Boris Johnson fostered a disregard for the rules that may prove to be his downfall – Christine Jardine MP

The leader sets the tone. All else stems from that.

In politics that means that the way we behave, the legislation we set, the country we become can all be seen as a consequence of the leader’s tone. For the past two years, the country has looked to its leaders for one that reflected confidence that this crisis can be overcome.

For reassurance that we are all in this, and all fighting it, together.

Over the past week, it has become increasingly difficult to detect anything other than chaos. Confidence in the leadership of the UK seemed to be dissolving in front of our eyes and threatening to drown much that we have achieved as a community in bitterness and recriminations. But they are not the first to fail us in this crisis.

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Earlier this year, it was our Scottish government which was providing the embarrassing spectacle of its two most recent First Minister’s involved in a public slanging match over the handling of sexual abuse allegations.

You might say that at least this latest disappointment is only about a party, or “gathering”, as we are encouraged to call the event in Downing Street.

But at its heart, it all boils down to the same thing. Respect, or rather the lack of it, for the public.

It must have felt to many people that the pain they have been through has somehow failed to register with those at the very epicentre of our public services.

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Boris Johnson seems utterly convinced there is one rule for us and no rules for him (Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA)

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In the depths of last year’s misery over a cancelled Christmas, how many of us would have given almost anything for a party. Even a small one. Just a handful of people. Family.

But we didn’t. Neither for a minute did most of us mind that, recognising as we did that there was a greater imperative.

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We drove to local authority boundaries, the end of relatives’ driveways or open garage doors and passed presents across in the freezing cold. Stayed as long as we had feeling in our fingers before climbing back into cars and returning to homes that were much emptier than we wanted.

We frantically tried to teach our older relatives how to Facetime, Zoom or similar so we could share as much joy as we possibly could.

Because we wanted to protect ourselves, our family, and our fellow man.

Everywhere I went in the run-up to Christmas people were taking a very practical approach or as I remember writing in this paper: “Almost everyone I have spoken to has given a metaphorical shrug, smiled and said, we will celebrate when this is all over. That one sentiment, a determination that we will not be beaten down by this, seems to sum up the spirit which has somehow carried us through.”

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I doubt if we would have felt the same if we had known then what we now hear was going on in Downing Street.

Allegations that while the rest of us knuckled down to muted celebrations at home, those entrusted with guiding us out of the crisis were breaking out the bubbly and partying with their chums.

I doubt we would have accepted it then because of our reaction now. The outcry both from the public and other politicians, even the governing party, has been deafening.

And at the centre of it all is a Prime Minister suddenly promising to investigate a breach of rules he previously insisted had not happened. The party that he said never took place was now being looked into.

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And less than 24 hours later another revelation. The Electoral Commission slapped his party with a fine for the way the decoration of his Downing Street flat was funded.

All of it after months of sleaze allegations, rigging of rules to try to get an MP out of trouble and rafts of broken promises.

Surely this was the moment when Boris Johnson lost any moral credibility or right to govern. But the belief that he has a right cries out from his every reaction to each fresh criticism.

By the end of the week, his own MPs seemed to be lining up to criticise or distance themselves from the man they once thought could deliver a generation in power for them.

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Both the current and previous leaders of the Scottish Conservatives were swift in his condemnation of their UK head.

TV programmes, newspapers and, of course, social media were overflowing with utter frustration from members of the public who felt that they had been betrayed by those who represent them.

We are right to be angry and disappointed in a Prime Minister who seems utterly convinced that there is one rule for us and no rules for him – if he was ever even thinking of us and our needs as something other than a nuisance.

And the drama is not yet over either for Boris or his government. We return to Westminster this week to vote on new Covid regulations which have already provoked widespread opposition from government back benches.

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We know Boris has lost public support and, with the North Shropshire by-election this week, we will find out just how much.

What we will learn is whether they’ve lost patience with or become too embarrassed by the man they once believed had a magic touch with the electorate.

What he has certainly provided, beyond the economics, beyond the pandemic, is a lesson in how not to treat each other.

That if you show little or no respect for the public you serve and take their support for granted, you will lose it.

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It may be that the reckless atmosphere and disregard for rules that has marked out his premiership, the tone he created will, in the end, be what brings it to a close.

Christine Jardine is the Scottish Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West

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