Is the Conservative Party willing to do something about Boris Johnson? - Euan McColm

Politics is, by and large, a self-policed business.

Yes, there are all sorts of commissioners and committees charged with responsibility for ensuring appropriate standards are met and maintained but we know from experience that disciplinary action is rare. More often than not, an investigator - perhaps appointed by the senior politician in the spotlight - will conclude that no breach of the rules has taken place.

A recent rare example of an MP facing sanction for breaking rules was the decision to suspend Tory MP Owen Paterson for lobbying on behalf of companies he was paid to advise. This should have been a straightforward process. Instead, Prime Minister Boris Johnson launched an attempt to change the rules on disciplinary procedures in order to - at the very least - delay Paterson’s fate.

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This was hardly the first time we’d been given an insight into Johnson’s character. We already knew he was a liar, sacked as a Times reporter for fabricating a quote and later dismissed from the Tory front bench for lying to then leader Michael Howard. And we'd heard the tape of him and an old chum discussing having a journalist beaten up. We'd even heard him fail to give a clear answer on how many children he has.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking at a press conference in London's Downing Street after ministers met to consider imposing new restrictions in response to rising cases and the spread of the Omicron variant. Picture date: Wednesday December 8, 2021. Picture: PA

The Paterson scandal hurt Johnson in a way past indiscretions never did.

Perhaps all those old recklessnesses simply added to the “different” character we’re told voters have been crying out for. The Paterson thing on the other hand, well, that waddled and quacked like a good old-fashioned duck of corruption.

Since the attempt to spare Paterson blew up in Johnson’s face, things have got considerably worse for the Prime Minister.

While the nation was in lockdown last December, members of the Prime Minister's staff gathered for a party in Downing Street. This revelation was followed by a series of leaks detailing other parties held across government.

Johnson’s response to these revelations was to evade, then deny, then admit, then demand action.

A significant number of voters may have been willing to overlook the Prime Minister’s complicated past but this was something different, entirely.

While the rest of us made the sacrifices required, the PM’s most senior staff were cavorting around the Downing Street dining room, singing - and failing to understand - “Stop The Cavalry” with their posh mates.

Any “investigation” into these matters is irrelevant. We do not require a civil service report to tell us what we’re now seeing.

And what we’re seeing is a Prime Minister incapable of telling the truth, who holds the electorate in contempt.

Johnson’s unfitness to hold office is clear. The question now is whether the Conservative Party is willing to do something about this.

If enough members of the Tory parliamentary party decide Johnson is an electoral liability, then they will act without sentiment. If they do not act, they will be playing their part in the further erosion of standards in public life.

In recent years, a series of alpha-male populist politicians have enjoyed considerable success while pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable. Nigel Farage perfected the art of the dog whistle, gathering behind him an army of Little Englanders who cheered on his demonisation of desperate asylum seekers. In the USA, Donald Trump ditched the dog whistle and went as low as the angriest nationalist wanted.

Here in Scotland, our own little demagogue, Alex Salmond, very nearly broke up the UK with a campaign designed to divide which was littered with bold - and completely unverifiable - claims.

All of those men with their tribalist instincts changed the political landscape for the worse. Johnson is, right now, doing further - perhaps irreparable - damage to our politics.

While Tory MPs fail to act, the Prime Minister will continue to lie and to evade responsibility for his own disreputable actions.

Johnson will not change. He will lurch from catastrophe to disaster. He will create diplomatic crises and he will lie whenever he feels it necessary. Every day he will set a new lower standard of behaviour required of a Prime Minister. If Johnson’s premiership is allowed to flourish, I dread to think of what might come next. Once standards are dismantled, they will not be easily rebuilt.

In the States, the Republican Party is in something of a crisis. Donald Trump continues to exert considerable influence and there’s a raging civil war within the party between his supporters and others who favour a return to a politics of basic decency.

I wonder if Johnson might be fuelling something similar in the Conservative Party. He might enjoy the support of the “oi, oi” Brexit lads and assorted cranks on his party's right but there do exist moderate Tories who lament the Prime Minister's behaviour.

I doubt the Tory politician who told me “I’m worried about the damage he’s doing to the whole business of politics” is alone.

Watching Johnson lurch though this ongoing scandal, the question of why, exactly, he wanted to become Prime Minister returns. There’s no clear government mission. There's no sense that anything - any little thing - actually matters to Johnson.

So, we have a Prime Minister whose ambitions for the role ended at the point he won it and who will now lie and evade and do and say whatever is necessary to protect his position.

If Tory MPs put party before country and continue to indulge the catastrophic Johnson project, then they risk - as new polls giving Labour a healthy lead suggest - paying a heavy price at the next election.

But morality in public life is more important than the careers of a few Tory MPs. If Boris Johnson remains in power, untouched by what should be career-ending scandals, then our democracy is in a dark place, indeed.

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