Polls might show that two in three voters think Boris Johnson should quit over No. 10's parties but crucially less than 15 per cent of Tory MPs share that opinion. And, as Westminster awaits the release of Sue Gray's report, it's clear that there are still plenty of backbenchers willing to go out on the airwaves to put their necks on the line. Let the bodies pile high, indeed.
Unfortunately, given the number of alleged gatherings and the speed with which details have emerged, some long-suffering Tories have been left looking slightly ridiculous when trying to defend their beleaguered PM. That has been particularly difficult since Monday when ITV reported up to 30 people brought a cake along to mark Boris Johnson's 56th birthday in June 2020.
Below are six of the silliest arguments put forward by Conservative MPs to defend the latest reports of shenanigans at No. 10:
1. Jacob Rees-Mogg
The Leader of the House has been everywhere this month, as one of the few Cabinet ministers willing to be vocal in their support for Johnson. Unfortunately this has led to a series of mixed performances on the airwaves which included dismissing Douglas Ross on Newsnight as 'not a very significant figure' and reacting to the news that the Met would probe the parties by telling the cameras outside No.10 that the government was 'going from strength to strength.'
Mogg's finest hour though came yesterday on, again, Newsnight when his defence of the PM amounted to suggesting there would have to be an immediate election if Johnson went (there wouldn't), He then mused existentially on what it means to have a party, arguing that Gray's report ought to establish whether the PM had eaten a slice of cake while, of course, conveniently ignoring the fact the shindig still happened.
2. Peter Bone
There ain't no party like a Tory party and who knows that better than the Member for Wellingborough? Bone was up on the same programme as Mogg and offered a slightly different defence, telling host Kirsty Wark that: 'I don't recognise this as a party' as they 'probably talked about work when they were eating their bit of cake.' After all, who knows what a party looks like better than the fun-loving hang 'em and 'flog em sexagenarian social conservative?
3. Conor Burns
Johnson's staunchest ally in Parliament has been with him through thick and thin over the years, resigning alongside his chief in 2018 over Theresa May's Chequers deal. But even he must have struggled with this latest story, as he was wheeled out on Channel 4 last night to face questions about the birthday bash. A floundering Burns could only suggest the PM had been 'ambushed by cake,' a quote that spawned a thousand memes and a withering put-down by Nigella Lawson on Twitter.
4. Andrew Rosindell
Another big Boris backer, Rosindell did his best for the PM today when asked on Sky News about the alleged misdeeds in No. 10. The MP for Romford suggested such actions paled in comparison to, say, armed robbery, arguing:
“I’m sure there are ministers that get parking tickets and speeding fines. Lots of people break the law in small ways, and sometimes unintentionally. He’s not robbed a bank. This is getting out of control.
So much for law and order, eh? In fairness to Rozza, Johnson's own chief of staff Dan Rosenfield apparently last night used the same analogy in a meeting of special advisers, breezily claiming that 'At worst it will be like getting a fixed penalty fine for speeding, nothing to worry about.' Mr S would gently remind Rosenfield that not one, but two, MPs over the past decade have ended up quitting the Commons over complications arising from speeding offences.
5. Martin Vickers
Similar to Rosindell, right-winger Martin Vickers also implied that the PM had been hard done by over the numerous and repeated incidents of alleged Covid rule-breaking. He argued that MPs should wait for the Sue Gray report before making any moves as 'even a serial killer gets his day in court.' Well, it's, er, certainly a novel defence .
6. Stuart Anderson
But of all the brazen lines, Mr S thinks the gong for most chutzpah should go to new boy Stuart Anderson who told the House of Commons yesterday that debating whether the PM did or did not break the law was 'wasting time' because 'every time the Opposition call for our Prime Minister to resign, it only strengthens Putin’s hand and destabilises negotiations.'
While Steerpike's patriotism would make John Bull blush, even he does struggle to imagine Kremlin strategists poring over copies of the Daily Mirror's revelations to plot their next move in the Crimea. Talk about taking the biscuit – or cake, in this case.