Even by his excruciatingly poor standards, today was a low moment for the Prime Minister.
Boris Johnson, who was handed a copy of Sue Gray’s long-awaited report into lockdown-busting parties in Downing Street this morning, cut a remarkably churlish, petulant and flippant figure in the House of Commons as he issued a mealy-mouthed apology and resorted to cheap insults before telling the country it was time to move on.
It was all depressingly predictable. Deep down we knew it would go like this.
READ MORE: New Sue Gray photos emerge of Boris Johnson boozing in lockdown
Johnson may have claimed to have been ‘humbled’ by a report which castigated his leadership, featured multiple pictures of him raising alcoholic drinks at illegal gatherings and told him he was responsible for an unruly and at times abusive culture – but as is so often the case with this Prime Minister, his words meant nothing.
Just minutes later he was making crude, childish jokes about the leader of the opposition, labeling him ‘Beer Korma’ in reference to Keir Starmer’s alleged lockdown curry and beer event. This was not a man who was humbled or in any way contrite. This was a man with no shame who believes he has got away with it, again.
Some of his more sycophantic supporters on the Tory backbenches lapped it up, others looked decidedly uncomfortable. But the latter cohort appeared to be in the minority.
Mr Johnson’s apology was a remarkable feat of acrobatics, simultaneously telling the country that he takes full responsibility for the egregious rule-breaking behavior that took place on his watch, while at the same time blaming absolutely everyone but himself for what went on.
He told the Commons that his attendance at boozy gatherings – evidenced by pictures in Sue Gray’s report – was not outside the rules, adding: “But clearly this was not the case for some of those gatherings after I had left and at other gatherings when I wasn’t even in the building.”
That’s not taking responsibility, that’s not leadership, that’s saving your own skin at the expense of others, others for whom you set the standards. In short, it’s peak Johnson.
In another grimly predictable move, a clearly unhumbled Mr Johnson quickly expressed how important it is to now ‘move on’, shamelessly citing the war in Russia and a cost of living crisis he is doing so little to address, as reasons why we must put this sorry chapter behind us.
He was backed, of course, by Tory MPs who clearly feel more strongly about tribal politics or their own career prospects than an outrageous scandal of rule breaking at the heart of government and an alarming failure of leadership that has rightly enraged a recovering nation.
A few, like Tobias Ellwood, had the guts to speak out, but he was shouted down by his own colleagues as he asked ‘are you really willing to defend this?’, the answer was a pretty resounding and shameless yes.
But the Conservative Party is known to be ruthless when it comes to elections and power and Mr Ellwood’s follow up was perhaps more pertinent in the long run. He asked ‘Can we win the General Election on this current trajectory?’
It is a key question, because this is a Conservative Parliamentary Party that has shown itself as utterly unwilling to stand up to a Prime Minister who has dragged the standards of political life into the gutter. As Keir Starmer put it, ‘they have set the bar for his conduct, lower than a snake’s belly, and now they expect the rest of us to congratulate him as he stumbles over it”
The Tories will soon face difficult by-elections in Wakefield and Tiverton and Horton, and if they were to lose them both, we might well see some of those sitting on the backbenches today suddenly locating their ‘moral compasses’, or maybe not.