Only a man as entitled as Boris Johnson would see a police investigation as a reprieve

The Met’s effective request for a delay on the release of the crucial parts of Sue Gray’s Partygate report offers Johnson a route out of trouble

Sean O'Grady
Friday 28 January 2022 13:04 GMT
Minister Chris Philp says Government will not delay planned NI tax increase

It is a strange thing that a prime minister being investigated by the police for criminal activity should regard that as a stroke of luck, but here we are. Perhaps only someone as privileged and with such an obvious sense of entitlement as Boris Johnson could consider such a situation tolerable. Indeed, he regards it as a position of strength, because it is buying him more time, delaying the Gray report, which may be more humiliating for him than we think. So he gets to fight another day.

Johnson really doesn’t, in case you’d not noticed, think that laws matter, even the ones he himself has promulgated. Deep down he plainly regarded them as mostly silly, and went along with it only because he had no choice, and couldn’t wilfully ignore the scientists during a pandemic. He’s not sorry, you know. He’s not going to quit out of shame, no matter what Sue Gray or the Metropolitan Police say or do. If he gets a Fixed Penalty Notice for breaking lockdown, he will treat it with the same legendary merry disdain he has always shown for parking tickets. It will be joked about, while it is actually a disgrace and an insult to those who lost loved ones in the pandemic.

He doesn’t take such things seriously. When he was a student at Oxford, Johnson ran an old Fiat 128 saloon (nicknamed, ironically and predictably, “the Italian Stallion”) which he parked wherever he liked in that congested city. He never paid a single ticket, never even bothered taking any of the scores he received off the windscreen, letting them disintegrate in the rain instead. His dodge was that his car was registered on Belgian number plates, and the systems weren’t in place to pursue him. The only difference now is that the authorities have got his address.

The Met’s effective request for a delay on the release of the crucial parts of Sue Gray’s Partygate report does offer Johnson further routes out of trouble. Every delay means more time. This is a precious commodity, because things can turn to his advantage. Better than expected tax returns take the pressure off the need to raise National Insurance Contributions. Major distractions such as a war in Ukraine can obligingly turn up. Johnson can use the extra time to think and use the huge advantages of incumbency to make more “red meat” announcements (vacuous or not). He can use each day to persuade more and more wavering Conservative MPs to back him, and he can wear down the opposition within government so that he can cancel that scheduled increase in National Insurance, something some backbenchers are demanding as the price of supporting him. Thus do those in care homes pay for Boris Johnson’s survival. It’s not an especially warming thought.

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For Johnson, the other great advantage of the passage of time is that the public and the media get bored with Partygate – a rather jolly word for a culture of corruption. We have become so pummelled by Partygate, so inured to the contempt this gang holds us in, so gaslit, that we start to feel that this is the natural state of affairs. Like the frog sitting in a saucepan and not noticing how it is being gradually boiled to death, the incremental nature of the revelations tends to make them less shocking. The boredom factor starts to play out. We just want it over. It was, in fact, the way that he won the 2019 general election – promising to end the never ending agony of Brexit  pand to get Brexit done.

Even so, the more fundamental damage has been done. The electorate made their minds up about this man weeks ago. It has been some time since people needed Sue Gray or Cressida Dick, or Tory MPs for that matter, to tell them that Johnson broke his own laws. He has virtually admitted as much, and the evidence is all around  us, and has been in the public domain for weeks. In the court of public opinion he was found guilty ages ago. He would do the same again given the chance.

He is bad at governing and his skills as a debater and campaigner do not compensate for incompetence and dishonesty. If his party sticks with him he will do the Conservatives no good.

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