EVERY Prime Minister has had a distinctive oratorical style. For Tony Blair, it was, y’know, the casual aside to dilute the rhetoric. Churchill rehearsed his great speeches endlessly, in order to make his gloriously soaring lists sound spontaneous and adlib.

Boris Johnson? He has relied throughout his career on a dishevelled Woosterish charm. Contriving to sound amateur, as if on the side of the audience rather than the powerful on the platform.

This can backfire. I have seldom seen the Prime Minister stumble more patently than when delivering his Partygate apology this week. Instead of Bertie Wooster, he resembled the hapless Gussie Fink-Nottle, gazing agape at the pitiless camera, and yearning to be reunited with his newts.

The set scarcely helped, seeming hurried and half-lit. Mr Johnson glanced constantly at his notes, unhelpfully placed to his side. He looked and sounded utterly ill at ease.

For very good reason. He had just become the only Prime Minister in history to receive a police fine while in office.

His offence? Attending a bash in Downing Street to celebrate his birthday.

Hey, give him a break, eh? He was only there for a few minutes. Minor matter. He’d been working hard all day.

Havers. This was during strict Covid lockdown. A terrified – yes, terrified – population was observing strict constraints to stem the hideous plague. Constraints ordered by 10 Downing Street.

Yet, in that very building, there were repeated parties. Booze brought in. Jollity and japes. Which Mr Johnson sought to deny and defend, when challenged.


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As a representative of bereaved families noted: “They broke the law. But, even worse, they took us all for mugs.”

The PM is said by Cabinet colleagues to be “mortified” at developments. I reckon that, politically, he may be mortally wounded.

Consider. Boris Johnson lacks an ideological base in the Tories. There is no Johnsonism as there was Thatcherism. The Tories opted for him because he appeared to be a sure-fire winner, while the UK wrestled with Brexit, which he had fostered.

And now? That glad confident morning has slipped behind a cumulus of clouds.

He was already in trouble. It would be bogus and wrong to pin the blame for economic troubles solely or wholly upon the PM. Yes, there are cogent disputes about tax and benefits. But economic challenges are also, in part, a global phenomenon, driven by Covid, conflict and energy costs.

Still, folk tend to glance sceptically towards the incumbent when things go agley. They tend to seek answers, or change. Plus, there is a substantial section of the electorate enduringly sceptical about the proclaimed gains of quitting the EU.

I do not think the PM will, ultimately, land in trouble over the handling of Coronavirus, although an official inquiry looms. Probably Nicola Sturgeon communicated better with the public, but I think the verdict will be that Covid was an unprecedented calamity.

Partygate is different. This was all Boris – or, at least, Team Boris. Just remember that ghastly video of Downing Street staff giggling as they made up ludicrous excuses for their joviality.

Again, consider. But for the onset of the Ukraine crisis, Mr Johnson might be gone by this point. He was previously under sustained pressure which he was handling far from effectively.

However, to cite Ukraine now as a reason for staying is entirely specious. The UK does not have troops in that conflict. Indeed, that is precisely the complaint lodged by Ukraine; that NATO is staying out of the fight.

Secondly, Boris Johnson is not leading negotiations with Russia. Nor is he a crucial figure. Significant, yes, but not crucial. This grim conflict would continue, descending into further brutality or stumbling towards a settlement, without him. As it would without President Macron of France who is currently facing an election run-off.

Now, it can be said that political controversies have a fixed season. They arise, they flare, they subside; flattened by public tedium or the passage of time.

That may still happen here. It is plainly Mr Johnson’s intent to distract Westminster, the media and the electorate. Forget parties: just look at that planeload of refugees destined for Rwanda.

I think, however, it is also possible that the PM has sustained fundamental damage from which he will not readily recover.


Read more by Brian Taylor: Downing Street is lit in Ukraine’s blue and yellow. Our response must be more than window dressing https://www.heraldscotland.com/politics/19952281.brian-taylor-downing-street-lit-ukraines-blue-yellow-response-must-window-dressing/


Firstly, Partygate is not over. There may yet be more fines from the Metropolitan Police who appear intriguingly eager to act, by contrast with their earlier reluctance to intervene.

Secondly, we have yet to see the full report from Sue Gray, the civil servant deputed to investigate.

Thirdly, Mr Johnson has to face the Commons again next week, deploying his best Uriah Heep humility. He has to set the record straight, to correct his previous statements to the effect that no rules were broken.

This will be, to say the least, tricky. No doubt Sir Keir Starmer will reprise the skills developed when he was the Director of Public Prosecutions.

The Labour leader can be expected to repeat the mantra he now uses on every occasion, to the effect that Britain deserves better than this. Insert “policy” or “Prime Minister”, according to taste.

Plus, the SNP have already turned the local elections into something of a referendum on the PM’s behaviour, with a supporting role for the Chancellor who has had domestic money worries this week. (Albeit rather different from the cash challenges facing most families.)

As I write this, my postal ballot for the council elections drops through the letter box. (Yes, really.) The timing could scarcely be worse, particularly for the Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross. He urged the PM to quit, then changed his mind.

En passant, he was dismissed as “lightweight” by Jacob Rees-Mogg. (Wodehouse’s Bingo Little? Catsmeat Potter-Pirbright?)

On the campaign trail, Ruth Davidson empathised. She said she knew what it was like to be “dumped in it by colleagues down south.”

But just what are those colleagues really thinking about the PM? That there are locals – and now a Westminster by-election – pending?

That they will read the runes after that? And that, amid heated public passion over Partygate, they will then make a cold calculation about Boris Johnson’s future.

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