There is no room for wriggling here and not just because multiple witnesses put Boris Johnson and his wife at the scene of the stupidity. If Boris Johnson had not been aware that 100 people who work in the same building as him had been invited to a post-work BYOB shindig, even he might have noticed a crowd of 30 to 40 gathering in his garden. And he might then have popped a prime ministerial head out of the window and asked what the bloody hell the partygoers thought they were doing.
But of course nothing like that happened because the Prime Minister must surely have known about it all along. The invitation, after all, came from his principal private secretary, not some rogue Downing Street employee. But, once again, even if by some heroic act of ignorance the Prime Minister did not know about the party in advance he certainly knew about it when he attended it.
At which point – as at any moment in this saga of intergalactic idiocy – it was within the Prime Minister’s power to note the manner in which this gathering contravened his own regulations in a dozen different ways and, you know, shut it down, sending everyone home with a thunderous cry of ‘What were you thinking, you fools?’
Instead the Prime Minister and his wife attended the party.
It was apparent long before he entered Downing Street that Boris Johnson would be a pub league prime minister but even his detractors can be forgiven for underestimating the depths of his inadequacy. No prime minister would have sailed through the Covid emergency unchallenged or unscathed but to a man and woman Johnson’s predecessors would at least have appreciated you can’t have ministers appearing on television reminding people they can’t meet friends in the park and then – an hour later! – host a staff jolly in the Downing Street garden.
Whatever one might think of Theresa May, David Cameron, Gordon Brown, Tony Blair, John Major or Margaret Thatcher it is simply impossible to imagine them sanctioning a social event of this sort at a time when, across the country, thousands and thousands of people were prevented from attending the funerals of family members and friends. I am confident every one of those prime ministers would have considered a party in those circumstances grotesquely inappropriate (which is the true standard here, not whatever the law might say). Only this prime minister is different. Only he stands alone. For he is Boris Johnson and restrictions which apply to other people cannot be expected to apply to him.
We do not always ask too much from our political leaders. The bar for acceptability is not so very high: a measure of application, a plausible sense of where they might like to take the country, a sufficient lick of probity and so on. That might not be enough to make a prime minister loved, it is usually sufficient for them to be afforded a grudging measure of respect. Like ‘em or not, at least they’re doing their best. Not very good, perhaps, but those are the breaks.
No one, however, can say what Boris Johnson’s best might look like for it is an alien concept of a kind even a fertile imagination can scarcely contemplate. It is an idea beyond our feeble understanding and must be left to some future civilisation to investigate.
If these were times of sunshine and laughter and easy prosperity the Prime Minister’s inadequacies might not matter so very much. His government would still, even in those propitious circumstances, deliver less than it might promise but it would not be a ghastly or shaming blunder. As soon as Covid washed up here, however, it was apparent Johnson was ill-matched for both the office he holds and the time in which he occupies it. Not much has changed in the intervening two years.
So it now falls to the Tory party to do something about this. If the Conservative party had anything about it these days its senior representatives would hand the Prime Minister the black spot. For neither the party, nor the government, nor – and more importantly – the country can go on like this. Nor should it be expected to.