What an unnecessary mess! Has any prime minister ever thrown away so much to so little purpose?
A succession of parties in No 10, probably with cheap warm white wine, most of which he didn’t attend.
Anthony Eden resigned over the Suez crisis after he had secretly colluded with the French and Israelis to invade Egypt. Tony Blair’s reputation never recovered after he had deceived this country into a war in Iraq.
And Boris? The reckless, generous Lord of Misrule wanted his hard-worked staff to let their hair down, and ignored the officious Covid rules the Government had shoved down our throats.
Future historians will scratch their heads in disbelief. How could the leader of a great country squander the vast political capital he had built up — and put a smirk on Sir Keir Starmer’s previously troubled face — over something as trivial as a few parties?
You may say it wasn’t so much the parties as his slipperiness about them. That’s true. Let’s await senior civil servant Sue Gray’s report, which the PM said yesterday he expects next week.
But his contention that he believed it was a ‘work event’ rather than a party when he wandered into the Downing Street garden on May 20, 2020, seems incredible.
How could the leader of a great country squander the vast political capital he had built up over something as trivial as a few parties?
Former minister David Davis called for Boris Johnson to resign during Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday
Bury South MP Christian Wakeford sitting on the opposition benches during Prime Minister’s Questions
Architects of their own downfall frequently blame others. The Prime Minister’s complaint on Tuesday that ‘nobody told me that what we were doing was, as you say, against the rules’ was particularly hard to swallow. They were his rules!
Like millions of people, I’m angry with Boris Johnson. What a fool he has been. Although we always knew he hates any kind of impediment to his will, and has an aversion to coming clean about his repeated transgressions, I can still scarcely credit what he has done.
But if I am cross with Boris, I’m even crosser with backbench Tory MPs intent on replacing him in double-quick time, in such a way as to inflict maximum damage on the Government and create confusion and chaos in the country.
Partly I am thinking of the Red Wall rebels, who have an average age of not much above 30 and a mental age considerably below five.
One of them, Christian Wakeford, yesterday treacherously threw himself into the welcoming arms of Sir Keir Starmer.
Without Boris Johnson — and, I must admit, his former chief adviser, the scheming Dominic Cummings — these Red Wall Tories wouldn’t have been elected in 2019.
They owe what little notoriety they have to the election strategy of wooing disgruntled Labour voters who had Brexit sympathies.
I’m also thinking of so-called Tory grandees actively plotting Boris’s defenestration. One of them, the former Cabinet Minister and erstwhile would-be Conservative leader David Davis, popped his head above the parapet yesterday and told Mr Johnson ‘in the name of God, go’.
Mr Davis is a maverick who doesn’t lead many troops, but there are others like him lurking in the undergrowth.
Incidentally, at the end of October he maintained that the Commons investigation into Owen Paterson’s business dealings had been flawed, and the PM stupidly listened to him.
I have a couple of questions for these excitable intriguers. Wouldn’t it be sensible, as well as fair to the Prime Minister, to wait for Sue Gray’s report before precipitating a Tory leadership contest that would be bloody and divisive?
Tony Blair meets troops as he arrives in Basra for a visit to British soldiers in Iraq in January 2004
Winston Churchill (centre) attends a meeting with Allied Forces leaders at their headquarters in Algiers, Algeria, May 27, 1943, to plan the invasion of Sicily
Granted, the report may not be illuminating or conclusive. But there must be a possibility, even if it is an outside one, that it will acquit Mr Johnson of the most serious charges against him.
Surely it would be wise, as well as humane, to read it before deciding whether to push him over the cliff.
My second question to the conspirators is whether they have given any thought as to who should replace Boris Johnson as Tory leader and Prime Minister, and indeed whether there are any plausible replacements waiting in the wings.
One front-runner is the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak. He seems a capable and agreeable man but is largely untested. Is he a natural leader? Would voters be drawn to him? No one seems to know.
Similar doubts should be raised about the other main candidate, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss. Is she an embryonic Margaret Thatcher, who didn’t provoke much Press enthusiasm when she threw her hat into the Tory leadership contest in 1975? Or is she a self-promoting lightweight? I don’t know.
Many Tory MPs and grassroots members are probably also uninformed about the merits of both candidates, or indeed of the other hopefuls who would emerge from the woodwork if there were a leadership contest.
How much better to wait and see rather than dash wildly ahead. Boris is a known quantity. We are aware of his flaws — and his qualities, which Brexit-haters, the BBC and Dominic Cummings will never acknowledge.
In the rush to replace him, the Conservative Party mustn’t plump for a defective leader.
Nor should it forget that, notwithstanding his lack of discipline, his regrettable tendency to tell untruths and his pliability, Mr Johnson has some undeniable political achievements. Brexit wouldn’t have happened without him.
It was also largely thanks to him that, in December 2019, the Tories won their biggest overall majority since 1987.
After three decades of governing with small minorities or being in opposition, and having once been forced into an unhappy coalition with the Lib Dems, the Conservative Party was pre-eminent again.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak seems a capable and agreeable man but is largely untested
Similar doubts should be raised about the other main candidate, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss
Moreover, throughout the latest phase of the pandemic the PM has resisted the strict measures advocated by government scientists and Labour, though admittedly a hundred Tory rebels were breathing down his neck.
In normal circumstances, his dismantling yesterday of most remaining Covid restrictions in England would have been greeted as a triumphant vindication of his policy, and proof of his tendency not to run with the herd.
I’m not saying that the recklessness and the lies should all be forgiven and forgotten — far from it.
I am suggesting that a fractious and near-hysterical Tory party should calm down and take stock, rather than plunge into a course of action that could prove fatal.
Will Boris be Prime Minister this time next year? It seems unlikely but not impossible. For this to happen, he would have to make a full and convincing expression of regret.
He would also have to give Tory MPs and the public reason to believe that he won’t go on repeating the same old mistakes — a tall order for a 57-year-old man set in his ways.
As it is, he has gifted Labour, wholly gratuitously, a large lead in the polls. If this is maintained for any length of time, I can’t see him remaining as Prime Minister. Nor would he deserve to.
But it is possible — just possible — that he might atone and improve and recover. I wish he had more wise people around him, not least his ex-wife, Marina, on whose sound advice he used to rely. Alas, that ship has sailed.
My message is that nothing will be lost by waiting, but a huge price could be paid if the Tory party now tears itself apart in public and elects a limp, unsatisfactory leader.
Don’t get rid of Boris yet.