The embattled denizens of Downing Street must be quaking in their loafers as another incoming missile streaks in. This one – typically late in the day – is fired by one of our growing squad of embittered ex-prime ministers, Sir John Major. It takes the form of a speech to the Institute for Government titled ‘In democracy we trust?’.
Sir John’s sense of irony in choosing this subject is clearly not strong considering he spent much of his spectacularly undistinguished premiership struggling to subsume British parliamentary democracy under the proudly undemocratic European Union. Nonetheless he chips in with the usual tropes of the anti-Boris brigade: the PM is demeaning standards, undermining probity, telling fibs. We all know the familiar words of the song.
But in belatedly clambering aboard the creaking anti-Boris bandwagon over partygate, Major is at least demonstrating one thing that becomes plainer by the day: the chorus of denunciation of Johnson and his administration appears to have less to do with illicit parties, wine glugging, and cake scoffing, than with the 'Blob' exacting revenge for Brexit.
Give or take a couple of Brexiteer Tory MPs, by spooky coincidence almost the entire choir of Boris loathing backbenchers who have submitted letters of no confidence – or say they intend to – come from the wringing wet Remainer wing of the party. And outside parliament it's the usual suspects, who cannot forgive or forget that Johnson was the trophy boy figurehead of the Leave campaign, who are now shouting the loudest.
The 'Blob’ – made up of the upper reaches of the civil service, those who walk the studios of the BBC and Channel Four and the lecturers and common room leaders of academia – may differ in minor ways and prefer polenta to Prosecco, but when it comes to Johnson, they present a united front.
Yet in another savage irony, the object of their disdain is one of them. Born in New York, brought up in Brussels, and a long term resident of north London, Johnson as the capital’s Mayor had a track record of liberal values: pro diversity and immigration, relaxed about sexual morals, and a bicycle-riding environmentalist of the deepest Green hue.
As Prime Minister, the government he leads has been following a non-Conservative agenda that should warm the heart of any left-thinking observer: dedicated to Net Zero, splashing the cash like a Formula One winner on the podium, taxing high earners till their eyes bulge, racking up debt, running down the armed forces, worshipping at the altar of the sacred NHS, throwing open the borders to all comers, from the point of view of a right-on Islingtonian, what’s not to like?
Brexit, that’s what. Still fighting their neverendum certain Blobbers, so used to having things go their way for the past half century, view the man who brought us Brexit as the one who betrayed the favourite cause of his caste. For that alone he must be punished. They seek not only Johnson’s removal from office but his total humiliation.
Of course, no-one can plausibly deny that our Prime Minister is a rogue. But behaviour that has been an open secret since Johnson hosted ‘Have I Got News For You’ can hardly have come as a surprise to the pearl clutchers. What really sends them gibbering to their keyboards to spray social media with bile or stand and deliver pious and pompous platitudes about democracy to think tanks, is the fact that he has profited from his roguery politically.
The Mays and the Majors of this world, uniting with the legions of the left who have always loathed Johnson, cannot bear it that someone who sums up in his rumpled and hitherto popular persona all that they are not, is, after all the ordure that they have poured over him, like Elton John: still standing. After weeks of sustained bombardment with the most vicious projectiles his enemies can muster, the object of their righteous wrath is withstanding the siege from the Downing Street bunker, even belting out ‘I will survive!’
Boris might be right that we are not witnessing the last days of the Johnson Reich. And those, such as Johnson’s former editor Max Hastings, who has predicted the PM could be gone within weeks, could yet be proven wrong. But if partygate does bring down Boris, his departure will owe less to the flood of booze than the bile of 'the Blob' against the black sheep who dared, by accident or design, to stray from the flock.