I will not weep for all the junior staffers who this time next week will be serving tables at Spadulike: they are the least casualties of a weird few weeks. Chinese spies subverting the state? Barely a column inch. A mince pie after work? Page upon page.
The public anger at the drinks-after-work is genuine and raging. Logically it makes no sense: it involved each time people who had been packed together in offices working hard (for the public good, let’s not forget), then being allowed to relax informally. How that constitutes a virus risk when being crushed together in an office was not, defies reason. Using the word ‘party’ too makes it sound like a raucous riot, which is far from what has been described. Public anger is not amenable to logical though, and voting in a few years’ time will not be logical either.
Then we discovered that someone named a few years ago as a Chinese agent of influence had implanted an agent in the office of a senior Shadow Cabinet member. That member had spoken in support of the regime in Peking. That should have been an earth-shattering outrage., but it barely registered. It is just normal business it seems to have a hostile and genocidal foreign power in control of the offices of members of Parliament.
Now, if the spy had stepped into a garden after work, that would have been a major scandal, apparently.
However we got here, we are here. Let us not forget though that the decline in Boris’s fortunes started before someone snitched on sipping a glass after work. The Chesham and Amersham By-Election was in June, and Boris’s magic touch has been teetering every since. We have wearied of endless lockdown, petty restrictions and the way local bullies use them to batter their neighbours, and when the grocery bill comes in, prices have risen when pay has not, and taxes are at Labour levels, which makes us all wonder whom we have elected.
In the voter’s house, there is less on the plate these days. At the same time, the government has allowed left-wing quangocrats to live on the high hog still, pushing us about on our own money. Forget the ‘parties’: Boris has been laughing at us for taking our votes and doing nothing he promised except the one big thing, Brexit.
Maybe the Downing Street culture has gone rotten. It looks like it from outside SpAds are still a novel thing: there were none until Tony Blair invented them: it was considered outrageous at the time, but in retrospect a sensible innovation if done properly. Even so, teams of loud youth pumped with hormones thinking themselves omnipotent and harassing elder civil servants is asking for disaster. In this, Boris has not commanded but appeared as just their benevolent uncle; a figurehead.
If there is a strong Number 10 machine, the PM needs to command it. If there is collegiate government devolved to ministries, which is more Boris’s style, then the Number 10 machine must shrink.
What can he do? Firstly, throw out the spads who keep getting him into trouble. Hire better ones maybe, but they whisper memento mori in their ears. Then get back on course, convincingly this time. We are promised some meat there, but until that meat is on the table, filling up the depleted plates of the voters, the voters may remain cynical.
Also, deal with Chinese Government agents of influence; neutralise their spending power and expose their networks. That is the real scandal, even if the press choose the salacious gossip about office arrangements instead of exposing a threat at the nation’s heart.
Then Boris has either of two roads to take. He might sit at the top of the table and work hard doing the job he is paid for, to implement the manifesto and get taxes down, giving his personal authority to ministers to defeat the inertia in their departments. Alternatively, he could step aside from the Cabinet Table, leave his day-to-day duties and salary behind him, and walk abroad in the land, reconnecting with it and with the ordinary people who once adored and trusted him, finding out what their doorstep concerns are, their worries, their aspirations, their petty jealousies, finding out what it was that once made him an icon of hope.
We all lost connections over the lockdown. We need to rebuild them.
By Boris Johnson: