Emily Maitlis should have waited 24 hours. The Newsnight presenter would have avoided censure from the BBC for breaching their impartiality guidelines in her Cummings monologue on Wednesday. Durham police made clear the next day that he had indeed broken the lockdown rules. Not that anyone thought any different.

It was the lightest possible tap on the knuckles for the peripatetic political adviser. The police said it was a “minor breach” going to Barnard Castle to, er, test his eyes, but that they would have acted. They won’t fine him retrospectively, which I’m sure will go down well with the many thousands of people who have been given fixed penalty notices.

Strangely, after a week of furious controversy about whether or not Dominic Cummings had broken the lockdown rules, the revelation that he undoubtedly had seemed to kill the story stone dead. By Friday he was off the headlines.

So what was it all about? I have to confess to be almost lost for words over l’affaire Dom. Not a very health state for a political commentator. It has been glaringly obvious to everyone that Cummings hasn’t just broken the lockdown rules. He’s defied political logic.

There has been ministerial resignation, a revolt by 100 Tory backbenchers, widespread public anger, an unprecedented 20% collapse in the Prime Minister’s approval ratings. And finally, to cap it all, censure by the police. Cummings, it seems, could commit Grand Theft Auto and have Boris Johnson saying he acted at all times responsibly, legally and within Government guidelines.

Forget the rule that any non-elected political figure has to depart if a scandal lasts four news cycles. That rule of thumb, allegedly invented by Tony Blair’s former spin doctor Alistair Campbell – who himself became a casualty of it – no longer applies. The airwaves were ragin’ 24/7.

Midweek, my brain was being fried by the righteous fury on Twitter and from columnists in The Guardian, who were portraying Cummings as a cross between Joseph Goebbels and Grigori Rasputin. I briefly attempted a more balanced approach to the misdemeanours.

I couldn’t help thinking that, were I in a similar situation, I might have done the same as he did. No childcare, coming down with coronavirus, offered sanctuary in a lockdown cottage in the country with family on hand to help? No-brainer.

The police actually exonerated Cummings from blame for his initial Durham Dash, which they said was within the rules. That was broadly my view also since the guidelines, if you care to look at them, are permissive when it comes to the welfare of children.

The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 say that you can break the lockdown if you have a “reasonable excuse”. Lack of childcare is a reasonable excuse, if Cummings genuinely could not find it. Just spending the weekend at your second home, as did the former Scottish Chief Medical Officer, Catherine Calderwood, is not.

Of course, legality was only part of the problem. There were wider questions of public safety raised by Cummings’s action. The Stay Home message required unprecedented self-discipline on the part of the general public. It has worked remarkably well, and shown that ordinary people are prepared to submit to effective house arrest if they are given a communitarian reason so to do.

Arguably those in power – those who formulated the rules – had to go the extra mile to show that they were being observed. Cummings used his expertise to bend the rules in a way that many people had not thought of doing. They felt cheated.

But it was the sheer noise of the Cummings affair that was so damaging. For over a week the activities of the UK Government were dominated by The Dom. Normally, a Prime Minister would have required an adviser, however illustrious, to step aside, at least temporarily, in order to clear the airwaves.

However, it occurred to me that perhaps the Government did not want the airwaves clear. For last week was not a good week to be the Government. For starters, it became clear that the UK is, if not top of the coronavirus death league, very close to it.

The BBC’s More Or Less programme confirmed that more 18 million travellers had been allowed to enter the UK between January 1 and lockdown in March, many from Covid hotspots like Italy. Only 300 were quarantined.

Only now has the Government belatedly announced that travellers will have to isolate for 14 days on entering the country. If there has ever been a better case of closing the stable door after the horse has bolted, I can’t think of one.

The vast majority of Covid deaths are among people over 80 years of age with pre-existing health problems. Those under the age of 40 are probably more likely to kill themselves tending their barbecues than from contracting the virus. Yet the evidence is mounting that the elderly, in care homes especially, were a low priority to put it mildly.

The row over schools reopening in England was also largely eclipsed by Cummingsgate. Ditto Rishi Sunak announced the beginning of the end of furlough for millions of workers. As of last week, more than two million have already joined the dole queues, while Cummings kept his job.

World trade has flatlined. Thousands of businesses that had been struggling through have given up the ghost. One survey said that nearly half of UK manufacturers are considering redundancies. The supercar manufacturer and easyJet announced 30% job cuts each.

The Cummings affair has certainly been torrid, but historians may find it bizarre that the country became obsessed by a special adviser’s trip to Barnard Castle when there was so much else to worry about. Maybe we needed a scapegoat.

I am not suggesting that Boris Johnson concocted a Cummings scandal to divert public attention from the economy and the mismanagement of Covid. Defending his eccentric adviser has been hugely damaging to the Prime Minister’s authority and his popularity.

But Johnson has courted extreme unpopularity before – such as when he prorogued Parliament last October. That led to an unprecedented ruling by the Supreme Court that the Prime Minister had acted unlawfully. It lost him the support of most of his Cabinet. But Johnson went on to win a near-landslide election victory a few months later.

Boris Johnson clearly believes that he has a unique ability to withstand crises that would destroy most political leaders. Normal rules don’t apply to him. Johnson and Cummings have also decided that it is possible to ignore media fury.

Social media has given critics of the Government greater fire power, but perhaps this has diminished its impact. More is less. Last week, the media in general seemed almost personally affronted that the PM was ignoring the clamour to sack Cummings.

At any rate, there are much more difficult crises to come as the economy descends into what looks like a greater recession even than the Great Recession of 2008/09. In future, the Cummings affair may seem like a storm in a tea cup.