Taking responsibility after the event is no substitute for showing the leadership that prevents abuse in the first place
So today it came as no surprise that the culture minister was his most vocal defender on the airwaves. But Dorries supported her further and harder than any of her peers.
After Boris Johnson’s apology to the House of Commons over the “bring your own boze” party, the first Cabinet Secretary to back him was Nadine Dorries.
Asked if anyone in her Bedfordshire Parliament seat had expressed their anger at the Prime Minister, she said: “I have spoken to voters and they have done nothing but their support for the Prime Minister, their support for the introduction of the vaccine and to express their support for the fact that their businesses have stalled…that’s what people in my constituency tell me…his record has been exemplary.”
To top it off, Dorries said clearly in disbelief Sky news Moderator: “I have not spoken to a single voter who is angry.”
With opinion polls showing clear public anger at the revelations, Dorries’ defense risked turning her into the Johnson administration’s comical Ali (the nickname of Saddam Hussein’s Information Secretary, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, who famously said, as a US tank rolling in sight of his live press conference in Baghdad: “We besieged them and killed most of them”).
Hours earlier in the House of Commons, however, public anger looked quite real when Tory backbencher Peter Bone revealed his constituency office had been vandalized. The word “liar” was scrawled across the window in huge letters. “Obviously it was related to Boris,” Bone said, adding similar “TORY SLEAZE” graffiti was daubed on his office last year.
Anger was certainly evident in the Chamber as ministers tried to pretend that a huge political bombshell had not gone off the day before.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, another presidential palace defender, doubled almost as much as Dorries, stating that the Covid rules are “very difficult for people to follow” and even suggesting that the public inquiry should consider “whether all these regulations were proportionate, or whether it was too hard on the people”.
As Health Secretary Sajid Javid tried to focus on day-to-day work, MP after MP rose to imply Garden Party No. 10 meant Johnson could no longer lead the national effort against the virus – because all of him enacted regulations or decrees would lack authority.
Rather ominously, Jeremy Hunt – a possible contender for the leadership – has been as critical as ever of the NHS’ staff shortage, which poses a political threat to the Tories in the next election. Where was the plan to clear waiting lists, the plan to increase the number of doctors and nurses? Equally revealing in terms of leadership was the photo of Rishi Sunak (who tweeted five hours after Dorrie’s lukewarm support for the PM). looked very much like a man who didn’t want to be seen.
But for Tory MPs pondering how to engage with their constituents this weekend, perhaps the most worrying development came when No 10 refused to deny that Johnson essentially undermined his own apology within minutes of it being made had.
The Prime Minister reportedly told MPs in the Commons Tea Room that the “bring your own boze” party was not his fault (the invitation was not sent to him) and that he “takes the blame for others” (i.e. officials and special advisers ). . In other words, he showed real leadership by acknowledging the mistakes of those who reported to him.
This bold statement is reminiscent of Johnson’s most notorious apology for his early parliamentary career: when he had to apologize in person to the people of Liverpool in 2004 after his spectator The magazine accused her of “wallowing” in a “victim role” and falsely blamed “drunk fans” for the Hillsborough tragedy.
The then Henley MP made a slightly absurd attempt at remorse over the editorial, despite not actually writing it himself, after being urged by Tory leader Michael Howard to make amends.
Colleague Simon Heffer later admitted that he had written the offending article, adding that Johnson had refused to call Howard to admit responsibility (“he said he was the editor of the magazine and it was his duty to take care of it). with the matter”).
In the end, Johnson apologized for falsely claiming Hillsborough and for offending the people of Liverpool, but he specifically refused to dismiss the idea that modern Britain had become too ‘mawkish’.
He joked that the only way he could take back this criticism was through a “prefrontal lobotomy.” “I’m a squeezed lemon on this subject,” he told reporters at the time.
The problem is that while Johnson may claim he acted with honor in taking the blame for others’ mistakes, both the Liverpool ‘apology’ and the Partygate ‘apology’ showed he took responsibility after the event took over instead of showing leadership beforehand.
His failure to question whether the drinks party would be appropriate was similar to his failure to question whether the spectator article (which he had asked to write) was not only offensive but also factually incorrect. The Prime Minister spoke of “hindsight” yesterday, but his lack of foresight is the real flaw.
As Caroline Slocock, Margaret Thatcher’s former private secretary, points out, the bigger problem is the culture set by the boss. This suggests that the only way to change the culture is to change the leader. That could take days, months or years, but the idea of Johnson serving 10 years as PM is no longer believed by most Conservative MPs. Except maybe for Nadine Dorries.