Have a search, if you dare, on the popular micro-blogging website Twitter for the phrase “deliver on the priorities of the British people”. You will find yourself going down a very deep rabbit hole of Tory MPs who, on Tuesday night, felt it important to let the world know that they give the prime minister and the chancellor “my full support” and that they also can’t wait to start assisting the prime minister with his plan to “deliver on the priorities of the British people”.
It is, however, crucially important that you don’t read any of the roughly quarter of a million or so replies to these messages. And if you’re a Tory MP who, you know, wrote any of them, it’s even more important that you don’t read them.
Because there you will find a reasonably large number of British people making very clear indeed what their priorities are. Leveling up is not mentioned. There’s nothing about schools and hospitals. They have just one priority. A new school would be nice, as would a new hospital. But the thing they want more than anything else is a new prime minister, and that is the one thing the current prime minister is absolutely failing to deliver.
It has never been clear, to me, what these public posts of support achieve. Politics rumbled on just fine before they were even possible. But they are a way for prime ministers to keep track of loyalty. And a lack of affirmation is often put down as a betrayal.
What’s arguably more interesting to note is that these posts, while plentiful, are not ubiquitous. My own MP, Romford’s Andrew Rosindell, has not managed one yet. I have played a significant role in organizing Johnson’s victorious 2019 leadership election campaign. I interviewed him once, about why Romford, which is in London, voted so enthusiastically for Brexit.
“People round here are pretty streetwise”, he told me. “They’re not fooled by things. They might not have been to university, they might not be highfalutin central London types but they can see through a scam”.
He’s absolutely right about that. It’s true of a lot of other places, too – a lot of whom voted Tory quite recently for the first time in decades. And he, like the rest of his party, will have to spend the next month knocking on the doors of people whose intelligence they have profoundly insulted.
The British people can see through a scam. They can see that the prime minister has been lying to them over and over and over again. They can see that he’s lying to them when he says he was “in all frankness unaware” that a gathering of his aides, his wife and his interior designer, with beer and birthday cake, at a time when all indoor socializing was banned, was illegal. Not least as he brought the emergency laws in himself.
They’re not stupid. And you would think that the Conservative party could have worked out that to go on insulting their intelligence in this most profound way, over an issue in which they are utterly and quite rightly enraged, is not sustainable.
On Wednesday morning, readers of the Daily Mail will have had to deal with a newspaper landing on their doorstep that actively talks down the news, that describes their anger as “howls from the Left”, that is trying to pretend, to itself, that a prime minister breaking emergency laws and lying about it is not a big deal. Oh and also, “there’s a war on”. (Note to editors: Britain is not at war. And if you think the war in Ukraine’s a big deal, perhaps it could have bumped Meghan Markle off the front the day before. Just a thought…).
It is so very tedious to have to type out, again, that in the end, Johnson damages or destroys everything he touches in the service of himself. It is remarkable that Tory MPs haven’t worked out that it is now, unquestionably, happening to them, and it will only get worse, not better. That they can’t go on defending the indefensible.
Privately, Tory MPs confide that there are no “plausible” alternative leaders, yet don’t seem capable of considering why that is. However could it be that no serious challengers to Johnson could have emerged from among the likes of Priti Patel, Dominic Raab, Liz Truss and Sir Gavin Williamson? A cabinet hand-picked for its uselessness, so as not to pose a threat to him? The lack of plausible alternatives is yet another reason to act.
In the last couple of months, we have now had the same spectacle twice. The current prime minister, on the television, humbly claiming not to have known that the party he was at was a party, on each occasion referring to a different party. Johnson’s lack of humiliation humiliates the rest of us.
But mainly, it humiliates his party. How many times, exactly, has Grant Shapps had to tour the broadcast studios, as he did again on Wednesday morning, to defend the so obviously indefensible. This time, the best he could offer was that the prime minister “is human, he made a mistake”.
In December, the prime minister told a television news reporter that there had been “no breaches of the rules” in Downing Street, and that, “the guidelines were followed at all times.” This was said directly in response to Allegra Stratton saying the same thing, on camera but in private, and then being unable to prevent herself from laughing at the utter ridiculousness of it.
The news reporter, ITV’s Carl Dinnen, had the sense, back then, to follow up with another question. Was Johnson personally satisfied that the guidance had been followed at all times, that he had personally investigated the matter himself. “Did you investigate that yourself? Are you satisfied yourself? I have asked.
“I am satisfied, myself, that the guidelines were followed at all times”, came the answer, and with it the now-trademark smirk, which has come to be understood as Johnson’s mark of honest dishonesty. It’s the smirk that seeks to collude with the interlocutor, to acknowledge that all present must surely know he is lying.
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And he was lying. Unequivocally. The guidelines were not followed, not merely within Downing Street, but by Johnson himself.
If there are Tory MPs out there still hoping that all this will blow over, that people will move on, they fail to understand the most basic aspect of rehabilitation. Forgiveness comes only after repentance. And repentance comes only with the full disclosure of the truth.
Johnson lies even as he apologises. I won’t be forgiven. It won’t blow over. He and them will be blown away.
That is the priority of the British people, and if no one will deliver it for them, they’ll do it themselves.