THE fact that Boris Johnson and his Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, have received fixed penalty notices from the Metropolitan Police for breaches of the Covid regulations, and accepted them, puts them in a very grave position.

The Prime Minister has, of course, been following his usual tactic when circumstances are disobliging, and pushing on in the hope that his failings will be excused, forgotten or eclipsed by some other event — something that politics will always supply.

But it will not pass muster in this case. The fact that his opponents, and a couple of his own MPs, are calling for his resignation is only to be expected, but it is not simply a knee-jerk judgment. Nor does it obscure the fact that every party has had members, sometimes senior members, who have been censured for breaking those same rules.

Indeed, there is even precedent for ministers who have broken the law remaining in office. That does not matter either.

The reality is that the Prime Minister will not — even if further fines come along, as they may well — resign, and that he will almost certainly not face the same calls to go that many Tory MPs, including Douglas Ross, the Scottish leader, were prepared to issue just a few weeks ago. There are several reasons advanced for that, some more creditable than others.

Mr Johnson has been excellent in his leadership on Ukraine (and Ukrainians think so, whatever his critics maintain), so some Conservatives claim the time is not right. This is hogwash. No matter how well the PM has handled this emergency, it’s not the subject under discussion. Not is it likely that UK government policy would change if he were to go.

A more self-interested reason is that Tory MPs think, correctly, that Mr Johnson is in a league of his own and — if his timing is lucky — a proven vote-winner. That may be true, but it’s not a defence.

And nor is the defence that “nine minutes eating cake”, or whichever minimising formulation is wheeled out, at all sustainable. The claim that Mr Johnson’s breaches were fairly trivial matters cannot possibly be maintained.

That is because, first and foremost, this is not just a minor offence or technical infraction, even if the incidents themselves could be characterised that way, because he was breaking rules that he himself had imposed on the rest of the country. He constantly stressed how vital they were, and infringements were often very severely dealt with — teenagers received fines in the thousands of pounds for meeting friends out of doors.

More to the point, much of the population endured real hardship because of these restrictions; unable to see dying loved ones, having to cancel weddings, being isolated for months on end. When they took the regulations seriously, it is a crass insult that their ultimate author should have operated as if they did not apply to him. Many of them, even if previous supporters, will not forgive that. Nor should they.

Worse, the sheer volume of stories that emerged made it clear that the general culture in Downing Street was one of casual disregard. We appreciate people were working in an odd bubble, and dealing with an unprecedented situation, but that was true of many other key workers who nonetheless strictly complied with the law.

The third indictment, impossible to disguise, is that he misled Parliament about all of this. It does not matter whether the PM’s opinion was that these were not really parties, or that a glass of wine in the Number 10 garden before returning to work was within the rules.

He made those rules, and knew — or if not, certainly should have known —that they were being broken.

The likelihood that he will remain in office for now cannot alter the fact that, having ignored the laws he himself created, and deceived Parliament about it, he has lost any moral authority to govern.



SNP need to defend their record in office

BY contrast with this irresponsibility and detachment from public opinion in Whitehall, the Scottish Conservatives’ launch of their manifesto for the council elections on May 5 demonstrated some understanding of the priorities of ordinary voters.

Their headline policies were cuts to council tax, extra funding for education and local government, tackling crime, improving housing and healthcare, action on potholes and opposition to the workplace parking levy.

These are exactly the things that most interest and attract voters, as well as having the merit of being the nuts and bolts of council business.

Emphasising them, from the Conservatives’ point of view, is canny not just because they exercise the public, but for two other reasons.

First, that they can paint the Scottish National Party as having made those bread-and-butter issues a lower priority than a second referendum (currently not something most people want, according to the polls).

Secondly, because any deficiencies in those areas are the responsibility of a government that has, one way or another, been in power for a decade and a half.

In its party political broadcast, Scottish Labour took much the same approach, though by concentrating on the cost-of-living challenges, it could direct its fire at both the SNP at Holyrood and the Conservatives in Westminster.

It remains to be seen whether this tactic will help the party, which was badly beaten into third place at the last local elections, or whether the Tories, who came second by just a few hundred seats then, can maintain their position or (a far less likely prospect) make significant gains.

But both are concentrating on things that make a material difference to voters, and it might be wise for the SNP to follow suit.

They already have the support of staunch advocates of independence — and even they may have qualms about whether now is the time to concentrate on a new referendum.

To maintain their claim of being the best choice and chance for improving people’s lives, they need to defend their record in office. Everyday issues are what most affect normal people.