Wednesday, 12th January, 2022

[Day 667]

Today was the day on which Boris Johnson had to come before the House of Commons and answer PMQ (Prime Minsisters Questions) on what is being dubbed the ‘partygate’ affair. Since the publication of an invitation sent to 100 staffers in Downing Street and whose authenticity has not been denied, it was evident that Boris Johnson had to come before the House of Commons and give a credible explanation of the events of 20th May, 2020 (the height of the first wave of the pandemic). Meg and I organised our day so that we could be sitting in front of the TV at 12.00pm, so we went down to Waitrose by car and picked up a newspaper and some milk and then made our way to the park for a mini-walk so we could get a breath of fresh air. It was a magnificent blue sky and clear air but pretty cold. We walked sufficiently long to feel that we had had some exercise and fresh air and then jumped into the car to observe the ‘blood sport’ In anticipation of the forthcoming Question Time. I was wondering to myself exactly what Biris Johnson’s lines of defence would turn out to be. In the event, the apology came in the form of ‘I wandered into the garden and assumed that the gathering was a ‘work event”. The second line of defence came in a repeated plea to wait until the investigation into Downing Street parties by the senior civil servant, Sue Gray, was complete and he, Johnson, would come to the Commons when all the facts were known. These explanations were treated with scorn by all of the opposition parties. In particular, Keir Starmer was forensic in the way that he dissected the Prine Minister’s assertion that this was a ‘work event’ when everybody had been asked to bring a bottle and food was laid out on trestle tables. Johnson maintained that he had only come into the garden to ‘thank’ groups of staff but after 25 minutes he retreated back into the main building to carry on with work. The first explanation offered by Johnson that he didn’t realise that he was attending a party met with universal scorn and was simply not believed. The second explanation i.e. waiting for the enquiry to complete its work was universally characterised as ‘playing for time’ and ‘kicking the can down the road’ I found it interesting that Johnson was accused several times of lying and I always thought that that was an example of un-parliamentary language that the Speaker would insist on being withdrawn. In fact, the Speaker issued no such request (presumably because he believed it to be true) but it is interesting that the term was allowed to be used and will be entered into Hansard (official report of the proceedings) One senior MP has described Boris Johnson as a ‘dead man walking’ and it is hard not to agree with this conclusion. Immediately after the PMQ, Boris Johnson was seen ‘working’ the Commons tearooms, a well known technique for drumming up support but one in which Boris Johnson has not indulged before. In a highly charged atmosphere, the whole political class are waiting for any further revelations (even a photograph) and it would not take much to push Johnson over the edge. With what is coming down the road (inflation at 7%, gas price rises, National Insuramce rises, local elections in May) it seems almost impossible that Boris Johnson can survive for long. What I found disturbing was that not a single Tory MP would criticise their own PM in public (this was left to the Leader of the Scottish Tories who has argue that lawbreaking must lead to a resignation) If I were a cartoonist, I would have illustrated Boris Johnson has hanging onto a grid over a huge sewer whilst other politicans stepped on his fingers to make him lose his grip.

A second ‘how are the mighty fallen’ moment was to come in the afternoon when it was announced that Prince Andrew’s attempts to have the action brought against him by Virginia Giuffre had failed. This leaves Prince Andrew with three options, all equally unpalatable. He can go to trial (which he will probably lose as in civil cases a jury has only to be convinced with the ‘balance of probablitities’ burden of proof rather than ‘beyond reasonaable doubt’ in criminal cases) A second option would be to appeal the court’s rulings but this is estimated to have a success probablity of 40% at the very best. The third option is to settle for what would no doubt be millions of dollars (and would be tantamount to an admission of guilt) It is rumoured that the Queen is making Prince Andrew pay his own costs in this and hence a villa is being sold in Switzerland but I am sure the ‘bank of Mum and Dad’ would be accessed as a last resort.