I spent much of the 1980s and 1990s reporting on company chief executives who didn’t understand the distinction between mine and theirs. They enjoyed lavish lifestyles — company flats, art collections, huge expense accounts — without the owners of the company (you and me through our pension funds) having a clue. Then came the corporate governance revolution, and much of this was cleaned up. So I had déjà vu earlier this week when reporting that the Tory party had loaned tens of thousands of pounds to lavishly decorate and refurnish the PM’s home in Downing Street. Maybe Tory donors and members think this is an appropriate use of their money. But did anyone bother to ask them?
To add insult to Tory party injury, the Electoral Commission says it may have committed ‘an offence or offences’ in the way it used donors’ money to pay for the gold doorknobs and wallpaper. The corollary is that the PM may have broken the ministerial code in taking the loan and not telling us about it. That would normally be a resigning matter, except for one wrinkle. As we learned recently when Priti Patel stayed in her post after she was ruled to have bullied officials, it is the PM himself who decides whether the code has been breached. And if the PM ends up marking his own homework, we know what the outcome will be. In fact he’s already told us he’s done nothing wrong, which is a sentiment he’s expressed in various contexts more times than any prime minister in history, and he’s only just started the job.
Johnson blames his estranged former aide Dominic Cummings for the ignominy of having to defend his home furnishings in parliament. But for all the messiness of their divorce, they initially fell out over an issue of more important principle: almost from the start of the Covid catastrophe, Cummings wanted more and stricter restrictions on our freedoms — tougher lockdowns, earlier lockdowns — than the Prime Minister did.