Partygate: Boris Johnson may survive for now, but fines for Covid lockdown breaches could come back to haunt him – John McLellan
Just as Partygate was at its height but three weeks before Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine, the chances of Boris Johnson seeing out the spring as Prime Minister seemed slim, and reliant on stretching out the timetable of events.
Wait for the Sue Gray report, wait for the police report, wait for the May council election results.
“The path for him to survive is very narrow,” a well-placed Downing Street source told me at the time. “It won’t be easy and a lot has to go right, but I think he can do it.” Given Mr Johnson has made a career out of bouncing back to ever greater heights when others would have slunk off into the sunset, I didn’t doubt it was possible.
Now, extraordinary as it may seem, he can survive in the short term at least, largely because the path he had to tread wasn’t as narrow as the roads on which columns of Russian tanks were brought to a halt by Ukrainian soldiers armed with the latest weaponry with which Mr Johnson ensured they were equipped.
And at a time when Vladimir Putin’s regrouped divisions are massing for an armoured offensive on a scale not seen on mainland Europe since the Battle of Kursk in 1943 and the possibility of an escalation of the conflict is possibly greater than at any point in the six-week conflict, now is not the time for a Prime Ministerial contest.
That is not to say the implications of a Prime Minister, his wife and his Chancellor and dozens of Downing Street staffers all being fined by police for breaching Covid laws are less serious just because circumstances have changed.
Nor does it mean that a Prime Minister who either didn’t understand his own rules or didn’t follow them, and may have misled the Commons, can just expect it to be permanently brushed under the Axminster because it was a surprise birthday party organised for him by his wife.
Hundreds of thousands of people will have broken the rules, but hundreds of thousands didn’t and missed significant family events as a result, and it’s now an indisputable fact that the government’s two most senior figures weren’t as ‘in it together’ as they thought. It’s as damaging as it’s possible to be.
For Chancellor Rishi Sunak, the triumph of the furlough scheme must seem a long way off and the triple whammy of his wife’s tax arrangements, his US Green Card and now this would ordinarily be fatal. If, as is alleged, his neighbour’s team is the source of leaks about him, his departure will only increase pressure on his boss. Therefore, the pressure will be on him to tough it out.
No wonder the SNP wants to focus a council election campaign, supposed to be about pot-holed roads and unemptied bins, on the Prime Minister’s character, to “send Westminster a message” as if Number 10 needs a postcard from Scotland as a reminder.
Scottish Conservatives will be out today and every day until May talking to voters, stuffing leaflets through letterboxes and trying to keep the attention where it should be, on local issues, while the recriminations at the highest levels of the party take their course. We don’t have any other choice.
John McLellan is a Conservative councillor in Edinburgh
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