Matt Hancock did. Allegra Stratton did. Heck, even Priti Patel did it once, and she’s terrifying when cornered.
They all said that magic phrase that makes the cares of the world, the expectations of their payers, and the weight of public opinion suddenly heave off their slumped shoulders with a shuddering creak and an almighty groan. This sentence being something like: “I have become a distraction – and for this reason, I will resign with immediate effect.”
Last year, after the former No 10 spokeswoman was shown snickering about illegal Downing Street parties – weeks before ‘partygate’ really started – she used the magic phrase by falling on his sword. She proved to be too gentle and human; they were real tears, please.
The magic phrase had been heard when Health Secretary Hancock was revealed on county CCTV that he got his hands on his lover during lockdown – and again in 2017, when former International Development Secretary Patel used coverage of a “holiday” in Israel to explain a dozen unauthorized meetings with senior officials there.
The bottom line is that it’s a pretty dignified sounding phrase that could suddenly be interpreted as sincere, so the audience lets it go. That’s not to say we necessarily forgive or forget, but from the Groundlings’ perspective, it’s nice to have a break from being furious.
Except – and I think all of us know where this is leading us – Boris “Billy Bunter” Johnson. Obviously. Judging by the evidence of the past few days, our pretentious budding schoolboy leader is so devoid of self-awareness that he may well be entitled to disability allowance.
Right now, the most powerful politician in the land is going astray as his own MPs fire on him; swaggering, bawling and embarrassingly stealing the thunder from his own government, his own policies, his own authority on the world stage.
On Thursday, No 10 policy chief Munira Mirza resigned over the Prime Minister’s ‘inappropriate and partisan’ mockery of Jimmy Savile in parliament and his failure to apologize for it.
Boris, the man of action, has metamorphosed into Boris the distraction. And whatever his ineffable charisma, his gift for superficial bonhomie, his coat of Old Etonian charm, that just won’t be enough.
Brittany deserves better. Much better. We are in a cost of living crisis. Rishi Sunak is staging a boost as energy bills explode beyond the reach of ordinary people, food prices make our noses bleed and mortgage rates soar, at a time when Russia is pushing the West on the brink of war.
Over the past few days we have learned that food banks in the UK now outnumber McDonald’s outlets. It starts in Stormont about Brexit controls in Northern Ireland. And our collective sanity is kaput. Yet here we are, still listening to endless speculation about whether “Carrie Antoinette” let her husband eat cake.
Make no mistake: “partygate” is serious business and Swiss heads must be rolling, faster than a late-night rolling suitcase full of Pinot Grigio rolling down the mall. But right now it’s an oxygen-guzzling distraction from the business of bringing Britain to its knees and getting back on its feet.
Maybe Johnson feels too big to fail or fall. He is wrong. As more of his backbench MPs push for a vote of no confidence, his position within the party weakens.
As for his standing in the country, let’s just point out that Boris’ belligerent insistence that he and he alone can win the next general election for the Tories in two years’ time is shameful proof that all he cares about is is power and the trappings of power. As calls grew earlier for him to leave, for God’s sake he revealed he would like to remain prime minister until 2029.
I remember Hollywood bad guys screaming melodramatically, “You’re nothing without me!” as they are thrown off a cliff. And guess what? The narrative continues without them – and there’s often a happy ending to boot.
Although all political careers end in failure, there is precedent for a prime minister to step down gracefully. In 2016, former Prime Minister David Cameron resigned from the House of Commons because, as he said, “I don’t want to be a distraction for Theresa May. Or, to put it another way: “I’ve just bought a lovely £25,000 shepherd’s hut in which to write my memoirs and take lovely naps during the day when it all gets too much.”
For the record, his biography – titled For The Record – sold 20,792 in the first seven days of publication, considerably less than Tony Blair’s 92,060; by comparison, John Major had first-week sales of 5,415 and Gordon Brown just 3,309.