The partygate tide has ebbed and flowed for months. Distractions caused by Putin’s murderous insanity genuinely looked like it had saved Boris’s bacon. But, as our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, it now genuinely looks like it hasn’t after all.
Several factors come into play here.
Britain has earned high praise from Ukraine’s embattled President by supplying vast quantities of vital defence hardware. And promising loads more.
There’s also the question of proportion. Breaking a booze-up law that isn’t even a law any more does look paltry next to genocide.
But Johnson stands accused of lying. Repeatedly and shamelessly having a laugh at the expense both of parliament and of the British people.
Think back to the Watergate scandal that did for Nixon in the nineteen seventies. It wasn’t the illegal activities that finished him, but the cover-up.
The nub of the matter is that government in UK is heavily reliant on trust and honesty.
And sophistical arguments about not ‘knowingly’ misleading the house over whether the PM realised he was at a party, or parties, aren’t cutting it.
A survey by YouGov for The Times last week spelt it out starkly. Four out of five voters said he lied.
No coincidence then those same pollsters gave Labour a comfortable lead over the Tories. On thirty-nine per cent, six points in front.
With looming town hall elections widely expected to confirm that trend it’s little wonder Conservative MP’s have got the jitters.
Hence the extraordinary scenes in the commons when make-your-mind-up time finally arrived.
Number Ten wanted to corral the cannon fodder into voting for a nice long delay into putting what actually happened under the parliamentary microscope.
Then, a matter of minutes before the debate got under way, it clicked. The worm had turned.
Enough Tory backbenchers, alongside a fair few junior ministers, were going to tip the balance in the voting lobbies.
And politics, same as warfare, was ever the art of the possible. Hence the juddering U-turn on the part of the Conservative whips.
The Labour motion called for the whole sorry saga to be referred to a high-powered committee, that could if it wanted actually chuck Johnson out.
But instead of ordering the Tory troops to stave off that frightening possibility the word was, basically, whatevs.
Upshot, at le moment critique in the chamber itself, anticlimax. The thing went through without a murmur.
Not that the investigation will get going immediately. It’s agreed nothing will happen until the Old Bill’s finished trawling the evidence.
That won’t take anything like as long, however, as the inquiry by Whitehall’s equivalent of the Lord High Executioner, Sue Gray.
Johnson’s idea of keeping the thing at bay for all that time is now dashed on the rocks. As whoops-a-daisy moments go, this was a biggie.
The storm started a couple of days earlier, when Johnson said soz, soz and soz again, but all too few of his chaps rallied round.
Not only that, top Tory MP Steve Baker told the commons: ‘The Prime Minister’s apology lasted only as long as it took to get out of the headmaster’s study.
‘That is not good enough. The Prime Minister should now be long gone. The Prime Minister should just know that the gig is up.’
Those words, coming from a man widely regarded as the party’s kingmaker, had the chill effect of a death knell.
Baker, is, by common consent, the hardline Brexiteer and formidable organiser who showed the door both to David Cameron and Theresa May.
And he’s ever so cross that this regicide job is being left to people like him rather than those on the top table. As he put it in a scathing newspaper interview:
‘I’m pi***d off with members of the Cabinet sitting there fat, dumb and happy and letting me do the dirty work in the trenches rather than take a risk with their own careers.’
So much then for Johnson’s arguably hubristic absence from the proceedings.
His attempt to remind us all how fantastic it was, that seismic shift out of the EU that swept him to power in the first place, had a hollow ring to it.
Out there in India, beavering away at a spangly new post-Brexit trade deal and being told what a jolly fine fellow he is, wasn’t really going to ease his plight.
Bit like spotting, after wrapping the family car round a lamp post, that the windscreen wipers still work splendidly.
Oh, and just as an awkward little aside, the guy he was cosying up to is one of Vlad the Impaler’s few remaining allies on the international stage.
The Indian PM, Narendra Modi, has come in for a lot of stick over his refusal to denounce Putin. Indeed, he’s has lots of chats with him since the war began.
Hence the tortured language on the subject by Johnson’s spokesman before he got onto the plane.
Johnson would not ‘lecture’ Modi over his stance on Russian brutality, but the war would be an ‘important’ topic. Hmmm. Make of that what you will.
Western defence and security experts are also coming to certain conclusions about Putin’s latest ‘I’ll-huff-and-I’ll-puff-and-I’ll-blow-your-house-down’ ploy.
The old brute is ever so pleased that the test launch of his new intercontinental ballistic missile, dubbed ‘Satan II’, went so well.
It’s agreed just one of them could destroy ten cities, and thought that if positioned correctly it could reach London in minutes.
On the other hand, loathed though Putin is by so many, he’s not widely regarded as hellbent on suicide.
And, as a keen student of history, at least his version of it, he’ll be well aware of the Germans’ strategic mistake in World War One of pumping nasty stuff around.
The wind between the trenches, the Kaiser discovered to his cost, had a nasty knack of changing. Chorine and mustard gas? Good idea? Hmmm.
Likewise overwhelming nuclear force. They didn’t call it Mutually Assured Destruction – MAD for short – for nothing.
The Kremlin’s gremlins say it’s food for thought, but the strong suspicion in the West is that it’s Putin who’s suffering the angst.
Losing that stonking great battleship of his, the Moskva, would have got to him big time.
The Russian navy has never had it so bad since the battle of Tsushima, towards the end of their war with Japan, in 1905.
Like Putin, Tsar Nicholas II was hellbent on victory at whatever cost. Upshot, in time, the end of his empire and his body, riddled with Bolshevik bullets.
Cracks are also starting to appear in Putin’s mask of invincibility.
Ok, he can flatten cities, slaughter thousands of civilians and drown the Russian masses in propaganda. But heavy hitters are now expressing doubts.
One of the country’s best-known entrepreneurs, Oleg Tinkov, has denounced Moscow’s ‘massacre’ and urged the West to help end ‘this insane war’.
The banker, who’s now based outside Russia, wrote on Instagram: ‘Waking up with a hangover, the generals realised that they have a sh*t army.
‘How will the army be good, if everything else in the country is sh*t and mired in nepotism, sycophancy and servility?’
And two more serious movers and shakers, Mikhail Fridman and Oleg Deripaska, have, while avoiding direct criticism, urgently called for peace.
On the face of it, Putin can’t not win, in a pyrrhic sort of way. At least in the short term. But a line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet might apply to him, as to Johnson.
‘There is special providence in the fall of sparrow. If it be now, ’tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come.
The quote ends with the words: ‘The readiness is all.’ In modern parlance, suck it up, suckers.
Peter Spencer has 40 years experience as a Political Correspondent in Westminster, working with London Broadcasting and Sky News. For more of his fascinating musings on the turbulent political landscape, follow him on Facebook & Twitter.
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