JUST when he thought it was safe to go back to politics as usual, Boris Johnson has a revolt on his hands – from the most unlikely quarter. The Scottish Tories suddenly discovered that they possessed a backbone yesterday and declared war on their own Prime Minister.

No10 must be livid. Who are these people? The Tory MP for Moray, Douglas Ross, may not be a household name. But we are in strange times when a UK Government minister, however junior, feels it necessary to resign over the conduct of a political adviser.

He was supported by a raft of Conservative MSPs like Professor Adam Tomkins, who are seething about Mr Johnson’s failure to sack his mind-bending amanuensis. Eventually, the Scottish Tory leader himself, Jackson Carlaw, announced that he had told the PM that Mr Cummings should go.

It is indeed astonishing that the Prime Minister put his authority, and that of the entire Government on the line to save a political adviser’s job. Both the Daily Mail and the Guardian screaming for Mr Cummings to resign would normally have led to only one outcome. Now his own party is in revolt.

The cardinal rule of political news management is – or used to be – that when a non-elected adviser “becomes the story”, it’s time to go. These people are supposed to operate in the dark. They can’t do their job if they are all over the front pages.

How to explain this? Perhaps Mr Johnson is trying to avoid setting a precedent. Perhaps he knows that he, his family and many Cabinet ministers have almost certainly broken the same “rules” as Dominic Cummings. If he sacked the Dom it might put the rest of them in the dock.

An even more cynical thought is that, while the nation’s press and media have been poring over the minute details of Mr Cummings’s lockdown itinerary, they’ve not been looking at the deaths in care homes, which was relegated to a footnote this week.

They’ve also not been asking awkward questions about the flexible casualty figures, the fiddled testing numbers, the row over schools returning, the barmy and belated 14-day quarantine on travellers. Maybe the Government is content for Dom to conduct a phoney war of distraction.

Or could it just be a recognition that the Government handled the whole Covid guidance rules disastrously, and is in a sense collectively responsible for Mr Cummings’s avoidance of them? There has certainly been a failure of message – on an epic scale.

In that extraordinary rose garden press conference on Monday, admittedly under poor questioning from the media, Mr Cummings got his essential defence across: that the law is flexible on lockdown, flexible on travel, flexible on child-care and flexible on essential workers – of which he is one – who try to get to work.

He quoted directly from the Government guidelines saying, essentially, that people should stay at home except when it is not sensible to do so – especially where small children were involved. All a parent needs under the law is a “reasonable excuse”.

About the only thing that is absolutely clear about the Covid guidelines is that they can be broken. Unfortunately the only people who didn’t get this message were the general public who believed the megaphone warnings of “Stay Home”.

There are questions about the precise nature of Mr Cummings’s reasonable excuse for travelling to Durham. Was there really no child-care available in London? When daycare was shut down, was provision not made for neighbourhood hubs to help out parents who were essential workers?

But here again, the discretion is left with the parents. Separated parents could, for example, continue to ferry children between households. I know people who have been doing exactly that over long distances.

Legal pedants have been pointing out that the actual law is more restrictive than the guidelines. That under the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) Regulations (England) 2020 a “reasonable excuse” is limited to “avoidance of injury or illness or to escape risk of harm”. Children aren’t mentioned.

But they are mentioned in Government guidelines. And the Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England, Dr Jenny Harries, said that if you are “unable to look after a small child, that is an exceptional circumstance”. People can’t be prosecuted for doing what the Government lets them do.

This leaves the police in a very awkward position. They’ve been acting on a much narrower interpretation of lockdown law and without the get-out-of-jail free clauses. One English police chief said on BBC radio yesterday that they would have been justified in apprehended Mr Cummings on his way north in March. Well, hey – there’s still time.

There seems no reason why Mr Cummings has not been questioned about his actions – not least driving to Barnard Castle to test his eyesight, which is itself arguably against the law. We have to conclude that the police themselves now realise that they were enforcing the unenforceable.

As an essential worker, Mr Cummings, it seems, has wide latitude to drive. Anyway, he could have said that he was driving to Barnard Castle for exercise, which is another justification for driving a coach and horses through the guidelines.

Yet, the police have imposed fixed penalty notices on at least 14,000 people in England and Wales. There should surely now be an amnesty (the legal situation is slightly different in Scotland where the police have already recognised that they fined people in error). The law is clearly not worth the name when there are so many qualifications and open-ended exemptions.

I feel desperately sorry for parents who took the Stay Home message literally, possibly at the risk to their own child’s welfare. They should not have been put in that position. It should have been made clear to parents that you do what you think is best.

I’ve repeatedly asked myself what I would have done had my sister and family offered to look after us and help us lock down in a remote detached cottage near, say, Inverness. Both of us falling sick with a deadly disease ... four-year-old child...no childcare.

“But darling, what about the optics?” I might have said. “It’ll look as if we’re bending the rules and exploiting our privileged position”.

“Shut the f*** up and pack the Calpol.”

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