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The price Boris Johnson has to pay for lockdown parties

The price Boris Johnson has to pay for lockdown parties

The British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is under sustained fire over lockdown parties. He attended at least three soirees. One of them was a surprise birthday party organised by his much younger wife Carrie Symonds. Another was a garden party in May 2021. His principal private secretary emailed scores of people inviting them to the garden of the Prime Minister's official residence 10 Downing Street at 6 pm and asked them to bring their own booze.

This was patently a social gathering and not a work event. It was optional, after office hours and involved strong waters. A staffer was sent with a suitcase to the supermarket to purchase alcohol. People would not suspect that it was a copious quantity of liquor that was being carried in the case. The police at the gate of Downing Street did not search the suitcase since they knew the staffer well. If they had, there is no law against an adult purchasing many bottles of alcohol. But the police might have begun to suspect a social gathering was being planned.

Boris and Rishi Sunak (Chancellor of the Exchequer) were fined for attending lockdown parties. Both have paid the fine. But there are more parties under investigation and possibly more fines coming. This is a bad news story from which the Conservative Party wants to move on. But this story is going to run and run for months.

Boris Johnson appointed a civil servant called Sue Gray to investigate civil service and political lockdown parties that he attended and that he did not attend. Miss Gray will publish her report after the police investigations have been publicised. She does not wish to prejudice them. Sue Gray is to determine whether there were breaches of the ministerial code and whether if so, ministers should resign. Her report has no legal standing. If it demands that the PM resign that does not legally oblige him to do so.

Sue Gray was appointed by Bo Jo presumably since he knows her and assumes her to be bland. He thinks she will not rock the boat. She will publish something anodyne. That will let him off the hook. Then he can remain on as PM. But there have been leaks from Sue Gray's teams saying that the report lacerates Boris and will force him to resign.

Boris Johnson has a very thick hide. This pachydermous politician is also shameless. He will not resign if at all possible. Bo Jo is Trump with a thesaurus. He cares about one principle only: himself. He has no moral scruples whatsoever. These are enormous political advantages.

There has been a Kyiv bounce for Boris. Since the Ukraine War began, Boris has played the world statesman. The Russo-Ukrainian conflict has been a welcome distraction for Boris from his domestic discontent. He has been jetting all over the world to avoid talking about his own lies and lawbreaking at home. This has boosted his party in the polls.

The Ukraine War will gradually lose salience the longer it goes on. The economic fallout from it wll rise in salience. People will not blame Putin for the rise in the cost of living. They will lay that at the door of the Prime Minister.

It was before Christmas 2021 that these gatherings came to light. Who is leaking this to the media? It is suspected that it is Dominic Cumings. Cumings was Boris' guru. But the two men fell out very badly indeed. Cumings was the brain behind the Brexit referendum campaign in 2016. He got into hot water in 2020 when it emerged that he broke lockdown by hundreds of miles to get an eye test. He drove from London to the northeast corner of England when he could have gone to an optician in London. Despite a media furore, Boris hung onto D Cumings. Bo Jo clearly considered it worth the heat to keep Cumings. But some months later, the two men had a blazing row and Cumings resigned in fury.

In December 2020 Downing Street staff held a practice press conference. Some staffers pretended to be journalists so the Prime Minister's spokeswoman could rehearse answering tricky questions from the press corps. The PM's spokeswoman Allegra Stratton chortled as she answered a question about a Christmas party held by Downing Street staff in direct contravention of the law that Boris himself had drafted. She quipped that the event was not socially distanced, cheese and wine had been served but that she had gone home before the party. That is true. Miss Stratton did not attend the offending event. Unluckily for her, the mock press conference was filmed and a year later leaked to the media. Her goose was cooked! Irate headlines demanded her resignation. A tear soaked Allegra Stratton emerged from her house looking like a fright to resign in disgrace. Her career was over due to a party that she did not even go to! She was forced out for making light of the incident. If the PM's press secretary has to go over something so petty, what if the PM himself has attended not one but three such events?

Bo Jo apologised to Parliament in January 2022 when it came to light that he had attended a lockdown party. The leader of the Labour Party is Sir Keir Starmer. Sir Keir was formerly Director of Public Prosecutions. He used his barrister's forensic aptitude to get at the truth. He asked pointed questions. As the leader of Her Majesty's Most Loyal Opposition, he is the Prime Minister in waiting. If Johnson's Conservative Party loses the next election (likely) then the Labour Party will form the government and Starmer shall be the Prime Minister. Starmer said the only way that the PM could prove he was contrite, was to resign. People on minimum wage were fined GBP 10,000 for lesser offences than what the PM did. GBP 10,000 is almost a year's income to some.

There was discomfiture in the Conservative and Unionist Party. Some Conservative (Tory) MPs called for Johnson to go. But most stayed loyal. The 1922 Committee is the committee for backbench Conservative MPs. Its chairman is Sir Graham Brady. If 15% of Tory MPs send a letter to the Chairman of the 1922 Committee demanding a vote of confidence in the leader, then one is held. If over 50% vote no confidence in the leader then the leader is dismissed. A leadership contest is held in which the deposed leader is not permitted to compete. However, if the leader of the party wins the vote of confidence, then he remains a leader and cannot be challenged for a further twelvemonth. When Theresa May was PM, she faced a vote of confidence. She won it. Nonetheless, it undermined her.

Once an MP has sent a letter demanding a vote of confidence in the leader, he can withdraw it. A few have done so. Rumour has it that 38 letters were sent at one point. Sir Graham is tightly lipped about how many he has received.

There are Tories who want Bo Jo gone but only want to move against him when they are sure that they can get him out. A vote of confidence that leaves him in office would be the worst of both worlds for the Tory Party. That would mean he is wounded but still PM. That would drag down the party. There is no obvious successor. The Prime Ministership appears to be a poisoned chalice at the moment. There is rampant inflation. The cost of living is going up as the economy slows down. Public services are failing. There are no bright sparks on the horizon.

In May 2022 local elections were held. They were to local councils all across the United Kingdom. About 4,500 council seats were up for grabs. The Tories held about 2,000 of them. Predictions of Tory losses ranged from 100 to 800. The Conservatives lost 467 seats. That is bad but not in the disaster zone. The Tories polled 30% of the vote to Labour's 36% and the Liberal Democrat's 19%. It is to be expected that 12 years into a government and 2 1/2 years into a Parliament that the ruling party will perform poorly. But this was not too shabby. Being only 6 percentage points adrift is not bad. The Tories can turn that around by the time of the next Westminster Parliament election - December 2024. That does not guarantee that the Tories will win it. The Tories have won four parliamentary elections in a row. You cannot win them all!

Labour performed very well in London. They made substantial gains in Scotland and Wales. In North Britain, Labour is now the second biggest party of local government behind the Scottish National Party. The Tories are now the third party in the Scottish local government. But in England (except London) the Labour Party's gains were tiny. It is the Liberal Democrats who made major headway.

The Labour Party is therefore disappointed by its showing. With 36% it could win an outright majority at the next Westminster election. Could! It might be a coalition or have to rely on a confidence and supply agreement with the Lib Dems or SNP.

A Downing Street source told me there is no chance of a vote of confidence in Boris being held in 2022, let alone a chance that he would lose one. For the moment he is safe. But if the Sue Gray report is explosive, that could change.

The rest of May and June 2022 will be taken up with celebrations for the Platinum Jubilee. Elizabeth II has been on the throne for 70 years. That will divert attention from Boris Johnson's lawbreaking.

The Police are investigating an event that Labour leader Starmer attended last year whereat he consumed beer in the presence of many Labour colleagues. There was nothing unlawful about the beer. But it seems to have been a social gathering.

One of the disingenuous arguments for Boris to stay as PM is the war in Ukraine. There is no reason why this means that Bo Jo cannot be defenestrated. The United Kingdom twice changed PM during the Second World War.

When Boris was a toddler, his ambition was to be world king. We know this because his journalist sister Rachel Johnson revealed it in a documentary. Boris never said she was wrong.

When coronavirus struck the United Kingdom in a serious way, the Prime Minister ordered a lockdown in England. The devolved administrations in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland did likewise. Johnson spoke at many news conferences when he announced the scale and scope of the restrictions. He was often in the dark and muddled about his own rules. Bo Jo caught a severe case of COVID 19 and was hospitalised in April 2020. Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab had to perform prime ministerial duties whilst Johnson was temporarily incapacitated.

Boris is safe for the moment. But will he lead his party into the next parliamentary elections? I doubt it.

The author is a political analyst based in the UK, You can watch him on YouTube: George from Ireland

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TAGS:Boris JohnsonRishi SunakPartygate
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