If there’s one thing the Tories hate, it’s a leader who becomes a liability.
Edward Heath discovered that to his cost when Margaret Thatcher stabbed him in the back.
Thatcher herself had the same treatment a decade and a half later.
Theresa May stepped down amid a clamour for her to do so, having failed to convince the nation about Brexit.
And now the knives are out for Boris Johnson – and he well deserves them!
Johnson is facing public calls for his resignation after it was revealed that a packed Christmas party took place at 10 Downing Street on December 18, 2020, when London was in Tier 3 Covid-19 restrictions and around 500 people died, forcibly separated from their loved ones.
Dr Rosena Allin-Khan summed up public feeling very well during Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday (December 8):
Prominent among Johnson’s detractors is Dominic Grieve, a former Attorney-General who was ejected from the Conservative Party for daring to criticise Johnson’s Brexit plans in 2019. Two and a half years later we can all see that Grieve, and the score of Tories who went with him, was right.
See if you don’t think he’s right about this, too, from a BBC interview yesterday. The clips overlap a little but they present his view very well:
Former Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, throws shade on Boris Johnson, exposes his weasel words and truth twisting and calls him "a consummate liar" "a serial liar who will say anything that comes into his head to get him off the hook". pic.twitter.com/uSX3AaqQcA
— Brexitshambles (@brexit_sham) December 8, 2021
"It's so difficult to extrapolate where truth lies, because trust is completely broken down"
Ex-attorney general Dominic Grieve asks if Tory MPs will keep putting up with a PM "not fit for office"
— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) December 8, 2021
Tory peer and former Conservative chair Baroness Sayeeda Warsi demanded the resignations of everybody who took part in the party – in any small way, including the cover-up:
Those that make the law must obey the law.
If consequences do not follow a breach of the law by law makers we send a green light to the public that laws and rules don’t matter.
This is dangerous territory for us as a nation.#theruleoflaw #downingstreetparty https://t.co/WgR6v2g62q
— Sayeeda Warsi (@SayeedaWarsi) December 8, 2021
Her words, “If consequences do not follow a breach of the law by law makers we send a green light to the public that laws and rules don’t matter,” are particularly pertinent after Johnson tried to distract us all away from the Downing Street party with new rules on Covid-19.
As This Site pointed out yesterday, people are unlikely to pay attention to any new rules that don’t suit them – and defend themselves by saying they’re following the prime minister’s example.
Former Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson has also gone public with her anger – and she hasn’t been forced out of the party:
And today's "we'll investigate what we've spent a week saying didn't happen and discipline staff for rules we continue to say weren't broken" was pathetic. As a Tory, I was brought up to believe in playing with a straight bat. Believe me, colleagues are furious at this, too. 2/2
— Ruth Davidson (@RuthDavidsonPC) December 8, 2021
Sir Roger Gale, MP for North Thanet in Kent, told BBC Radio 4’s The World At One, “It’s worrying, isn’t it, that the man at the top of the tree doesn’t appear to know what’s going on in his own building two floors below him – I find that of concern.
“I don’t find it particularly attractive that the Prime Minister doesn’t know what’s going on in No 10 Downing Street, or doesn’t ask the right questions of his senior staff to find out what’s been going on in Downing Street, if something wrong has been going on. That’s worrying in itself.”
It indicates that he knew perfectly well what was going on but wanted to give himself at least a veneer of innocence. Well, we all know how that has turned out for him!
Duncan Baker, MP for North Norfolk, said leaked footage of Downing Street staff joking about how to cover up the party having taken place gave him great concern: “It signals such an utter lack of responsibility, whilst people throughout the country were abiding by the rules and sacrificing so much.
“There has been no proper explanation, or any effort to show understanding to how this sort of behaviour lacks empathy to how many people feel.”
Newton Abbot MP Anne Marie Morris, herself no stranger to controversy after she used racist language to discuss Brexit, tweeted: “Clearly there were rules in place that most of us were diligently following (despite how difficult they were) and they decided to break them. It’s not on and, at the very least, they should admit their blatant error and apologise for breaking the rules they imposed on society.”
Others are more cagey about being identified, but are still being reported. The following comments are from this Guardian article, for example.
“I’m blowed if I’m ever listening to No 10 on comms strategy again,” one cabinet minister said.
“My views aren’t fit for broadcast, so I will just refuse,” an ex-minister added.
Johnson’s “unreserved apology” was met with near silence. “It was lies. No one believed him. Ministers didn’t believe him. They weren’t even nodding,” the former minister said. “This is not how you do an apology. We are constantly misled – and we were still in limbo about new Covid restrictions. This would never have happened under [Theresa] May and [David] Cameron.”
The Scottish Tory leader, Douglas Ross… said [Johnson] should resign if he misled MPs. “If the prime minister knew about this party last December, knew about this party last week, and was still denying it, then that is the most serious allegation.
“There is absolutely no way you can mislead parliament and think you could get off with that. No one should continue in their post if they mislead parliament in that way.”
Reality check: we know that Johnson has been misleading Parliament since he became prime minister, if not for many years previously. Veteran columnist Peter Oborne once said he had counted 400 direct lies to Parliament in the early months of the current Parliament.
It seems this will all come to a head in North Shropshire.
The Conservatives will be defending the Parliamentary seat there next week in a by-election triggered by the corruption-related resignation of Owen Paterson last month, and even senior Tories are sharpening their knives in anticipation of the loss of what should be a safe seat.
Many Tories, including cabinet ministers, have indicated that they do not intend to help campaigning efforts in North Shropshire.
On Wednesday, the Lib Dems created a campaign leaflet contrasting a crying elderly woman last Christmas with Johnson surrounded by festive drinks. “We’re going to lose North Shropshire and it’ll all be his fault,” [a senior Tory] MP said.
Most MPs believe few have as yet submitted letters of no confidence, but said the balance could tip if the election is lost. “In the new year, minds will focus on the next election – especially those who think he won them in his seats. And they will think about whether he is the right person to take us into the next election,” one said. “Things could start to move quite quickly.”
“In the new year”?
The way things are moving now, Johnson could be out before Christmas. And it won’t be a moment too soon.
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