It’s perfectly possible that we could see the end of the Boris Johnson premiership as a result of the latest party revelations, exposed by ITV news in the last couple of days.
The current story appears to be significantly more damaging than the slew of related office party stories before Christmas.
It’s my belief that this whole issue has been like a sword of Damocles hanging over the administration for some time; it starts to make sense of a number of baffling decisions by the Prime Minister, like his support for Dominic Cummings following his illegal road trip to Barnard’s Castle.
Number 10 realised the damage this issue could wreak and have repeatedly trotted out denial over denial, presumably because they recognise that the crime is sufficiently damaging to justify a cover-up.
Barring some sort of legal technicality, that denial strategy appears to have run out of road and the expectation is now that the Prime Minister is going to appeal for forgiveness. Good luck with that.
It would be easy for just about anyone to drive a cart and horses through any attempted justification for the rule-breaking, let alone a former director of Public Prosecution, aka the Leader of the Opposition.
‘Yes, No 10 staff undoubtedly worked hard but so too did many others during the pandemic. Would there have been no consequences for off-duty doctors and nurses having cheese and wine in the memorial garden at St Thomas’s hospital, or Tesco checkout employees having a post-shift drinks party in their staff car park? No further questions, Your Honour.’
If the police decide to get involved (they’re currently being sued for not looking into things), then Sue Gray’s enquiry will have to be put on hold. But as it is, this senior civil servant is piecing together the evidence and is expected to produce a report next week. She won’t take any prisoners, particularly if there’s enough to bring the Prime Minister down. Remember her damming report into former minister and best friend of then PM, Damien Green? She’s no patsy.
The report itself could be enough for the PM’s resignation, it could refer the matter to the police, it might find him not guilty – but in all probability, Johnson’s career rests in the hands of his 360 fellow Conservative MPs.
Under their rules, if 55 of them decided enough is enough, there could be a vote of no confidence – and that normally finishes off a Conservative leader irrespective of the actual vote. Theresa May won hers by 200 to 117, needing only a majority to stay in power, but she was gone in 6 months.
How close to 55 they are is a secret, but it is well thought that they were nearly there before this current crisis, and Tory MPs have watched with horror at the opinion polling showing very clearly that many of them will lose their jobs if there was an election.
Normally in the dying days of a Tory leader, there is an orchestrated putsch led by a challenger to the throne. This doesn’t appear to be the case at the moment, but there are plenty of willing candidates that will come forward, who are biding their time. Truss, Javid, Hunt, Tugendhat, maybe even Sunak if the Westminster rumour mill is anything to go by.
Police involvement, Sue Gray report, 1922 Committee letters of no confidence, PMQs, new evidence…….
As with so much involving Boris Johnson, the situation remains unpredictable. But in the next few days, there’ll be many trigger points, any of which could spell the end of Prime Minister Boris.
As one MP put it to me yesterday, ‘The Ides of March seems so fitting, yet such a long time away.’
**Update – following PMQs on 12.01.22**
The opposition party leaders all called for the Prime Minister to resign and, as predicted above, Boris Johnson has changed tack and decided to apologise rather than continue to deny any parties took place.
The Prime Minister attempted to kick the can down the road and asked MPs repeatedly to wait to see what Sue Gray’s report says before making any conclusions, upping the ante on her forthcoming investigation.
His new argument appears to be that he thought the event was a work event but that he apologises for the way he handled things.
It seems to the author that there are a number of problems with this….
If it was a work event, why was his wife there?
How can it be reconciled with the email invitation that invited people to a socially distanced drink in recognition of their hard work (and the good weather)?
How can you apologise while simultaneously claiming you’ve not done anything wrong?
Perhaps time will tell.