The reasons why should be clear to everyone, but it is a depressing and worrying fact that some Conservatives – although very much not all – seem hopeful of brushing aside the latest revelation that Johnson attended a party at Downing Street in May 2020 in defiance of the laws his own government had imposed on the country in the early days of the pandemic.
Johnson’s failure to deny his presence at the party, and the government line that people should wait for the outcome of an ongoing inquiry by a civil servant, was pathetic, achieving little apart from providing tacit confirmation that he was there and that this was information he still somehow hoped to hide.
As former Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson wrote on Twitter, “nobody needs an official to tell them if they were at a boozy shindig in their own garden… what tf were any of these people thinking?”
It is perhaps a sign of hope about standards at the heart of British democracy that about 60 to 70 of the 100 or so Downing Street staff invited to the party did not attend, and that some were reportedly as aghast as Davidson to have been asked at all.
But that there was a mass gathering organised by Johnson’s Principal Private Secretary, who had encouraged staff to “bring your own booze”, on the same day as the then Culture Secretary, Oliver Dowden, told the public at a Covid briefing that they could only meet “one person outside of your household in an outdoor, public place” is utterly unconscionable.
And that the Prime Minister chose to attend means he gave the event his blessing, regardless of whether or not he was involved in its planning.
It is a clear sign that Johnson believes there is one rule for the public, another rule for those he regards as an untouchable elite, a separate ruling class who cannot be held accountable.
All this is bad enough, but his actions put the police in an impossible position: they can either take legal action against him or effectively agree that he is indeed above the law. That, unlike the ordinary citizens prosecuted for holding parties in breach of lockdown, he will escape sanction because of his position. Officers may now be desperately seeking a way out of this situation, a technicality to avoid this being the logical conclusion of any failure to act or the alternative of bringing a prosecution against the UK’s serving Prime Minister.
Older generations were raised on the idea of a certain level of decency in political life and, when politicians and civil servants did something that failed to live up to those standards, it was expected they would resign.
This acted as a necessary check on their behaviour. If that no longer exists, if politicians can say one thing and do the opposite at a time of national crisis and simply get away with it, then public faith in democracy will crumble.
Dominic Grieve, a barrister and a Conservative MP for 22 years until the whip was withdrawn on Johnson’s orders, said that Johnson, twice sacked for dishonesty, had “told a series of untruths about these issues over a period of time and the latest evidence clearly suggests that the rules were broken”.
“The difficulty we have here is that we have a Prime Minister who’s effectively a serial liar,” Grieve said.
Corruption takes many forms. But perhaps one of the most insidious and dangerous is a refusal to see wrongdoing when it is staring us in the face, thereby giving a green light to more of the same.
Johnson no longer has the moral authority to lead the country and those who defend him should be ashamed. He must resign.