Dominic Cummings’s advice and instructions to the Tory government could be delivered by him without the need to be classified as an adviser to the Prime Minister; there are several other determined proponents of extreme market-oriented economic theories who could replace him were he to be removed; his reputation in the world of hard-right philosophy and think-tanking is neither more nor less impressive or problematic than many others; his communication skills with the government, other advisers and Tory MPs lack finesse and he does not have personal or business information on Johnson that would embarrass the latter because nothing embarasses Johnson.
Cummings’ retention and the unequivocal backing he received from Johnson and from the cabinet – support that necessitated a deluge of excruciating contradictory lies from all protagonists – was not a consequence of what Cummings offers to the government. As a connected person Cummings does have his uses but they are not so peculiar to him that an entire cabinet and lots of other Tory MPs had to prostitute themselves with absurd logic-defying, translucent cries of camaraderie in the face of near-total condemnation of Cummings from outside the government including from ardent Tory supporters in the media.
So, why does it appear that Johnson cannot remove him?
To sack him, or to accept a convenient resignation, would require Johnson to make a decision directed by opinions outside of the government. His refusal to agree to that was not borne of ego or stubbornness – despite his Eton machine education Johnson is not so erroneously confident that he always thinks he is right and everyone else wrong.
The reason Johnson could not allow outside persuasion to be a factor in decision-making on Cummings’ employment was that if Johnson acquiesced once then there would be pressure and coercion to do so again and again whenever the government did something that was clearly wrong, and there will be a stream of awful decisions, acts and laws from the Tories in the foreseeable future that will have catastrophic consequences for millions of people due to either Covid-19 or Brexit.
Johnson and his cabinet colleagues know their plans for Britain will be more than unpopular. The purpose of the current government is, via Brexit, to restructure society to favour a few wealthy exploiters. The majority of people will lose. The government cannot allow any compromises no matter how obviously defective its behaviour might be because all its plans are entirely defective from the perspective of most people and, so, acceptance of any change or challenge to a very poor decision by the government would mean every decision made would be similarly challenged because all will be similarly wrong. Any compliance with unambiguous logical criticism for anything unjust, unethical, undemocratic or stupid done (or not done) by the Tories – meaning everything that they plan to do (or not do) – would lead to compliance by them on all their plans.
Johnson’s erroneous imperturbability regarding Cummings was not protection of his adviser nor of himself; it was protection of the project, protection of coming decisions and acts and trade deals. The wilful intransigence was not intended to be a display of strength and had nothing to do with Cummings’ skills or his standing in the think-tank community. It was purely pragmatic. The Tory government’s aim is destruction. All criticism must be eschewed.