At the time of writing, Boris Johnson remains in post as Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party. For how long though, no-one knows. Judging by some of the glum faces around the precincts of Westminster right now, his ignominious departure from both offices seems now to be more a matter of ‘when’, rather than ‘if'.
The list of revelations about parties and broken Covid restrictions in Downing Street appears to lengthen daily. It seems that despite lockdowns and restrictions on gatherings, Number 10 has had more festivities taking place in recent times than the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro.
For those who were faithful in following the rules; who put up with the agonies of being physically isolated from family, friends and colleagues; and especially those who lost loved ones to whom they were unable to properly say goodbye, these admissions will have been particularly hard to stomach.
However, let’s not be in any doubt: the measures that we took helped to protect ourselves, to protect others and ultimately, they saved lives. They were the right actions to keep ourselves and others safe. However angry and disappointed people are right now, nothing that has happened in Downing Street or which might yet be still to emerge can alter those facts.
When the matter of parties was raised in the House of Commons again last week, the Paymaster General was the minister who drew the short straw to be sent out to answer for the Prime Minister’s actions.
I put it to him that if someone had held a ‘gathering’ in my back garden I’d probably have noticed at some point, and that I’d certainly be able to remember whether or not I’d been there. His response was to deflect by saying that 10 Downing Street is not a purely residential building, as if this somehow mitigates or excuses matters. The Prime Minister is certainly going to need a sturdier defence than this when the outcome of the investigation is eventually published.
Someone else thrown under a bus by colleagues last week was Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross, who found himself on the end of some harsh words after joining calls for the Prime Minister’s resignation.
One thing the UK Conservatives have always been very good at is the deliberate ‘bigging up’ in both the London media and in Westminster of carefully selected Scottish MSP and MP colleagues, in order to try and persuade Scottish voters that these politicians are figures of far greater significance and substance than they might at first glance appear.
However, in their fury at the resignation call, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Michael Gove appeared to forget those carefully scripted lines momentarily, with the former describing Mr Ross as ‘a lightweight figure’ and the latter dismissing his opinion because he happened to be “in Elgin” while the Prime Minister was “in London”.
All of which is very illuminating in its own way… given Mr Ross was being presented by his party as a credible candidate to be First Minister just a few short months ago, it is genuinely surprising that this particular mask has slipped so quickly, and so dramatically.
My own view is that the Prime Minister should go and go quickly. However, looking beyond the present dramas, if the Conservatives at UK level really want to persuade Scottish voters that they really live in a ‘union of equals’, perhaps showing some genuine respect for their Scottish counterparts (and the rest of us) might be a good start.