clause, a loophole that ensures he'll be all right in the end. We’ve seen it before and we will see it again.

One of the scandals of the past that demonstrates what I mean is the Peter Mandelson crisis of the 1990s, the one in which the Labour minister and svengali borrowed a lot of money from a colleague to buy a house. The details are different to the current debacle, but in both cases you can see the same four stages. The Mandelson story also reveals what might happen to Cummings next.

Stage one of the crisis is: what are the facts and how do they look? Mandelson, you may remember, borrowed £300,000 from a fellow Labour minister to buy a swanky house in Notting Hill. It did not look good. Cummings drove from London to County Durham while his wife had coronavirus symptoms. It also did not look good. At the height of the Mandelson affair, the Labour advisor Alastair Campbell noted in his diaries that political figures tend to be useless as advisors on their own personal affairs. True then. True now. For Cummings, the first stage looks terrible.

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The second stage is: how does the person at the centre of the scandal behave after the story has broken – does he make it worse or better? Peter Mandelson showed bad judgment to do what he did but then compounded the problem by not being upfront about it and the same applies to Cummings. To make matters worse, Cummings has behaved, as he often does, with arrogance and swagger. Twenty years ago, Mandelson could have saved himself by showing some humility and apologising and Cummings might have been able to do the same. But is Cummings capable of humility? Or saying sorry? Like stage one, stage two looks bad.

As for stage three – the reaction of the press, colleagues, and the public – this has been playing out over the weekend and again it’s bad. Initially, colleagues started tweeting that Cummings was only doing what any good father would do to ensure his children were safe – a line which the PM repeated yesterday. But not only could people see that the defence was cut-and-pasted from a No 10 diktat, it clashed with their own experiences of obeying the rules. Polls also show the majority of people, including Tory voters, think Cummings has done the wrong thing.

However, more worrying for Cummings, and Boris Johnson, was when the co-ordination started to break down and Tory MPs started to say what they really thought – Tory MPs like Steve Baker (significantly, a Brexiter). “Dominic should go and we should move on,” said Mr Baker. Sir Roger Gale also said what the rest of us were thinking: there can’t be one rule for the PM’s staff and another for everyone else.

It is this – the unhappiness of normally loyal Tories, plus public opinion – that could still be the deciding factor in stage four of the crisis, in which we are told by the Prime Minister that Cummings did nothing wrong and is definitely staying. Campbell’s diaries reveal how Tony Blair felt during stage four of the Mandelson crisis (“I’m worried,” said Blair, “what this is all doing to the public, never mind the press”) and Boris Johnson will be worrying about the same things right now, no matter how firm his support for Cummings during Sunday’s briefing.

Which leads us to how this final stage of the process might end, and what could happen next. In the 90s, Blair eventually decided that, much as he liked and relied on him, Mandelson had to resign because there had been a deception, or at least a concealment, and public confidence and support for Labour would be damaged, and the same factors apply to Johnson and Cummings even now. The phrase used to describe the effects of a scandal like this on public support is “burning through capital”. Johnson’s capital is burning like it’s 1666.

Which may be why, in the end, despite the protestations, Johnson may still resort to the only weapon he has left, now that Cummings has failed the first three stages. It will be a resignation but resignation with the get-out clause that it is not the end, just a temporary way to deal with a crisis. Campbell’s diaries reveal that, a few weeks after he left government, Mandelson was agitating to come back and in a few months he got his way. Twenty years later, I can hear the PM saying something similar to Cummings: “Take some time out Dommy old boy and I’ll get you back in government before you can say tempus fugit.” It hasn’t happened yet, but then stage four isn’t really over yet.

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I can’t be sure, of course, that this is what’s going to happen – it’s only a prediction of the future based on the past – but as well as Alastair Campbell’s diaries, could I suggest the PM also digs out a copy of JB Priestley’s old play I Have Been Here Before? It’s the one where everyone turns up at a pub and the same events seem to be happening on a loop. The old professor in the play says that, in life, we set out over and over again on the same road, but that the road is not a circle, it’s a spiral. We can make different choices.

The same applies to politics – in fact, especially to politics. Johnson is at the same point that Blair was when he decided Mandelson had to go, and I suspect – today or tomorrow or some time very soon as the criticism grows and the questions mount and the doubts remain – Johnson will, in the end, make the same choice as Blair. How much capital the PM will have burned through by then I don’t know. And if Cummings does go, it also raises the possibility that politics is a circle after all. Cummings, like Mandelson, could be gone soon. But one day he’ll be back.

All columnists are free to express their opinions. They don’t necessarily represent the view of The Herald.