On May 25, the long-awaited report by senior civil servant Sue Gray was published. Miss Gray had been commissioned by the Prime Minister to look into lockdown parties in and around Downing Street that took place in 2020 when the United Kingdom was in the deepest lockdown. Why did Boris Johnson select Sue Gray, of all people? Presumably, he knows her well and regards her as an anodyne civil servant: the type who is not wont to rock the boat. In these presuppositions he was correct. Gray is as dull as her name.
The Police had investigated parties attended by Mr Johnson, as well as gatherings that he was not present at. Johnson attended at least three soirées. There were eight other gatherings that he did not go to. Some took place at his official residence, Number 10 Downing Street, London. Some took place elsewhere in Whitehall. Whitehall is the street that contains several British Government ministries and is a synecdoche of the civil service. The officers of the law fined the PM and the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Rishi Sunak) over their attendance at parties in breach of the law. The fines were a derisory GBP 50 per person. The maximum fine is GBP 10,000. Johnson and Sunak could have contested the fines in court. Had they been exonerated, then neither would have had to shell out a brass farthing. But had they been convicted they would have had to pay the fine plus a surcharge of several hundred pounds, and they would have had a criminal record.
Miss Gray waited till the officers of the law had completed their investigations before she published her findings. Leaks from her team suggested that her report would eviscerate Johnson, and he would be obliged to tender his resignation to Her Majesty the Queen.
What did Miss Gray conclude? She found that Johnson attended three parties, and they really were social gatherings and not work events, as he had maintained when the story first broke in December 2021. Copious quantities of spirituous liquor were imbibed. Several politicians and bureaucrats were in a crapulous state. One was so inebriated that he vomited. Two men got into a minor fistfight. On one occasion, the party carried on until 4 am. That was April 2021. It was the day of the funeral of His Royal Highness Prince Philip. Prince Philip was the husband of the Queen. Her Britannic Majesty had to sit socially distanced at the funeral of her late husband, and yet Johnson and his crew were making merry and breaking his own coronavirus laws with gay abandon. Johnson and his camarilla were perfectly cognizant that what they were doing was in gross violation of the law that he had framed himself. Indeed, Johnson had announced it from a podium. There was subterfuge involved. Johnson's aide told people to bring alcohol into the place in suitcases to avoid suspicion and to leave by the back entrance, so journalists would not see them in a state of drunkenness. They met for revelry and not for any work discussion. In-person meetings were firmly discouraged anyway. These were evenings of wild debauchery. The security staff and cleaners were verbally abused by the revellers. These were nights of bacchanalia.
Photographs have been published of Johnson at the parties. His former guru Dominic Cummings had turned against him. Johnson says he has apologised for his wrongdoing. His strategy is to concede and move on.
On Wednesday at 12 noon, there are Prime Minister's Questions. For half an hour, the PM has to field questions in the House of Commons. Some are given to the Leader of Her Majesty's Most Loyal Opposition (the Labour Party). The Labour leader is Sir Keir Starmer. Sir Keir is formerly the director of the Crown Prosecution Service. Using his barrister's rapierlike mind, he asked BoJo pointed questions. Boris squirmed but could not escape. He dared not look his prosecutor in the eye. Johnson tried circumlocution and periphrastination. He counterattacked, but it was no use. Starmer demanded that Boris show some remorse and resign. Johnson claims to take responsibility, but is refusing to stand down.
Most of the British public is irate about this. There are those who say it is a sixpenny matter and everyone broke lockdown. But not everyone is the PM. The Prime Minister must lead by example. With Johnson, it was: do as I say, not as I do. The First Lord of the Treasury should practise what he preaches.
If a small-time civil servant had done a fraction of what Johnson did, then he would be sacked. It is galling that the man at the top of the totem poll can break his own rules repeatedly and on a massive scale and not get into trouble.
The Conservatives are down to 30% in the opinion polls. They won 44% at the last Westminster election. One would expect a governing party to be doing badly 12 years into government and halfway through a parliamentary term. What is helping the Tories is the Ukraine War. This is a welcome diversion from domestic discontents. It allows them to trivialise the lockdown parties.
Johnson has been vociferous in support of Ukraine. He has visited Kyiv since the war began. The United Kingdom has been second only to the United States in the amount of weaponry it has shipped to Ukraine. Were it not for Ukraine, then the Conservative and Unionist Party would be lower in the opinion polls.
The Ukraine issue will subside in salience the longer it persists. Galloping inflation and a rampant rise in energy prices will become a far more pressing issue for the average Britisher.
Sources in Downing Street inform me that Johnson will face a vote of confidence in the Conservative Party towards the end of this year. If 15% of Conservative MPs write to the Chairman of the 1922 Committee, then such a vote is held. That means 54 such letters. The Chairman of the 1922 Committee is Sir Graham Brady. Sir Graham confirmed in January that he had received some letters, but kept shtum about the number. Is it 1 or 53? All we know is that it is not yet 54. Rumour had it that it was 38, but that seems too high. Only 8 Tory MPs declared that they had dispatched such an epistle.
If Boris were to lose a vote of confidence, then he would be out as Tory leader. He would stay on as caretaker until such time as a new leader could be elected, which could take 8 weeks. He would not be permitted to contest the forthcoming leadership election.
If, conversely, Boris Johnson were to win a vote of confidence, then he would not face a vote of confidence for a twelve month. This is why some who are minded to oust him have held their fire. Only launch a vote of confidence if you are sure you can get him out. In 2018 a vote of confidence was held in Theresa May. She won it. But nonetheless, it wounded her. A vote of confidence that leaves Johnson as leader severely weakened is the worst of all possible worlds for his party.
It is improbable that Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, MA (Oxon) shall lead his party into the next election in December 2024.
The author is a UK based political analyst. You can watch him on YouTube: George from Ukraine