Richard North, 12/01/2022  

The interesting thing about "partygate" v 2.0 is that the issue is still live, having crossed the famous Christmas firewall. That, in itself, is a stern test and very few transcend it.

What has yet to be determined is whether this is simply, or mainly, a media obsession, or whether it is rooted in a popular distaste for the Great Leader which reflects a genuine shift in the political mood of this country.

For what it's worth, the Independent offers the results of a Savanta ComRes poll, showing a clear majority (66 per cent) wanting Johnson to resign, including 42 percent of those who voted Conservatives at the 2019 general.

Perhaps significantly, this represents a 12-point increase on a previous snap poll by the same organisation conducted in December in the wake of the "partygate" allegation covering the winter of 2020 (it is easy to lose track, there have been so many).

This time round, when asked whether Johnson was still an "asset" to the Tory party, those who voted for the party in 2019 were equally divided, some 45 percent said "no" equal with those saying he should remain. There is particularly bad news for the May event organiser, civil servant Martin Reynolds. Some 65 percent of those polled said he should resign.

Savanta ComRes, though, isn't the only player in the poll game though. YouGov have also been at work, finding 56 percent of their sample calling for Johnson's resignation. Only 27 percent said he should stay, with 17 percent "don't knows".

The "resign" figure compares with 48 percent in November. Gradually, it seems, public confidence is ebbing away, although – as always – public sentiment is fickle.

As one might expect, the media is milking the story for all it's worth. They - and especially the BBC – are especially skilled at recruiting "disgusted of Tunbridge Wells" equivalents, ready to emote to order about their own particular experiences.

But, with all the newspapers and broadcasters are touting for talking heads, playing the same dire game, it is not always clear whether we are experiencing genuine public sentiment. Some of the outrage, if not manufactured, is certainly manipulated – and that may be feeding into the opinion polls.

For the moment, though, just about every pundit worth their salt harnessed to the great task of pulling Johnson down into the mire (not that that is such a difficult task as he's more than halfway there already).

In good form is the Guardian's star (award-winning, even) columnist, Marina Hyde who writes under the headline: "Who's really leading Britain – Boris Johnson or the crazy-face emoji?".

In May 2020, she asks rhetorically, "who could have predicted that a potential 100-person boozy gathering could piss the general public off?" Warming to her theme, she adds: "Who could have predicted that people who'd watched their family members die on an iPad then buried them with only permitted numbers of mourners at graveside funerals would have an issue with it?"

It seems almost incredible that she is able to observe, albeit sardonically, that no one at the party, apparently, saw anything wrong in their behaviour. "Every single one of them", says Hyde, "is in the wrong job and should resign and go and work for a thinktank/be our man in Havana".

She moves on to discuss the inevitable long-term outcome, the breakdown in trust, In some ways, she writes, these are already obvious, such as rising anti-vax sentiment, but in other ways we cannot yet predict.

There is no doubt here as to who is at fault. It is down to "Boris Johnson's way of doing business". "How can we counter some people's conviction that 'The Man' is lying to them, when the man is so often shown to be lying?"

From the other side of the political fence is Daniel Finkelstein in The Times. He finds No 10's stupidity and arrogance "baffling".

Two weeks after the resignation of Professor Neil Ferguson as a government adviser for lockdown breaches, he observes, "and it is “please bring a bottle”?" "Did nobody stop to consider that, whether or not it was wrong, this might not be wise?" He and Hyde seem to be singing from the same hymn sheet.

"There are those who have said well, what did you expect?", Finkelstein observes. "And isn’t it all priced in?". But, he says, "we're talking about 10 Downing Street and the country’s prime minister so it is not priced in by me, and it never will be." He concludes: "And what did I expect? There can only ever be one answer to that. Whatever I expect, I demand better".

Nor is Johnson getting any solace from the Telegraph. Associate Editor Camilla Tominey writes under the headline: "'Partygate' could finish Boris Johnson – and boot the Tories out of No 10", noting that, "As Conservatives reel from claims of another lockdown-busting get-together, the PM may face the wrath of both party and country".

This is tough stuff from the prime minister's most ardent fan club as Tominey declares:
It isn't just the fact that lockdown rules were broken, hugely damaging though that is. It is that the party itself appears to be a microcosm of everything that has gone wrong with a Number 10 administration that has lost its grip, doesn't appear willing to heed advice and has repeatedly been found guilty of behaving with arrogant complacency".
That leaves the infamous Laura Kuenssberg. she asserts that the goodwill-to-all-men moment the Christmas holidays promised is very much over. The subject of conversation among Tories yesterday, she says, was not the government's planned menu of policy fare for the week, but whether or not the moment had arrived when Boris Johnson, election-winner, had become Boris Johnson, discredited liability.

And now, for the second day running, the issue dominates the newspaper headlines, with the Metro launching the particularly damaging headline: "Contempt for the victims". If that sticks, it's going to hurt.

Even the relatively staid Financial Times has "Johnson faces 'potentially terminal' showdown over Downing St parties", while The Times has: "Say sorry or doom us all, ministers tell Johnson". It has some damning commentary, reporting that Johnson "glad-handed" the guests, while a cabinet member at the party joked about being caught breaking the rules, asking how it would appear if a drone photographed the event.

The Telegraph, on the other hand, sticks to the simple "Johnson losing Tory support", spreading it as a banner headline across the page, telling us that prominent Conservatives have said it was "appalling" and "utterly indefensible" that the event took place. The Mirror, predictably, is even more blunt., stating: "The Party's Over, Boris".

Unless he can find a convenient fridge to hide in, today this shambolic man faces PMQs where he has lost control of the narrative, and become the story. He will be under pressure to confirm that he was present of a 20 May party, which he has yet to do, when the mood of the House and the country will not favour more evasion.

Time and time, though, when Johnson has seemingly faced certain disaster, he has emulated the matinée action hero's "with one bound, he was free!" You can never bank on the Teflon King not doing it again, even if it does seem unlikely at the moment.

The question therefore, must be, if not now, when? There must surely come a point when even the Tories can no longer tolerate this man as a leader any more. Whether this is the moment is anyone's guess.

Also published on Turbulent Times.

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