Patrick O'Flynn

Boris’s bending of the rules won’t bring him down

And Labour needs to realise that

Boris's bending of the rules won't bring him down
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Boris Johnson is a bit of a wide boy when it comes to his personal finances and the trappings of office. Though such an observation may offend some of the PM’s most ardent supporters – the kind of people who initially claimed that his outrageous attempt to get Owen Paterson off the hook was perfectly fine – it has permeated the national consciousness.

No doubt the same ardent Boris-backers will happily accept he wasn't hinting at a quid pro quo when he mentioned a pet project of Lord Brownlow’s in the same WhatsApp message in which he asked about funds to bankroll his high-end aspirations for his personal living quarters. Many of the rest of us will find us rolling our eyes at yet another example of conduct that would have befitted David Lloyd George, or possibly Tony Blair when he was deciding which sports should be subject to a tobacco advertising ban.

It would, of course, be nice were Johnson not like this. And it is only fair to say that, in the unlikely event of him ever finding himself chief tenant of 10 Downing Street, it is hard to conceive of the mind-numbingly virtuous Keir Starmer behaving in such a cavalier manner.

But where the Left go wrong is in thinking that all they need to do is catch Johnson out on this kind of stuff a couple of times more and he will surely have to resign. He won’t. Not unless he is actually convicted of a crime and that’s just not going to happen. Indeed, each example of his fundamental rackety-ness does less damage to him than the one before. It is, as bookmakers and economists are wont to say, already 'in the price'. Like Paul Whitehouse’s light-fingered but hard-to-dislike Fast Show character Chris Jackson the Crafty Cockney, the PM is known to be 'a little bit werrrr, a little bit weyyyy, a little big arrgghh'.

Most voters are by now hugely cynical about politics in any case and presume mutual back-scratching in the corridors of power to be even more endemic than it actually is. They simply don’t regard it as a first order issue when it comes to deciding for whom to vote, unless an especially egregious example is uncovered that mocks their own efforts in life, as applied in the 'Partygate' furore.

If Labour is to give itself a chance of beating Boris Johnson it is going to have to change tack and address far thornier issues such as its own fundamental flaws in the eyes of swing voters. Open borders zealotry, pro-lockdown mania, anti-British prejudice, hostility to wealth-creation, untrustworthiness on Brexit and indeed its complacent and unwarranted assumptions about its own virtue are all hugely off-putting to millions.

Aside from any particularly outrageous new example of Johnsonian racketry emerging, Labour’s po-faced denunciations of a premier who bends the rules for his own benefit and then stonewalls media questions about it while grinning like a naughty schoolboy have become a political blind alley.

Lord Geidt being known to be irritated at Johnson’s latest mickey-taking conduct holds about as much sway as Malvolio’s prim hostility to Sir Toby Belch in Twelfth Night. The audience knows it ought to be on the side of the humourless steward, but finds itself delighting in his humiliation.

'Dost thou think because thou art virtuous there shall be no more cakes and ale?' asks Sir Toby of Malvolio. Only if the general population runs short of cakes and ale itself will Johnson’s excesses become a potent weapon to use against him. Hence it is to the looming living standards crisis that Labour must now turn its attention.

Written byPatrick O'Flynn

Patrick O’Flynn is a former MEP and political editor of the Daily Express

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