Tory support is haemorrhaging. Pollsters are giving Labour a clear lead, and google searches for ‘cancel Conservative membership’ have reportedly risen by nearly two thousand per cent. As our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, Boris Johnson may once again have proved his virility, but the vultures are eying up his entrails.
He once, unwisely perhaps, referenced Tennyson’s Charge of the Light Brigade. Promising to get Brexit done ‘do or die’.
Another line from that poem fits better now. ‘Cannon to right of them, cannon to left of them, cannon in front of them, volleyed and thundered.’
Hardly Johnson’s fault everyone’s nerves are jangling about the beastly new Omicron variant, but it is his misfortune. Means he can do no right.
The mood among his backbenchers is described by one seasoned former Cabinet minister as ‘sulphurous’.
Many are planning to rebel against his new Covid restrictions in this week’s parliamentary vote. While others think they’re far too little, far too late.
The brute fact is, though, no one knows. Yet. Data to date suggests getting it doesn’t make you so ill, but is hugely more catching.
Worst of all, it’s simply not clear the extent to which existing jabs, even boosters, will protect us.
Hence the current turmoil. Cries of anguish everywhere as businesses, schools, colleges and the arts hastily pull down the shutters.
Back in Westminster, Labour support means we shall all face home working, more compulsory masks and greater need for proof of vaccination.
But the revelations about top bods partying away this time last year, when no one else was allowed, means the level of public compliance remains to be seen.
It’s about the government’s moral authority, which has been holed somewhere near the waterline.
Let’s dip our toes in Johnson’s sea of troubles.
The leaked footage one of his top people laughing and joking about the rules while supposedly preparing for a press conference, says it all.
But we shouldn’t be surprised, judging by this juicy quote unearthed by a TV hack from someone close high up the greasy poll.
‘To us, Downing Street was an island where we had to work and lockdown wasn’t happening in the same way it was for the rest of the country.’
That line can’t be substantiated but has the ring of truth. The air in the upper reaches of power is so rarefied it refracts brains. Always did.
Even the hacks ensconced in the bubble feel ever so slightly deified, sometimes referring to outsiders as ‘non persons’.
Johnson’s trusted aide Allegra Stratton tearfully (some say crocodile-style) joined those lower ranks after the now notorious footage of her at that rehearsal emerged.
But his telling the commons he was ever so cross about it stuck in many craws.
Bit like a motorist who’s careered out of a side turning and caused a multiple pile-up apologising to the police about having a dicky brake light.
Of course there’s no absolute proof, at the time of writing, that his people were partying like there’s no tomorrow while no one else was allowed.
Granted, they can’t really run the country from home. Witness Afghan lives lost after the evacuation, because Foreign Office staff weren’t at their desks.
But playing as well? Looks like, smells like etc.
According to an Opinium poll for Sky News last week, fewer than one in ten people believe the unsanctioned festivities didn’t happen.
That includes more than half of Tory voters.
This leaves Johnson and his ministers in the impossible position of saying they’re sure no rules were broken, but don’t know what went on.
Well, which is it? No wonder they mostly went rather quiet last week.
Lining up Sir Humphrey, aka Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, to investigate will buy a breathing space.
Doubtless Johnson hopes by the time he eventually reports back everyone will have calmed down a bit.
Good luck with that. Meanwhile, he’s in a sticky sitch about the fifty-three grand refurb in his gaff above Number Eleven.
His claim that he’d no idea who stumped up for it has been flatly contradicted in an investigation by the Electoral Commission.
They’ve fined the Tory party nearly eighteen thousand quid for, ahem, ‘improperly declaring’ dosh paid towards it.
In the official jargon, decisions relating to the handling and recording of one donation: ‘Reflected serious failings in the party’s compliance systems.’
No surprise it cost a few bob, btw. The wallpaper alone is said to have set someone back getting on for a grand a roll.
It’s thought to have been chosen by the PM’s wife, Carrie, who last week became the proud mum of a second child.
That’s lovely of course. But the whole thing reads like the script of a political thriller, except that the mummy stuff might have been judged too much.
As a character in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night put it: ‘If this were played upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction.’
And the rest. The function of this column is not to take sides, merely to read the runes. But at this point Boris Johnson might wish to turn his head away.
The Daily Telegraph, generally siding with the blues, hence the nickname Torygraph, seems to be turning against him.
‘Having entered No 10 as the cat’s whiskers with an 80-seat majority in December 2019, the Prime Minister had nine lives.
‘But now appears perilously close to spending them all.’
That from the Associate Editor, Camilla Tominey, is only equalled by this from Allister Heath, Editor of paper’s Sunday edition:
‘There is an overpowering fin-de-regime stench emanating from Downing Street that can no longer be ignored.
‘It is their shocking sense of superiority, the sneering elitism and the subsequent lies that are most angering voters.’
He concludes it’s not quite game over for Johnson, but, and it’s a big but:
‘For the first time, his grip on power is starting to look shaky, and his MPs are openly discussing a post-Johnson future.’
Well, Johnson will be off for a while doing his daddy thingy, meaning the reins would normally be taken up by his deputy, Dominic Raab.
But the poor fellow’s self-isolating, following a Covid contact. Step forward then, maybe, dishy Rishi Sunak, hot fave to be next PM anyway.
A chance to shine, surely. Though one of his first jobs will be fighting the fires lit by this week’s by-election in North Shropshire.
Normally it’d be in the bag. But the vote’s only taking place because the previous MP, Owen Paterson, got drowned in the tide of Tory sleaze.
Unlikely they’ll actually lose it. But they’re sure as hell on the naughty step. Anything can happen.
And it seems anything goes these days.
If you feel like you’re losing the plot, take heart. A new study in Cleveland, USA, suggests Viagra may not be just good for a drooping you-know-what.
Turns out it might also help sufferers from Alzheimer’s disease, for which there’s no effective treatment at present.
Combine that with the considerable body of evidence that music therapy can also help, and you have the fun if unholy trinity.
Sex and drugs and rock’n’roll. Socially distanced, of course.
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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