The Irish Times view on Boris Johnson’s scandals: towards a reckoning

The British prime minister has thrived on his amiable rogue reputation and the certainty that his back is covered by compliant MPs

British prime minister Boris Johnson returns to 10 Downing Street following Prime Minister’s Questions at parliament in London on Wednesday. Photograph: Vickie FLores/ EPA

British prime minister Boris Johnson returns to 10 Downing Street following Prime Minister’s Questions at parliament in London on Wednesday. Photograph: Vickie FLores/ EPA

 

With barely weeks to go before important local and regional elections, and a key byelection in Hartlepool, it seems remarkable that Boris Johnson would bring down on himself the sort of political storm that now swirls around No 10 Downing Street. And yet it was the British prime minister who, 10 days ago, opened hostilities with former aide Dominic Cummings by briefing to sympathetic editors that the latter had been the source of systematic leaking last autumn about the government Covid strategy.

Did Johnson believe an early political strike against his former ally would silence, or at least mute, Cummings’s expected parliamentary testimony about his old boss’s competence? The subsequent retaliatory counterblast and a series of anonymous leaks against Johnson were inevitable, however, and took the scrutiny of the prime minister’s methods to a new level. Once again the cavalier Johnson appears to have shot himself in the foot. Within days we were talking not just about the handling of last November’s second lockdown, but about privileged business access to the prime minister, “loans” from the party for the refurbishment of the Johnson flat, and extraordinarily insensitive quotes attributed to him suggesting he’d rather see “bodies piled up” than introduce a third lockdown.

Enough to bring down most politicians, but Johnson has thrived, indeed prospered, on his amiable rogue reputation and the certainty that his back is covered by compliant MPs and subservient, courtier-like cabinet colleagues. Commentators say there is no prospect of an internal party heave against him in the near future and it is far from clear that the public cares. The Tories are 10 points ahead of Labour in the polls and still expect good results next week.

Yet the manifest incompetence of a self-obsessed prime minister – who lies like he breathes and has made few friends on his cynical rise to power – must inevitably, with time, dilute the Tory brand and erode the party’s base. There will be a reckoning.

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