Opinion

Is the party over for Boris Johnson?

Begrudging admission that he flouted lockdown rules means his tenure as PM hangs by thread


Published : 15 Jan 2022 08:57 PM

When more than one person comes together at a bus stop or in a store in Britain, the unwritten etiquette is that there is then a queue – the most British of social inventions. Anthropologists might indeed argue that the queue is the most basic unit, perhaps so nowadays when the definition of family seems so amorphous.

Whatever the reason for one or more people coming together, there are unwritten rules such as first come, first served – and woe betide anyone who fails to follow the numerical convention of the queue.

Those are unwritten rules.

When rules are written – and particularly in times of pandemic, where the government forcefully intervenes in almost every aspect of daily life, limiting social interactions, ordering people to work from home, shutting meeting places, ordering faces to be masked – rulebreakers in Britain are social pariahs.

In Britain now, the Prime Minister is a social and political pariah -- a wounded figure whose hold on the office of power seems weakened, almost terminal.

The act of apology

The act of apology is generally to be welcomed in British society. In British politics, the act of apology is rare, and is generally to be welcomed. But when an act of apology lacks the appropriate level of contrition, it falls flat and is likely to cause far more anger than the original misdeed.


In British politics, the act of apology is rare, and is 

generally to be welcomed. But when an act of apology

lacks the appropriate level of contrition, it falls flat and is 

likely to cause far more anger than the original misdeed


That’s the position Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson finds himself in now after coming clean in Parliament on Wednesday that yes, he had met with more than 30 colleagues in the garden of 10 Downing Street shortly after 6pm on 20 May 2020.

The political fallout from that very public guilty plea is still unfolding, its recriminations likely to reverberate through the Conservative party ranks for months to come. And it may very well serve as the political death knell for a leader who was endeared to a majority of British voters for playing a little fast and loose with the rules and truth when Brexit needed to be done. 

But since the pandemic struck and changed so many lives as it claimed the highest death toll among European nations, the terms of British endearment with Boris has turned irrevocably.

No longer is he viewed as a political winner by the public, as opinion poll after poll showed this week. No, he is a political liability, a leader who two-thirds of British voters now say should resign. 

Within the ranks of his Conservative party, who hold an 80-seat majority over the combined opposition Members of Parliament in Westminster, he is now viewed as someone eroding the base of voters who swept him and the party to power just 25 months ago.

Rules were broken

For the past three months, he and his party have been hammered by almost daily accusations that rules were broken by those at the top of the political system while millions of Britons were told to keep apart, avoid mixing, wear masks, and ordered to keep away from loved ones as their lungs filled with liquid and they died lonely deaths from coronavirus. And those left behind could not gather at funerals, to mourn, to say a final goodbye.

While these draconian laws were put in place and necessary to stop the spread of coronavirus, those at Downing Street and other government offices partied on, gathering for party - all in blissful awareness that there was one rule for them, one rule for everyone else.

What is galling for many Britons is that the London Metropolitan Police, the officers who supposed to serve all without prejudice or bias, failed to act or intervene as the highest echelon of public representatives they were present to project, quaffed from raised glasses with complete disregard for the very laws they enacted on all others.

During these past three months, where the New York-born leader of the Conservative party celebrated the birth of another child – he now has seven from three marriages – the failings and scandals shaking the administration have become daily events, so much so that twice now the Tories have lost two byelections in seats that had previously 

been held by margins of more than 20,000 votes.

U-turns and policy reversals

There have been ministers who have been fired for breaking Covid rules, others accused of handing out lucrative contracts without due oversight for personal protective equipment to family and friends. 

There have been so many reports of gatherings now that social events seem to be all that was going on in Whitehall while the nation was locked down. 

And there have been U-turns and policy reversals that, in the normal course of times and things would have been unprecedented.

Across Britain now, many are worried about gas and energy bills that are rising by 70 per cent on last year; where there are shortages of some foodstuffs in supermarket shelves; where National Insurance premiums are to rise come April to pay for a social care system for the old and infirm that seems broken and understaffed.

Understaffed? Every staffer at 10 Downing Street it seems, had a get out of jail card, a magic exemption to avoid the rules that caused so much emotional pain and financial suffering to the good folks of Britain keeping calm and carrying on.

In the coming days, a senior civil servant will issue the findings of her inquiry into all these social gatherings. There are those who say that Johnson’s fate rests on those findings. But there are many more who say that the inquiry won’t amount to much, and that Johnson may survive the report.

Maybe so, but such is the level of cynicism following Johnson’s apology and long-overdue admission, his days in office seem very numbered indeed.


Mick O’Reilly is Foreign Correspondent at Gulf News. Source: Gulf News