This is not something that we are keen to discuss, for we are pretty sure that we have become far less puritanical, and that this is a good thing. But try this experiment. Imagine a slightly different version of Boris: funny, human, brilliant, a bit chaotic-seeming, and so on – but without any hint of sexual scandal.
There would still have been question marks over such a Boris becoming PM – especially after his opportunistic Brexit decision. But they would have faded as the prospect of a charismatic, nation-enthusing leader emerged. Some would have called this Boris fundamentally untrustworthy, citing episodes of bullying and aggressive ambition, but such qualms would have been marginal.
It is, I suggest, unthinkable that Michael Gove would have dared to present such a Boris as fundamentally unreliable.
But a reputation for sexual dishonesty changes things. It makes many people stop and think about his charm. For on a deep visceral level we are wary of charm that has the power to disrupt the most important human bonds. All politicians can be accused of dishonesty, and all leaders have a streak of ruthless ambition, but we want to feel that there are limits to this, that our leader is honest where it really matters, and being boringly married-presumed-faithful is a good shorthand for this.
There are other factors: men, for example, are naturally a bit resentful and jealous of a womaniser, and so are ready to see him put in his place. Good on you Govey, says the safe little uxurious voice in the nation’s head today.