‘What did you knew, about the BYOB do, in an English country garden? Who did the leak, you were drinking Jacob’s Creek, in an English country garden?’ and so the song might continue… As will the questions, because Boris Johnson is facing the biggest challenge of his premiership, which includes that time he almost died.
The country may be about to get its fourth Conservative Prime Minister in a row as Boris faces a barrage of backlash following reports of a lockdown garden party at Downing Street, attended by the PM and, apparently, his wife with 100 invitees bearing their own bottles. Following the release of a smoking gun email from the PM’s Private Secretary, yesterday Boris pre-empted the inquiry he set up to investigate himself by admitting he’d attended the party and apologising to Parliament, before asking MPs to now await the result of the inquiry which will, presumably, find that he attended the party.
But his own MPs, it seems, are in no mood to hang around. One Tory MP admitted to me on Tuesday ‘he’s f*cked. It’s all over’. Meanwhile a Westminster insider tells me that MPs are now not even lowering their voices in the corridors of parliament as they discuss ‘after Boris’.
MPs are now not even lowering their voices in the corridors of parliament as they discuss 'after Boris'...
So is he really ‘f*cked’? And if so, who will replace him?
Boris defies political gravity time and time again, so nothing is a given.
The number of times that Boris has found himself in corners impossible for mere mortals to slither out of can’t be counted on two hands, or indeed at all without taking your socks off.
Boris defies political gravity time and time again, so nothing is a given...
His defence yesterday had a seriously lawyered tone that may well get him out of the legal spot of bother he’s currently in (even the police are taking an interest). His hard-to-disprove argument is that he took a wander in the garden, chatted to the party-goers and then wandered back to his flat without ever realising that there was a party going on.
Perhaps Boris’s life is so bants-bants-bants that everything he does feels like a party and he genuinely didn’t recognise that the 40-60 guests, clutching glasses of wine, were not hard at work. But while that may be enough to earn him a(nother) slap on the wrist will it wash with the public?
Boris remains bizarrely popular with the 'man on the street'...
And this is the question his own MPs will be grappling with. Despite MPs being dismayed by his conduct, his polling numbers and recent electoral performance (they lost safe seats in Shropshire and Buckinghamshire in the last few months, losses pinned on their hapless leader), Boris remains bizarrely popular with the ‘man on the street’, not least in those northern former ‘Red Wall’ seats that the Tories won when Boris delivered them a landslide victory in 2019.
Replacing him may win them back waning support, or it may seal their demise.
His fellow MPs choice of replacement will ultimately decide whether the Conservatives win an historic fifth term in power. And while the Labour party have an incredibly long journey back from their last massive defeat back in 2019, Boris’ replacement will strongly factor in (by the way, did you see that Jeremy Corbyn’s considering setting up his own party? This won’t help Labour leader Sir Kier Starmer).
Liz Truss clearly thinks she's a shoe-in...
So who are the runners and riders? Liz Truss clearly thinks she’s a shoe-in. The over-promoted Foreign Secretary, most famous for her ‘meat markets’ Party Conference speech a few years back, has been jostling for position for most of the past year.
Michael Gove may be yesterday’s man, but he could be seen as the safest pair of hands. So long as he promises not to get completely off his tits in any Scottish nightclubs any time soon.
Junior Doctors’ kryptonite Jeremy Hunt is also signalling to colleagues that he plans to throw his hat into the ring, proving he’s as delusional as he is unpopular.
He's as delusional as he is unpopular...
Which leaves Chancellor Rishi ‘dishy’ Sunak. Widely popular with the public (he oversaw schemes like furlough and mortgage deferrals not to mention Eat Out To Help Out), he is less trusted by MPs who are furious at his National Insurance rises.
So maybe, after all that, they’d be better off with… Boris?