Throughout his political career, Boris Johnson has defied all odds. He has been defeated, written off, mocked. At one stage, he left the House of Commons completely. Yet no matter how down-and-out he has looked, how bleak his prospects have appeared, he has always managed to recover. His party chose him as leader partly for this ability to pull off the seemingly impossible. Yet now he faces the gravest peril of his premiership. For the first time, his fate is out of his hands.
His excuse for attending a drinks party in the garden of No. 10 after passing such restrictive lockdown laws is that he ‘believed implicitly that this was a work event’ — even though his private secretary had convened the event via a mass email asking staff to ‘bring your own booze’. The No. 10 garden, Johnson said, is an extension of the office, so it was all work. As he spoke at PMQs, Tory MPs sat silently behind him — glad for once to be wearing their masks.
These MPs are anxious not only about the general public’s fury, but about the rage in their own Conservative Associations. The Prime Minister’s approval rating — hitherto his great strength — is falling fast and is now almost as low as Theresa May’s towards the end of her premiership. When Prime Ministers lose popularity, they seldom regain it. The latest accusations are more damaging because they come after a string of events that raise serious questions about the direction of the Johnson government. What was striking about the Tory rebellion against vaccine passports, for instance, was how many of the rebels had backed Johnson in the 2019 leadership contest. He has alienated allies and his enemies are lying in wait. Where, if anywhere, does he go from here?
Westminster is normally full of people who claim to have a smart solution to every problem.