Voices: Like no other PM before him, Johnson’s own moral failings have lowered all around him

·4 min read

Though it may feel like several hundred thousand years ago, the beginning of the end for Boris Johnson began in November of last year and it had nothing to do with parties in Downing Street.

The now ex (but very much currently disgraced) MP Owen Paterson had been found in breach of parliamentary standards, for receiving hundreds of thousands of pounds in fees by companies to whom he was providing services that very clearly amounted to lobbying.

In a show of loyalty, Paterson’s friends tried to discredit the standards commissioner, Kathryn Stone. Johnson joined in this show of loyalty, though not through any sense of actual loyalty – a quality he has never shown to anyone – but, rather, because the standards commissioner was also investigating his own attempts to corruptly wallpaper his flat, and this would therefore be a good opportunity to take her down.

The plot failed. Paterson stood down. Johnson was made to look ridiculous and a sizeable chunk of the parliamentary Tory party revealed its true, rancid colours under a very bright public spotlight.

So it does seem surprising that Johnson’s allies should, at this point, be seeking to do the same thing all over again. The privileges committee is currently doing its job by investigating whether the prime minister knowingly misled the House of Commons, an egregious act which, were the privileges committee to ignore simply because the prime minister has stood down anyway, would be failing in its duty.

This hasn’t stopped Johnson loyalists, just like Paterson’s, from seeking to publicly denigrate the committee itself. It’s hard to know how seriously to take what Johnson’s last remaining allies are trying to do.

One of the more curious contradictions of the Johnson character is that he prizes loyalty above all else, yet has absolutely none himself. Only the very, very stupidest people would ever stick by someone with such an unrivalled track record of disloyalty, which is why the fight to do down the privileges committee’s investigation is being led by Nadine Dorries and Zac Goldsmith.

Goldsmith’s debt to Johnson is permanent. Goldsmith accidentally set himself out of whack with his party’s fortunes by making a principled stand to resign over the third runway at Heathrow, then publicly admitting he only ever made his principled stand because he never thought he’d have to do it.

But such stunning political naivety doesn’t matter in British politics because there’s always a job for life in the House of Lords, and it’s even easier to get in the House of Lords if, like Goldsmith, you happen to have a luxury villa in Marbella where Boris Johnson likes to go on the occasional free holiday.

Dorries, of course, is in far too deep. The least capable cabinet minister certainly of the last hundred years, who makes Gavin Williamson look like Roy Jenkins, and who has never wasted a single public opportunity to reveal she knows precisely nothing about any of the matters of which her department is in charge, she surely knows that when Johnson is gone so is she, and so therefore she has nothing to lose.

Sir Bernard Jenkin, the chair, has accused her of seeking to carry out a “terrorist attack” on the privileges committee, by seeking to smear its members and its work rather than, say, writing to him to raise concerns.

The Daily Mail, naturally, is very much getting in on the act, accusing the MPs who are very clearly doing no more than their jobs, of “hounding a former prime minister” who has now stood down, so that should be the end of it.

The only thing that truly matters is that all of these staggeringly dim-witted protestations are being taken precisely as seriously as they should be, which is to say, not at all. There is no doubt, nor could there ever be, that a committee specifically appointed to uphold such important matters would be pressured into lowering its own standards to meet theirs. That is not how things work. Nor, one hopes, will they ever.

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Daniel Johnson, writing in the Daily Mail, makes the absurd point that should the committee find Johnson has knowingly misled the Commons, it may then trigger a recall petition and a potential by-election, which would be “a nightmare for his successor”.

He then calls upon Sir Bernard to “pull the plug on this flagrant abuse of parliamentary procedure”. That the honourable thing, in other words, would be for the Tory members of the committee to forget about parliamentary standards and think of the Tory party. What execrable rubbish!

Like no other prime minister before him, Johnson’s own moral failings have lowered all around him. The recovery will take quite some time.