BORIS Johnson was meant to be doing a lot of apologising yesterday, to the public, to parliament, and to Conservative MPs. The impression Downing Street gave was that the Prime Minister was ready, in the manner of a radio quiz contestant, to say sorry to anyone who knew him, topping this off with general regret for the rotten weather we’ve been having lately.

The reason for his contrition? The publication of Sue Gray’s report into gatherings in Downing Street while the country was under lockdown.

I am humbled, Mr Johnson duly told MPs. I have learned my lesson, and I take responsibility. Except he is not humbled, he has not learned his lesson, and he continues to take no responsibility for the appalling behaviour that went on in Downing Street while he was in charge.

Make no mistake – Gray’s report was scathing. But it ultimately gave this shameless Prime Minister enough room to escape. In laying bare the shocking antics of some staff, the report made the boss look better than he had a right to expect. He was able to distance himself from what went on, and even join in the condemnation. It wasn’t him, you see, it was them, those faceless, largely anonymous apparatchiks.

With one leap the bounder was free, again, and there is nothing that can be done about it for the foreseeable. There are lucky generals, there are greased piglets, and then there is Boris Johnson, a hybrid of the two.

The week began promisingly for those who believed the Prime Minister’s time might finally be up. A leaked photograph showing Mr Johnson in party mode after telling the Commons there was no such gathering or rule-breaking on that particular day, was damning. This was followed by Tuesday’s Panorama,with the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg interviewing some of the staff who were at the parties.

Downing Street came across as a boozing den staffed by entitled slobs who mocked the little people who tried to tell them off. Downing Street as the neighbours from hell.

Ms Gray’s report was even more scathing about the culture in Number 10. Organised parties taking place regularly. Wine Time Fridays. Hundreds invited. Karaoke. Partying through the night on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral. Cleaners having to mop up puddles of wine. One partygoer vomiting, another pair having a “minor altercation”. Sly jokes from aides about “getting away” with parties. Multiple examples of security and cleaning staff being poorly treated and shown no respect. Suddenly, those tales of the Bullingdon Club did not seem so far fetched after all.

While all this was set out in some detail, other matters were not given as much attention as they deserved, by Ms Gray or MPs. Little was made of Mr Johnson being at a party for longer than he told the Commons, for example. Then there was Ms Gray’s decision not to fully investigate a gathering in the Downing Street flat attended by Mr Johnson, his wife and others because the Metropolitan Police had by then announced an investigation. When the police probe was over, Ms Gray could have restarted her inquiry but “concluded it was not appropriate or proportionate to do so”.

On two key findings, however, Ms Gray was clear. First, many of the events she investigated should not have been allowed to happen. Second, “the senior leadership at the centre, both political and official, must bear responsibility for this culture”.

Mr Johnson began his Commons statement by saying he took “full responsibility” for what happened. It seemed like an open and shut case for which he would surely pay with his job, but not so fast. Like the escapologist who has the keys all along, he unfastened the locks binding his hands and feet and swam to the surface, triumphant.

What defence he bothered to muster went something like this. Yes, things were wrong with the management of Downing Street, but he has since put them right and new staff are in place. The old order swept away. Next, far from misleading the Commons when he told MPs the Covid rules and guidance had been followed at all times, this was what he believed to be true. As for any bad behaviour that went on, he was simply not present on those occasions and therefore unaware of it. Now that he was aware, courtesy of Ms Gray, of course he condemned it. Finally, he concluded, it was time to move on.

Most of his MPs appeared to be of the same mind. In many cases, not because they believe he is right and has been exonerated, but because they have no one who can replace Mr Johnson and his thus far election-winning ways.

Far from closing the door on Partygate, Gray’s report, and the parliamentary inquiry into what Mr Johnson told the Commons, will keep the story going, but with ever diminishing returns. The public remains angry. The families denied precious time with loved ones will never forgive. Yet voters at certain by-elections aside, there is nothing the vast majority can do about it.

Mr Johnson goes on, once again leaving a trail of destruction and disenchantment in his wake. Among the casualties is Douglas Ross, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, whose flexible attitude towards the Prime Minister’s behaviour – a resigning matter or not? – has done himself no favours. One does not expect Mr Johnson will lose any sleep over that.

What turned out to be a good enough day for the Prime Minister was a bad one for democracy.

Mr Johnson, confronted with a wall of rules meant to uphold standards, bulldozed his way through without a care for any lasting damage he might be inflicting. The combined might of the opposition parties, such as it was, failed to hold him to account in any meaningful way.

A considerable amount of time, money and effort has gone into investigating what went on in Downing Street during those bleak months of lockdown.

Except, as we now know, they were not bleak months for some. Some people’s lives carried on as before, with a few adjustments here and there and a nudge-nudge, wink-wink attitude to the rules.

In time, the Downing Street party culture laid bare in the Gray report will come to symbolise Mr Johnson’s period in office. Brazen, tawdry, elitist, and contemptuous of those perceived to be lower down the social order. Hardly a legacy to be proud of, but it is the one Mr Johnson will leave.