Boris Johnson slithered and blustered his way through an attempted defence of his lies and corruption on Tuesday.
Trying to excuse his fine for breaking lockdown laws, Johnson told the Commons it didn’t “occur to me then or subsequently that a gathering in the Cabinet room could be a breach of the rules.”
According to the Sunday Times, one of the events that he didn’t know was a party became a leaving celebration only after Johnson arrived and started pouring drinks. His non-apology was combined with a brusque diversion strategy. It’s based on claiming that the war in Ukraine is far more important and that he’s doing brilliant work as the chief arms supplier for president Volodymyr Zelensky.
This goes down well with his backbenchers, who want to urge on Nato’s expansion. It also blunts some of Labour’s criticisms. Keir Starmer is determined to cut the party off from any shred of opposition to US and Nato war aims.
Johnson is set to face a vote on Thursday on whether to refer claims that he misled the Commons over partygate to the parliamentary privileges committee. He is meant to be on a trip to India to meet far right prime minister Narendra Modi, so will miss the vote and avoid having to defend himself.
The Tories seem certain to whip their MPs to vote against asking the privileges committee to investigate, and enough of them will fall in line. In any case these manoeuvres don’t go to the heart of Johnson’s crimes. It’s not the ministerial code that is the key issue.
Johnson wants everyone to forget that behind his breach of lockdown parties were attitudes, policies and decisions that had a fatal impact on ordinary people. His arrogance and contempt didn’t just mean he ignored his own rules. He also bulldozed aside the measures that could have saved tens of thousands of lives. As he partied, people died.
As a hospital doctor, David Jones, tweeted bitterly, “On the night of one of the criminal Downing Street parties, I withdrew life sustaining therapy on five people. I explained this to their family via a WhatsApp/Zoom video call. Anyway, forget that all that, Boris Johnson is now focusing on the important stuff.”
Safiah Ngah’s father Zahari died of Covid last year. She told the New York Times, “It’s absolutely despicable. Our leaders—the people that were setting these rules that we couldn’t be with our families—were not only not adhering to them, but they were celebrating. It really was not a time for celebration.”
The bluster from Boris Johnson saw him through Tuesday, and will be enough to survive any votes in parliament this week.
But there will be more to come. There are likely to be more fines. “He’s not out of the woods,” one Tory minister told the Financial Times newspaper. They argued that a party in Johnson’s private flat on 13 November 2020—the night he sacked Dominic Cummings as his chief adviser— was far more concerning.
Local elections on 5 May are seen by many Tory MPs as a key indicator of how damaged Johnson is with voters. “The next couple of weeks will be torrid,” said one Tory MP.
They don’t care if Johnson is corrupt or a liar. They do care if he is losing votes and threatening their seats. Johnson should have gone long ago. But driving him out will mean mobilisation beyond parliament. It’s impossible to shame Johnson and his enablers into stepping down—only using the full power of our side can do that.
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