The prime minister has survived countless scrapes but is now in trouble

News Letter editorial on Wednesday January 12 2022:

Wednesday, 12th January 2022, 9:21 am
Updated Wednesday, 12th January 2022, 2:47 pm
News Letter editorial

For two decades, elite politicians and commentators have fundamentally misunderstood the public perception of Boris Johnson.

The prime minister became an MP 20 years ago when he was still editor of The Spectator magazine, and was embroiled in controversies from the start.

In 2003, for example, he was forced to apologise by the then Tory leader Michael Howard for an article in his publication which accused Liverpool of “wallowing in victim status” over tragedies such as the Hillsborough disaster.

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Mr Johnson was again pressed into an apology in the 2008 London mayoral election for having written a column referring to Africans as “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles”.

Even in the short time since he became Tory leader in 2019, the PM has been caught in numerous scrapes. Yet he wins all sorts of electoral contests as MP, as mayor (in a city seen as anti Conservative) and above all in the 2019 general election.

There is widespread support for Mr Johnson, and much affection for his sense of humour and haphazard style. But while the pundits have been consistently wrong about the attitude of voters towards the inhabitant of Downing Street, this has posed its own perils for Mr Johnson. He was always a highly confident man, as if intuitively aware of his popularity and the leeway it gave him. And now he finds himself in serious political trouble that really might sink his premiership.

The public did not seem particularly interested in Mr Johnson’s £112,000 refurbishment the Number 10 flat or even in his handling of the Owen Paterson parliamentary saga.

But there really does seem to be gathering anger over the Downing St May 2020 drinks party, in the wake of revelations about the Christmas party that December.

If Mr Johnson attended the former event, it was cavalier — not least because the number of invitees, 100, made news of it likely. And it was appalling given that he had presided over rules based on scientific advice on Covid risks – risks that had left the prime minister fighting for his life a month before.

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