96 hours have now passed since one of Westminster’s most well known wrongs did, yet again, the very wrong thing for which they are very well known, and had to resign (again).
That the now former deputy chief whip Chris Pincher got drunk and groped someone has shocked Westminster. Arguably it has not been this shocked since it became clear that some parties had happened in Downing Street even though Boris Johnson said there hadn’t.
But what is causing current shock is a growing sense that this might be the scandal that sends government ministers both junior and senior, over the tipping point with regard to their willingness to go on the television and the radio and repeat their boss’s lies.
Johnson appointed Pincher deputy chief whip in February. He has since claimed to have not been “aware” of any allegations against him. This was then upgraded to “specific allegations”. On Monday morning, the line was gently tweaked again to “specific serious allegation.”
The prime minister’s spokesperson has also confirmed that the prime minister is unaware of what bears do in the woods, in the sense that the prime minister has never, personally, trodden himself in any specific serious incidents of it.
One Johnson loyalist, anonymous of course, has genuinely reported that Johnson couldn’t not give Pincher the job because of “HR law” that means you can’t not give someone a job on the basis of unproven allegations. It hardly needs to be pointed out that, in the matter of government appointments, a prime minister can do whatever they like and there is absolutely no HR department.
Decent, normal people, like to say, the secretary of state for work and pensions Therese Coffey, or the junior education minister, Will Quince appear to have had enough of having to go on the television and style out such obvious rubbish.
By the time the Sunday papers came out, there were to be found within them at least thirteen separate allegations against Mr Pincher, spread over more than a decade, most having occurred in public in full view of others. (Pincher denies them all, apart from the ones he resigned over, though his letter from him on that subject states only that he “drank far too much.” It stops short of, you know, actually taking responsibility for his actions from him. )
Yet Johnson continues to deny being aware of allegations against the man he put in charge of MPs pastoral care, the man he appointed as the person MPs should go to if they were concerned about the behavior of their fellow MPs.
He continues to deny it, even while past quotes of his, like describing his now ex deputy chief whip as “Pincher by name, pincher by nature,” are trotted out yet again.
On LBC on Monday morningQuince, a decent sort, found himself having to say that he “couldn’t imagine” Johnson saying such a thing.
As someone who has occasionally had to dabble at parodying Boris Johnson, I don’t think I am capable of imagining something Johnson is more likely to say. “Pincher by name, Pincher by nature,” is as pure Johnson as it gets. It’s oafish, it’s unsubtle, it’s an attempt at comedy that’s about three decades out of date. It makes light of something serious, it excuses laughable behavior and it scores about 2 out of 10 for amusement. It is unmistakeably Johnson.
And yet here is poor Will Quince, live on air, reduced to having to say that he couldn’t possibly imagine Johnson saying such a thing, when the truth is that it’s impossible to imagine that he didn’t.
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On Sunday, every single paper made clear that Johnson knew all about it. It was all read out to Therese Coffey by Sophy Ridge, while she continued to claim the prime minister didn’t know. It was like watching a French and Saunders pastiche of the Austin Powers penis enlarger scene.
Ministers are quietly letting it be known that they have had enough of this. That they are simply not going to carry on degrading themselves in service of their prime minister’s degradations and the degradations of those around him.
Whether they’ve worked out that there is only one solution to their problem is still, even now, not immediately clear. Many in their midst continue to machine to make it happen. And if this most recent abomination turns out not to be the final straw, well it hardly seems to matter.
It seems absurd to believe anything other than that yet another horror show won’t be along in a matter of hours.