Richard North, 26/04/2021  

Having published enough words on the Cummings/Johnson saga to complete a modest novelette, the Sunday Times is displaying a lack of self-awareness typical of the legacy media.

"Soap operas are diverting, but let's get back to the day job" the headline of its editorial reads, repeating Johnson's claim that people "don't give a monkey's" about his dealings with Sir James Dyson and who leaked the texts between him and the vacuum cleaner billionaire.

The Telegraph is even worse, having one of its hacks assert that the public "is far more concerned by the bigger picture than the court politics of No 10".

Were he to list all the issues more important to voters than the "psychodrama" involving different factions in the court of Boris Johnson, he writes, "I would bust my maximum wordcount before getting on to anything else".

If it is indeed that case that voters are more interested in other things, then that rather suggests another example of an incontinent media indulging itself in its own preoccupations, to the exclusion of its paying readers. Over the weekend, it has been impossible for any media-watcher to avoid the soap opera that we're now being enjoined to accept is of no consequence.

There are no attempts to downplay the affair in the Observer though. This paper has harnessed the publicity to write an editorial on Johnson's fitness for office, branding that prime minister as "weak and dishonourable", who "fails the Nolan test of public life and brings further disgrace on the government".

Couched in those terms, this affair is important if it finally locks into the public consciousness the issue of Johnson's unfitness, in a way that might have a significant impact.

It is too much to expect(and nor should we) that the rush of publicity will affect the outcome of the local elections on 6 May, but there is always the hope that the Conservative Party might at last see Johnson as a liability and put in motion moves to depose him. If anything, his own party is Johnson's greatest threat.

The trouble is that, although the Observer lists with great care many of Johnson's failings, going back into the past to note that there have been questions about his integrity for as long as he has held public office, we have been there before, so many times.

This blog alone has addressed the failings of this travesty of a politician multiple times, as have others, not least Matthew Parris in June 2019, when he described him as:
… a habitual liar, a cheat, a conspirator with a criminal pal to have an offending journalist's ribs broken, a cruel betrayer of the women he seduces, a politician who connived in a bid for a court order to suppress mention of a daughter he fathered, a do-nothing mayor of London and the worst foreign secretary in living memory.
Then there wasRafael Behr who described the describes the "Boris" persona, the "carefully careless hair and linguistic prestidigitation", as: "a vaudevillian trick that Johnson plays on British politics, manipulating debate away from his lying incompetence, idleness, philandering self-obsession and intellectual vacuity".

This and much more came well before the December election, so no-one can be surprised that we got exactly what was described in the tin, a man characterised by his "lying incompetence, idleness, philandering self-obsession and intellectual vacuity".

Now, despite all this, the Observer is reduced merely to calling for significant tightening of rules around political lobbying and a strengthening of the ministerial code. But, it says, "the sad truth is no set of rules in the world can inject integrity, selflessness and leadership into the character of a man who has none".

The logical sequela to that last statement should, in a sane world, be a strident call for the removal of the man as prime minister. But it is a reflection of the lack of influence the paper has that it doesn't even bother to call for something that simply isn't going to happen any time soon.

But this is where this current soap opera starts to get interesting, in the words of political courtier Tim Shipman - a man whose intellectual horizons begin and end in the Westminster bubble.

He advances the view that the "war" with Dominic Cummings leaves Johnson on a political tightrope, retailing the observations of a "Conservative friend" who says: "I think we are now looking at the end of Boris".

Shipman goes on to write that the precise moment at which Johnson became inevitable as the next prime minister was 2 May 2019, when the Tories got nine percent in the European elections, their worst national result ever recorded. MPs who saw him as flawed flocked to a proven winner.

But, says Shipman, one MP is fond of telling him that if Johnson ever becomes a drag anchor on his party he'll be "as dead as a Bojo". And while, in the current strife, both Cummings and Johnson think they can win, the "sad truth" is that they may both already have lost.

Elsewhere, we see that Johnson's decision to accuse his former advisor of leaking stories was regarded with horror by insiders – and has had predictable results. It thus attracts the "fury" of Tory MPs who describe his action as "beyond moronic" – as good a description of the Johnson administration as you will get.

Andrew Rawnsley, in the Observer adds to the feeling of foreboding, writing that the "Tories are wrong to think that they will never face a day of reckoning for sleaze".

His sub-heading reads: "Dominic Cummings is dangerous to Number 10 because few have had a better perch for observing the way the PM behaves when he thinks the world can't see what he's up to" while, echoing my piece yesterday, he concludes:
Sleaze may not catch up with the Tories tomorrow or next week or next month or even next year, but there will be a day of reckoning. To paraphrase Ernest Hemingway, governments become bankrupt in the eyes of the voters gradually, then suddenly.
Helping this one on its way is the Daily Mail which publishes an "exclusive" from sources who claim that Johnson snapped: "Let the bodies pile high in their thousands", during a "spectacular row with Cummings" over discussion on the need for a third lockdown.

This was already mentioned in the Mail on Sunday but now the alleged quote takes up most of the front page of the daily paper. This is not calculated to enhance Johnson's reputation and, despite the Express conveying MPs pleading: "For Britain's sake… get on with the job", the prime minister is going to struggle to break clear of this media storm.

Even now, it is difficult to predict whether this will have any long-term effect but, with so many, metaphorically, telling us "nothing to see here", there is at least a glimmer of hope that we may be seeing the be beginning of the end for the worst prime minister in living memory.

Dare we call it Goings-gate?

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