Today Johnson opened with a full apology for the behavior of his staff who were filmed laughing at an anti-lockdown party. This probably earned him some credit with his backbenchers, and it made the subsequent trade a little easier than it otherwise would have been. The other obvious option (see 9:38 am) would have been much worse.
But that’s about all that can be said about his scheme, as he failed the sincerity / credibility test. This morning I suggested that Johnson could either confess and apologize or blame others for something he was not aware of. At PMQ, he combined the two approaches. His apologies were of the Irish famine type; what happened was horrible, and he apologizes wholeheartedly, but that apology is severed from responsibility, because others were to blame. Regarding responsibility, he made it clear that he had sought reassurance that no rule was broken and that he had been given some. He also announced an investigation, which may well allow him to report in the future that “alas” he was misled. The junior heads may well have to roll.
The problem with this, of course, is that the idea that Johnson (the most anti-lockdown and rule-averse member of government) was being kept in the dark about the anti-lockdown parties by dozens of employees fearing his answer is implausible. . Starmer made this point very effectively, with humor and moral force. He even managed to pray to help the queen.
Her Majesty The Queen was seated alone when she marked the passing of the man she had been married to for 73 years. Leadership, sacrifice – this is what gives leaders the moral authority to lead. Does the Prime Minister think he has the moral authority to lead and to ask the British people to play by the rules?
Subsequently, during points of order, a Conservative member complained about this reference to the queen, which is not normally discussed during parliamentary business. The President gave him a brief delay, and the exchange suggests that Starmer has struck a chord.
Johnson made matters worse for himself by accusing Starmer of playing politics with the problem. He would have been better off repeating the apology line six times, but on his third response to Starmer, he seemed tired of apologizing and instead brought up the accusation of “playing politics.” Even at the best of times, this is a weak political line of attack (this only ever impresses ultra-partisans, who will support you anyway) and a day when Johnson appears to be planning a cat slaughter. on a scale so blatant that even his backbenchers noticed (see 11:18 and 12:40), it seemed even less appropriate.