Conservative sympathisers, Conservative voters and Conservative parliamentarians have a simple choice to make this week. Do they stand by a Prime Minister who besmirches his office and whose moral credibility diminishes a little more each day he remains, squatting, in Downing Street? Or do they, instead, accept the obvious reality that Johnson is not fit for the office he holds, draw the obvious conclusions from that recognition, and do the decent thing?
For every Tory MP and cabinet minister who fails to act this week deserves to be judged themselves. These MPs might be weak or venal or cowardly or blind or simply stupid but they cannot claim to be ignorant. Those who fail to support this Prime Minister’s removal soil whatever remains of their own reputations.
There is no need to wait for the Metropolitan Police to finish their investigations and nor is there any requirement to pause matters until such time as Sue Gray’s full report is released (assuming it is released in full, though no-one should be surprised if this Prime Minister finds a way to prevent that from happening). Gray’s report already tells us all that needs to be known:
At least some of the gatherings in question represent a serious failure to observe not just the high standards expected of those working at the heart of government but also of the standards expected of the entire British population at the time.
And that is it: game, set, and match. The Prime Minister and his officials failed to meet the standards reasonably expected of them. There were, as Gray observes ‘failures of leadership and judgement’ and these shortcomings, so obvious to so many for so long, go right to the top. Nothing more need be said.
Had Boris Johnson shown an iota of contrition yesterday his position might, despite everything, be more sustainable. Instead he embarrassed his office and made a spectacle of himself. His suggestion Keir Starmer was somehow responsible for the failure to prosecute Jimmy Savile was not only false, it was monstrous and contemptible in equal measure. That the Prime Minister must have known this was false only compounds the offence.
But then this was Johnson-as-Johnson: fling enough dirt and hope something sticks. Cause an almighty rumpus as a diversionary tactic. Trust that something will turn up in the meantime to allow you to slide away from the consequences of your own shortcomings. A naked ape and a moral pygmy.
Those cabinet ministers defending this may be looking to their own futures. Plenty could not hope to hold office in a more respectable ministry. But they shame themselves nonetheless and they should know they are seen for what they are: empty suits of no account whatsoever.
There is always a simple test for scandalous matters. Would partisans think a given matter scandalous if the other mob were in office? Any Conservative who cares to arrange an honest consultation with their conscience must recognise that they would be demanding heads if this were a Labour government falling to pieces like this. And if this were a scandal if Labour was in power then it must be a scandal if the Tories happen to be in office.
Worse than a scandal, perhaps, for this is an increasingly obscene spectacle. It diminishes the House of Commons and it insults the electorate. All to save something inherently worthless. All governments enrage or disappoint but it is impossible to recall one quite so offensive as this.
Nor is there any salvage operation to be launched. The problem cannot be solved by the appointment of new advisers or rearranging the Cabinet Office deckchairs. The problem is Boris and there is nothing that may be done about that.
But, enough. For enough is enough. Deep down, Tory MPs must know this is an unsustainable situation. Deep down, they must know the Prime Minister must go. Since he will not do so of his own volition, he must be pushed. The sooner the parliamentary Conservative party discovers some semblance of moral purpose the better. In a time of indecency, doing the decent thing should not be so very difficult.
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