UK Politics: Will the Dominic Cummings scandal ruin Boris Johnson and the Tories?

Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings
Could Boris Johnson survive without Dominic Cummings?

The ongoing Dominic Cummings scandal has shown how rapidly politics can change. Paul Krishnamurty analyses the short and long-term betting implications...

"The latest polls are frankly disastrous for the Tories and Boris Johnson. These Yougov numbers represent the biggest sudden drop for a decade."

One notable feature during this bizarre lockdown period has been the stark divide between Twitter and the rest of Britain.

Every day, the government press conferences have been scrutinised, debunked and generally ridiculed on the platform favoured by journalists and politicos. If Twitter was a visiting alien's first impression, they might assume revolution was in the air.

Meanwhile, outside the bubble, the government and Boris Johnson have enjoyed sky-high opinion poll ratings. A 'rally around the flag' effect has taken hold. Various Facebook posts slating 'negative journalists' went viral.

Regarding another political angle, Keir Starmer earned rave reviews from the commentariat for his early performances at PMQs. Yet Labour failed to make serious inroads into the massive Tory lead.

Cummings has transformed the news cycle

Then last Friday, the Dominic Cummings scandal broke. My initial reaction was deep scepticism that the news he had blatantly broken lockdown rules would cut through, or force a sacking or resignation. I doubted the story had legs.

Five days on, it clearly has! Having doubled down in support of their man, tried to justify actions most consider unjustifiable and endorsed his flaky version of events, the government is fast turning itself into a laughing stock.

Tory critics growing by the hour

Douglas Ross became the first minister to resign yesterday - following Cummings' widely derided press conference - and the number of Tory MPs calling for Cummings to resign is growing. More rebels are speaking out. Some prominent cheerleaders have turned.

Nevertheless, a doubt persisted that this would stay newsworthy. Until last night. Even the least political of newspapers can't get enough of the story and the latest polls are frankly disastrous for the Tories and Boris Johnson. These Yougov numbers represent the biggest sudden drop for a decade.

Cummings odds-on to survive the week

As for the betting, Cummings is a 2-5 chance to still be in post next Monday (June 1st) and 7-4 to go.

Whilst I would have been a backer at odds-on a few days ago, those odds are now too short for my liking. The golden rule that advisors should never become the story has long been broken. The situation feels untenable.

Never underestimate the effect of polls on a modern political class. These numbers will cause considerable anxiety. Those who backed Cummings because they thought him a winner could just as quickly jump ship.

Pressure is only likely to build from the parliamentary party. The decision to exclude Tobias Ellwood and Tom Tugendhat from today's Liaison Committee - both widely touted as potential future leaders - is quite extraordinary.

Can Johnson survive without his advisor?

The greater dilemma for the government is that it was, one suspects, more or less put together by Cummings rather than Johnson. If his team are ousted, panic could ensue. It is increasingly hard for Johnson or Michael Gove to u-turn but, without doing so, their reputations risk sinking fast.

As for wider, less time-sensitive markets, there are plenty of opportunities to bet on Johnson's demise. The PM is 1.68/13 to leave post after June 2022 and 2.01/1 in 2024 or later. Labour are into 2.26/5 to win Most Seats at the next election (scheduled for 2024) and a Conservative Majority is out to 3.185/40.

Before taking a big position on these markets, a deep breath is probably in order. My instinct is that Johnson is fatally wounded by his intrinsic relationship with Cummings. Given the febrile nature of the Westminster rumour mill and the time left before those exit dates are settled, I'd be a layer. The years ahead will not be plain sailing.

However I remain sceptical about backing Labour - especially for a majority, for the reasons discussed last month. Oppositions often thrive mid-term before falling away when it matters. Their brand remains weak and the geographical distribution of votes in this era of 'culture wars' is a huge problem. Without an almost unimaginable comeback in Scotland, it is hard to envisage a majority Labour government.

Follow Paul on Twitter and check out his website, Political Gambler.

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