The Guardian’s view on Tory support for Boris Johnson: dereliction of duty | Editorial
VSTory MPs have their public reasons why Boris Johnson should not step down after he was fined for breaching lockdown rules, as well as private reasons for wanting him to stay in office. There isn’t much overlap between the two. Both discredit the party and degrade British democracy.
The official lines are that Mr Johnson has apologized for an accidental offence, that he has reformed his Downing Street operation and that his leadership is much needed given the war in Ukraine. The first of these defenses is meaningless, the second is false, and the third is repugnant.
The word ‘sorry’ has no value coming out of Mr Johnson’s mouth. Disregard for the truth is at the heart of its misdeeds. He misled Parliament – a matter of resignation in itself if the ministerial code is followed correctly – and is now trying to get out of the woodwork. Sincere apologies are not part of his repertoire.
By reforming Downing Street, he cannot change the culture of rule-breaking and indiscipline because he is its ancestor. The only reform that would make the difference is his departure.
As for Ukraine, the arrogance of tormenting that country as a way to protect a prime minister who is not himself at war is beyond cynicism. There is no reason to assume that Mr Johnson is the only person capable of handling an international crisis, and good reason to think that a leader who obeys the law could better manage the crisis. Such a person would have more moral authority to advocate for democracy.
It is telling that most Conservative MPs seem to think such a person does not exist on their benches. The lack of a successor is one of the reasons they really want Mr Johnson to stay. Rishi Sunak’s prospects are ruined by his involvement in the partygate scandal, on top of clumsy revelations about his family’s tax arrangements and a botched financial statement in the spring. No other candidate has the courage to incite regicide.
A second factor is the local elections next month. The Tories are waiting to see what polling damage is done by their leader’s turpitude before deciding whether or not to dump him.
Many Tories believe Mr Johnson is unfit for the job. Many were saying it out loud earlier this year. They could now hide their scruples in gullible assertions about their leader’s capacity for contrition, or bury them in false arguments about an international emergency, but no one is fooled. The interested tactical calculation is too obvious. The attempt to dress it up as something nobler insults the audience. It is an affront to all those who have obeyed lockdown rules and made sacrifices on an understanding of shared national interest and community solidarity – values which the Prime Minister can invoke for theatrical effect, but not understand.
In the absence of a general election, it falls to Tory MPs to try to restore propriety and decency to Downing Street. They could give all sorts of excuses not to, but the real reason, obvious to all, is that they prefer to prolong a reign of ethical dereliction.