I’m old enough to remember the time when Health Secretaries resigned after snogging their mistresses in the office, having told us all to stay two metres apart.
How simple that time now seems. Matt Hancock went just over a year ago, on June 26, 2021, after an embrace with long-time friend and aide Gina Coladangelo. Boris Johnson stood by Hancock, insisting he should stay, before the inevitable happened 24 hours later.
At the time, Johnson was viewed – in some quarters – as an alright-kinda-guy, the sort of fella people would like to have a pint with. He was, we were told, the man who got big calls right, who had the best political instincts in the business. It’s worth looking at what’s happened since then, to see whether that narrative has played out.
It took less than a fortnight from Hancock’s resignation for Johnson to find himself in further trouble after the use of a luxury villa in Mustique. Who paid for his holiday? the nation asked. Johnson shrugged.
By Autumn, things were rosy. But then came the turning point from which Boris hasn’t recovered: the Owen Paterson scandal. Paterson had committed a breach of lobbying rules by sticking up for firms paying him £100,000 a year. Johnson insisted it was fine. The nation disagreed. Paterson went and his stronghold in North Shropshire was taken by the Lib Dems.
Since then, we’ve been in a holding pattern of 'scandal, resignation, by-election defeat' for Johnson’s wounded party.
The sleaze has got sleazier. In December, former minister Andrew Griffiths was found by a High Court judge to have raped his wife. She succeeded him as MP. Within a week, Simon Case, the UK’s highest serving civil servant, had gone after hosting a party in 10 Downing Street, the most-fined lockdown premises in the UK.
In January, we found out that Johnson had sought funds for a £112,000 makeover of Downing Street. He decided not to reveal incriminating WhatsApp messages to his ethics advisor who, funnily enough, later quit because the job was a nightmare. Johnson took full advantage, deciding he didn’t need an ethics advisor, presumably because he has none.
Skipping forward to April, David Warburton, a West Country MP, was suspended over allegations of cocaine use and sexual harassment. A week later, Imran Khan, the Tory MP for Wakefield, was found guilty of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy. Within a fortnight, another West Country Tory was out of Parliament, this time for watching porn when he should have been watching tractors. A couple of weeks later, an unnamed Tory MP was arrested on suspicion of rape while we learned 56 MPs had been reported to the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme for sexual misconduct. In May, Sue Gray published a report about drunken brawls, karaoke parties and worse at 10 Downing Street. Johnson did as Johnson does – shrugged. Whatevs.
Chris Pincher brings us up to speed. Johnson stayed loyal to his whip, preferring to save his own skin, by saving Pincher’s, before deciding the loose-handed Tamworth MP had to go.
We’ve skipped past many of the scandals, of course. There’s only 700 words on this page, so Rishi Sunak and his wife’s non-dom status, all the cronies who trousered hundreds of millions in dodgy PPE contracts and the many who benefited from jobs for the boys and girls avoid a dishonourable mention. We don’t even have time to dwell on Johnson’s use of the PM's jet for a family holiday in Cornwall, nor forgetting his and Carrie’s alleged, largely unreported office shenanigans. They are mere trifles.
Johnson will go at some point as the scandals that were a monthly interlude are now weekly, or more frequent. There have been police fines and resignations – though not enough – by-election losses and a confidence vote.
But we, the public, are desensitised to scandal. Johnson’s Government has normalised dishonesty and malpractice. New norms have replaced higher standards. There’s a low bar for behaviour but a high bar for resignation. The moral delinquency of Boris and his cronies has created a Government – and an economy – that seems increasingly bankrupt.