At time of writing, I am bored with being told that Boris Johnson’s government is on the brink of collapse. It’s been talked about constantly for weeks. The “senior” Tory backbenchers, the thrusting new “red wall” backbenchers, the “former ministers”, the “ex-chief whips” – I’ve lost count – all of them pissed off, not taking any more of this shit, saying he’s got to resign, he’s lost confidence, it’s over, I never liked him, his wife’s a bitch, etc.
They’ve all been doing their letters, or thinking about doing their letters, to the 1922 Committee. No one knows quite how many letters there are – maybe they haven’t all been posted. Is it 30? It could be 40! It needs to be 54. David Davis even did the “In the name of God, go” bit in the Commons. Surely that’s the cue? He must be feeling embarrassed now, like he’s failed to get a Mexican wave going. Cromwell used that speech to usher in martial law, Leo Amery’s quoting it got rid of Chamberlain within a couple of days, but Johnson just ignored it and “got on with the job” of slandering the leader of the opposition and singing disco hits to his new director of communications.
I’ve been nervous to mention the prime minister in these columns recently, so fervent have been the assurances of dozens of his former allies that he’s about to go. I didn’t want to embarrass the print media by exposing its lead times. He won’t be prime minister by Sunday, so mentioning him will make the whole article irrelevant, I’ve been telling myself. But it’s getting ridiculous. So I’m taking the risk and if he’s out of office by the time you read this, it’ll be the first ever case of regime change expedited by sod’s law.
The latest person solemnly predicting Johnson’s doom is a man called John Armitage, who is a major Tory donor, as well as, rather eccentrically, a minor Labour donor – seems like an expensive way of telling the Lib Dems you don’t like them. He’s very upset about things, saying he finds “the lack of honour inherent in modern politics incredibly distressing”, but he’s given more than £500,000 to the Conservative party since Johnson became prime minister, so it’s hard to think what more he could have done.
Armitage’s interview with the BBC is remarkable mainly for his uncanny vocal similarity to former cabinet minister Rory Stewart. It’s quite weird. He could make good money as a Stewart impersonator if he hadn’t already made £600m from managing a hedge fund. When asked whether he felt the prime minister was “past the point of no return”, Armitage said: “Well, personally, yes.” And that means “prime minister past point of no return, says Tory donor” can be added to the litany of teasing.
The problem with this prolonged period of anticipation is that all the voices raised in protest against Johnson’s government start to sound shrill, like Kermit the Frog endlessly introducing an act that never comes on. The prime minister has understood this from the moment the current scandal broke. He’s let the evidence of all the various No 10 booze-ups accumulate, until the specifics get jumbled – the summer party, the assorted leaving dos, the cheese and wine, the Christmas one, the one the TV lady resigned for, the eve of the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral drinks, was it? I think there was a birthday cake at some point? But not the one in the photo – that was presented to him by a school.
He’s done a bit of piecemeal apologising as he went along, but for ages the main message was: “We have to wait for Sue Gray’s report so we can all find out what I’ve done. I’m as interested to hear as everyone else!” We waited for Sue to sort it out and produce a handy list, like a statement telling you exactly what items a fraudster has bought on your credit card, so we could organise our annoyance properly. But it never happened; before her report came out we’d already been told it wouldn’t be a proper one at the insistence of the relentlessly disappointing Metropolitan police.
So the report is redacted and we’re waiting for the police to investigate. What could that possibly involve other than reading Gray’s report? Creeping round the cabinet room looking for remnants of party popper and carbon-dateable shards of Twiglet? No, they say they’re going to send round an email questionnaire that “must be answered truthfully”. That should do the trick. Some fines might be issued at some point. Perhaps the conclusions could be announced during the next World Cup.
We all know that the longer this goes on, the more likely the prime minister will get away with it. There are so many distractions that could save him. There might be a war in Ukraine; he suddenly suggested he might end the legal requirement to isolate with Covid; he did a mini-reshuffle two days after refreshing his core team and he could always do another; even consternation about NHS waiting lists currently helps him because he can make Sajid Javid do the talking.
The moaning Tories won’t fundamentally mind this. If he survives, they’ll stop saying he’s rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic and start saying he’s steadied the ship, refreshed by the sensation of a different cliche. They’ll congratulate themselves for having intervened, brought Boris to heel and bagged up all his little turds. But what are the opposition supposed to do? They’re still shouting about these parties, occasions of such hypocrisy, dishonesty and bad faith it beggars belief that they haven’t destroyed the government.
More time passes and people get used to the parties. It’s not as if politicians seemed honest before the pandemic. Those who didn’t have to watch relatives die over Zoom will, if they don’t forgive, sort of forget, get bored.
Another party photo emerged last week. You can feel the potency of the issue dissipating. It doesn’t look that shocking. An open bottle of champagne, crisps on the desk and tinsel round a man’s neck. If it’s a party, it’s a shit one. The Met announced that it will now review its previous decision not to investigate it. That sounds time consuming.