10 nails in Number 10’s coffin

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Boris Johnson’s ability to survive a string of scandals that might have been career-ending for any other politician appears to have finally lapsed. In an address to the nation at midday today, the Prime Minister announced that he would be stepping down in time for the Conservative Party Conference in October. All is now set in motion for a leadership contest, where members of the party will express who they would like to see replacing Johnson.

We can now look back on Johnson’s tenure as leader of the government, as he joins the ranks of the shortest-serving PMs in the history of this country. How did he get to the stage where, a mere month after scraping through a vote of no confidence, over fifty MPs left his government over two days? 

Here are my (inexhaustive) suggestions as to what were the ten nails in Number 10’s political coffin.

  1. ‘Wallpaper-gate’

The now-notorious ‘wallpaper-gate’ involved the press discovering that Johnson’s private residence in the flat above 11 Downing Street had undergone refurbishments costing at least £112,000. This included the notorious gold wallpaper, costing £814 per roll. However, the PM’s failure to declare to the Electoral Commission that part of the funding had come from the pocket of Lord Brownlow, meant that he was forced to apologise, to the public’s hilarity and outrage. Labour accused Number 10 of “corruption”, and the headline “Tory sleaze” was coined. 

  1. Boris Johnson defends Owen Paterson in lobbying scandal — November 2021

Owen Paterson, the ex-MP for North Shropshire, was found to have broken lobbying rules, by carrying out paid consultancy work for private companies and approaching the Food Standards Agency on their behalf. Johnson went on to back an amendment, tabled by a Tory colleague, aiming to prevent Paterson’s suspension. This led to accusations of injustice and rule-bending. Johnson later admitted he “could have handled [the situation] better”. 

  1. Lord Geidt resigns over accusations of Ministerial Code breaches — January 2022

Boris Johnson’s ethics advisor, Lord Geidt, criticised the PM for his “insufficient respect” for his role. Geidt resigned from his position as Johnson’s advisor last month when he admitted it was possible his boss had indeed broken the ministerial code and considered altering it in the aftermath of Partygate. 

  1. ‘Party-gate’

The first reports that Downing Street had held illegal gatherings during lockdowns were published in November 2021. These were initially denied by Number 10, but the subsequent leak of a video showing the mock press conference in which jokes were made about parties being held, led to the tearful resignation of Number 10’s spokesperson, Allegra Stratton. 

Shortly after, an independent report was commissioned by Johnson. As it became known, the Sue Gray investigation would take months to be published, during which time questions about lockdown parties were repeatedly fobbed off with the phrase ‘we must wait for the outcome of Sue Gray’s report’. See poem. “All the people on the radio are talking about Sue Gray/ It is a matter for Sue Gray they say/ Or Sue Gray will be looking into this further,/ it is important that we wait for Sue Gray.” (Brian Bilston, via Facebook)

  1. Johnson apologises for ‘Party-gate’ to the House of Commons

Having previously denied that lockdown parties occurred at Number 10, Boris Johnson first apologised to the House of Commons in January 2022. He maintains that he “believed implicitly that this was a work event” and asked that people attempt to suspend their judgement until the publishing of the Sue Gray report. 

Shortly after, Johnson found himself having to publicly apologise to the Queen for a gathering at Downing Street on the day of Prince Phillip’s funeral. This event hammered home the idea that the Prime Minister and his office had operated with double standards throughout the pandemic, causing public outcry. 

  1. The ‘Sue Gray Report’ is finally published in May 2022

As we have seen, by the time the report was finally published in May this year, Johnson and others had alternately denied and apologised for a number of gatherings, each time stoking calls for resignation. It was revealed that, between May 2020 and April 2021, there had been sixteen Downing Street gatherings, twelve of which were investigated by the police. Johnson, his wife Carrie and the then Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, were all served Fixed Penalty Notices for their breaches of lockdown. 

Johnson, yet again, apologised to the House of Commons and faced calls to resign from senior Tory MPs. 

  1. Neil Parish is found guilty of watching pornography in the House of Commons

In April, the MP for the Conservative safe seat of Tiverton and Honiton is found guilty of having watched pornography on two occasions in the House of Commons. He alleged that he accidentally landed on the website whilst looking at tractors. 

This event added to a growing pile of ‘Tory Sleaze’ cases, which the opposition and political commentators refer to as evidence of an antiquated culture in the Conservative Party. 

  1. Loss of two key by-elections

The Conservatives lost two by-elections last month. Tiverton and Honiton was won by the Liberal-Democrats, overturning a Tory majority of 24 000, breaking the Conservatives’ century-long occupation of the seat. Wakefield was regained by Labour, who had lost the traditionally left-leaning constituency in the 2019 ‘collapse of the Red Wall’. 

Both these losses were interpreted by some as indications of the public’s disenchantment with the PM, undermining his recent claims of having a “considerable mandate”. 

  1. Accumulation of sexual misconduct allegations in Chris Pincher’s resignation

Chris Pincher resigned from the Chief Whip’s office for the second time, apologising for excessive drunkenness, but not addressing allegations that he groped two men at a private club. He had already stood down from office in 2017 when he was accused of having made a pass at an Olympic rower and Conservative activist. 

This was the most recent of a string of sexual assault and harassment allegations touching Tory MPs, again, resulting in Opposition calls for Johnson to address the culture in his party. 

  1. Johnson apologises for Pincher’s appointment as Deputy Chief Whip

On Tuesday 5th July, Johnson apologised for Pincher’s reappointment to the Whip’s office, stating that “in hindsight, it was the wrong thing to do”. The next day, he was faced with the beginning of the slew of resignations that culminated in today’s resignation. 

From this, it seems Johnson has spent much of his premiership apologising for various misdemeanours. We will have to trust his party to elect someone less fond of expressing their regrets to Parliament, and as devoted to “delivery, delivery, delivery”.

Image: Number 10 via Flickr

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