Downing Street parties: Boris Johnson is unlikely to go quietly so we can expect increasingly angry soundbites and absurd policies – Alastair Stewart
I miss a classic political resignation – sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll.
It would be good to have them back. Nothing Caesar-esque; we don't want the tax bill for blood on the carpet. Just something juicier than who was drinking canned rosé at Downing Street on an Ikea deckchair.
When President Richard Nixon resigned in 1974, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger predicted Nixon would be remembered as a great president, and Watergate would be a “minor footnote”.
One can hear Mogg now, cursing in the mirror. "No, it cannot be; her Majesty's First Lord of the Treasury cannot be brought down by this blessed plot, this English garden full of Prosecco.”
Sir Keir Starmer neatly surmised the whole debacle as “so ridiculous it's actually offensive to the British public”.
Many forget that the suffix "-gate" was applied comedically throughout Nixon's downfall. Journalists across the US enjoyed “wine-gate”, “ice cream gate”, and even “burlesque-gate” to stress the absurdity of Nixon hanging on.
When Daniel J Flood, a long-serving US representative from Pennsylvania, was exposed for misdirecting office funds, the headlines wrote themselves.
With that in mind, “party-gate” is a disappointing moniker when “garden-gate” sits there on the shelf.
Even that seems a poor finish for a British Prime Minister. But Johnson has always been a joke in need of a punchline.
Only the staunchest of Johnson's allies believed his apology at last week's Prime Minister's Questions. That is the mark of a good actor. He doesn't try to convince you; he just needs to make you doubt yourself.
It is hard to imagine Johnson's sordid premiership surviving beyond the end of this month. His time as Prime Minister will end not with a bang or a whimper but a chuckle.
A colleague mentioned Johnson was now in a quantum state the other day: he exists but does not exist at work-related events. Running without a morning coffee, I quipped “Schrödinger's Johnson” without thinking.
It was Johnson's well-documented and catastrophic character flaws that helped make him a celebrity in the first place. A spate of Have I Got News For You appearances in the late 90s and early noughties propelled him to household-name status.
“Boris” was a mononym rewarded to the man who presented himself as the thinking man's idiot. His unironic, buffoonish pomposity was a hit. It was interjected with just enough half-serious journalism, books and presenting turns to fuel the myth that a keen intellect lurked below the blonde mop.
It is insane now to recall that Johnson’s books were once reliable Christmas stocking fillers. Amusing anachronisms and pithy phrases enamoured him to a public bored of Blairite scandals and proto-wokeness. Johnson gave rise to the likes of Donald Trump, not the other way around.
Brexit is binary – the yay or nay game left Johnson with nowhere to run. Even after dubious stints as an MP and Mayor of London, the bubble never burst. It took a cringe-worthy turn as Foreign Secretary to confirm he did not have the goods.
Worst of all, Johnson left not too subtle breadcrumbs as to his aspirations in his book, The Churchill Factor. It shamelessly traced the dots between his quirks and those of his predecessor, whose naysayers also called him a liability, reckless and unsuited for high office.
But families across the country who once gathered to laugh at his TV appearances are now mourning loved ones.
Those who claim we should only blame ourselves for the rise of Johnson miss the point. Like all populists, Johnson is a nexus event: his political ascent is what happens when satire and anti-establishment feelings are blended into one.
This perfect storm of celebrity and politics makes nearly all personal and professional transgressions forgivable. It is a cult of personality.
Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries has suggested the BBC licence fee could be scrapped after 2027. It is an impressive nadir to threaten the corporation with a funding crisis when it has unrelentingly reported on the Prime Minister’s and Number 10's conduct and the absurdity of Brexit. It is despicable but not surprising.
The proposals are part of the so-called “Operation Red Meat” in a desperate bid to distract away from Johnson's travails with a series of policy initiatives.
But, as Machiavelli quipped, a man will sooner forget the death of his father than the loss of property. And people have lost family, money, and time while their political rulers soiree'd the garden party away.
The same visceral public reaction took hold when we became a nation of curtain peepers, perpetually judging those not locked up and locked in during lockdown.
Johnson's resignation is inevitable, for quite literally everyone in the country has a story of woe to tell from 2020. The headlines will not die.
The interesting question will be whether Johnson resigns or Conservative party members continue to pressure him out. The former scenario suggests a self-awareness he has hitherto never demonstrated.
It is more likely the siege mentality will continue, with increasingly angry soundbites about “getting on with the job”, amidst a raft of absurd policy announcements.
We can all expect the bunker syndrome to last for some time longer. Even a damning verdict from Sue Gray's Cabinet Office inquiry into Downing Street parties is unlikely to deter the PM.
After all, the public is dealing with a man and government for whom an apology is good enough for some, but not for other sacrificial lambs, as aide Allegra Stratton found out.
Tragically, it has taken a global pandemic to expose Johnson as a dangerous, immoral zealot devoted only to his ego.
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