A COUPLE of months ago Paul Goodman, who edits the website Conservative Home, made an observation about the contrasting styles of Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings that may help in understanding the current spat between the pair. Under Mr Cummings, Goodman said, Downing Street was run as a campaign while now that Mr Johnson is shot of him, it operates like a Tudor court.

I think this is plausible, not just because Mr Goodman is a perceptive commentator and a former Tory MP but because, in an even earlier incarnation, he was my boss on the comment desk of The Daily Telegraph, where we had the shared responsibility of trying to keep control of an unruly columnist by the name of Johnson.

To complicate matters further, Boris was also number three on the paper and therefore, in some convoluted fashion, arguably our boss. He certainly cheerfully ignored any instructions we gave him but then he tried to do that even with the editor.

A great deal of ink has been expended on the Prime Minister’s apparent belief that the normal rules do not apply to him. These articles vary in tone, from vicious condemnation that often seems to have driven the writers almost literally demented, to incomprehension, to dismissing him as a clown and a charlatan, or to indulgent whimsical acceptance. When it comes, not to Mr Johnson’s view of himself as a special case, but the public’s, this last attitude has a much wider currency than the PM’s critics seem able to accept, or even understand.

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Despite the impression you might get from social media, or from what is clearly the majority view in Scotland, in many respects it seems true that the normal rules don’t apply to Mr Johnson.

In sharp contrast with Scotland, the Tories are well in front (at least six, and up to 14, points ahead, depending on the poll) for the English local elections. Mr Johnson’s personal approval rating is a net seven points positive, while 37 per cent think he’s the best choice as Prime Minister (compared with Sir Keir Starmer’s 25 per cent).

This can be seen as a vindication for those who argued that what matters in a crisis is how you emerge from it: that mistakes get forgiven if there is positive news towards the end. The vaccine programme has been an unarguable triumph – for the first time, more people approve of the Government’s management of the crisis than disapprove. But it’s also an argument for Mr Johnson’s exceptionalism, whether you put that down to luck, low cunning or deceit, public image, or some innate aspect of his character.

In practice, this means that it doesn’t much matter whether Mr Cummings, in his pot shots at the PM, is telling the truth or not. It is psychologically interesting to note that people who wouldn’t have trusted Mr Cummings as far as they could throw him (or Mr Johnson), are now prepared to accept his every utterance as gospel, because it’s disobliging to the Prime Minister.

For what it’s worth, partly because he’s a ruthless strategic campaigner and partly because of the obsessive personal qualities evident in his blog, I tend to think that Mr Cummings (whom I don’t know) can probably stand up most of what he alleges, but also that he’s choosing his words carefully to put himself in the best light and the PM – and more to the point, the PM’s fiancée, Carrie Symonds, and her allies – in the worst.

But I don’t think it matters. All the signs are that, no matter how incomprehensible you think it, many people prepared to believe the allegations would still let the PM off the hook, or even actively approve of him. That’s fairly rare in politics, especially since – unlike, say, the uncritical adoration of Jeremy Corbyn by his supporters – it is not confined to a relatively small proportion of voters, or fanatical true believers, but shared by a sizeable chunk of the electorate – sizeable enough to deliver a very convincing 80-seat majority.

HeraldScotland: James DysonJames Dyson

Some people argue that this is temporary: that the allegations won’t matter until suddenly they do, at which point there will be a rapid collapse in the PM’s fortunes and, like Margaret Thatcher’s stubbornness or the sleaze allegations of John Major’s period in office, general perceptions of character that the electorate overlooked or indulged all at once become terminally damning. That may be true – if you accept Enoch Powell’s comment about all political lives ending in failure, it almost certainly will eventually be true.

But there’s reason to believe it’s not at all true now. Few people know much about Mr Cummings except as the source of jokes about Barnard Castle and eyesight; in so far as they do, they disapprove of him. This is especially true of Tory backbenchers, who loathe him. (My sense is that Mr Cummings, who isn’t a Tory and loathes them right back, couldn’t care less about that.)

The allegations about lobbying sleaze largely reflect badly on David Cameron, something about which Mr Johnson will be entirely relaxed. James Dyson’s approach offering ventilators seems, where it has been noticed at all, to be approvingly viewed as the PM cutting corners to get things done in a pandemic, and riding over civil service bureaucracy. This is the exact opposite of the overwhelming view of media commentary.

The redecoration of the Downing Street flat might have had the potential to be more damaging, but since the PM has ended up footing the bill, it doesn’t look like something that endangers him too much. Very little of any of these stories, in any case, is cutting through the dominant issue of coronavirus.

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Mr Johnson, at a relatively early stage as PM, can still be presented as having delivered Brexit, won his party a huge majority, and steered the country through an emergency that no one could agree how to handle, having done at least one thing (the vaccine programme) extremely well.

This could well change: the post-mortems on Covid, or cronyism, could be damning. But not yet. The position in the immediate future is likely to be relief that the pandemic is receding and rapid growth in the economy (even if that’s because it’s been badly damaged). The Prime Minister’s luck is holding.

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