Only Boris Johnson could get away with a scandal as damning as this – and that’s precisely the problem

Sean O'Grady

At virtually any other peacetime moment in our island story, juicy revelations about the prime minister and a showgirl, including what appear to be unusual financial arrangements, would be the talk of the town.

You can imagine, I think, what might have happened had the allegations about Boris Johnson’s relationship with the former model and businesswoman Jennifer Acuri had, instead, been about Tony Blair during the full pomp of new Labour. Or the happily married David Cameron? Or, admittedly less likely, Gordon Brown, the sort of chap who has probably thinks a pole dancer is Donald Tusk on a night out.

The fact – I believe it is so – that Arcuri had such a pole as a prominent fixture in her Shoreditch flat, which Johnson used to visit during his time as Mayor of London, puts the imagination into a bit of a spin – that she might have performed exotic dance routines for his personal pleasure. I rather think that a sexist assumption. Why might it not be the case that the Mayor of London himself wasn’t grinding and gyrating, Alan Partridge-style, clad in a leather posing pouch, Pringle sweater traffic cones for a bra? Heaven knows, he might even have deployed a “backstop” in his act.

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More to the point, because what a grown man gets up to in his posing pouch is a matter between him and his conscience, is the money – taxpayers’ money, my money, your money. For what we have here, in fact, is some fairly serious allegations about some £126,000 of public money that Arcuri was granted during her association with Johnson. Arcuri has been quoted by the Sunday Times saying: "Any grants received by my companies and any trade mission I joined were purely in respect of my role as a legitimate businesswoman".

A few thoughts occur. From what else we know about Johnson’s adventurous private life, there might be more stories such as this scattered around his rich backstory as, variously, editor of The Spectator magazine, where his biographers say he used to sometimes absent himself during the afternoons, just like he did at City Hall; as an MP; as foreign secretary and even, just conceivably, during what little down time he now has as leader of the Conservative and Unionist party and prime minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I am sure he still finds time for lunch engagements, say, or, as we saw with that unfortunate business down in Camberwell, evenings with a glass or two of red wine and convivial female company.

It is, though, a scandal, and one that is the subject of two enquiries. I cannot say I expect much to emerge from the Department of Culture Media and Sport under the presidency of the intensely pragmatic Nicky Morgan. I am though, much more hopeful about the current mayor of London Sadiq Khan, who has made the allegations the subject of an intensive study. Again from first principles, I would have thought that Johnson’s record as Mayor London from 2008-2016 (surely not so long ago that paperwork, emails and eye witness accounts can’t be found) are still available for the inquisitively-minded mayor Khan.

I suppose it depends on what mayor Johnson got up to and who knew and what records are extant. Some will be personal. Apparently Arcuri kept Mr Johnson’s text conversations with her (some extensive) filed under his (odd) codename “The Commodore” on her mobile phone. You don't think he liked to dress up as a sailor, do you?

You shudder to envisage what those texts might contain, yet they could constitute relevant evidence in any future probing. Arcuri’s personal life and business affairs, with companies such as the satirically named Hacker House, would normally remain private, but not when questions are being asked by the public authorities about the use and application of public funds.

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Could, for example, this Facebook posting by Arcuri in 2013 refer to Johnson, describing how she was “celebrating a special night tonight with one of my favourite men of all time…Although he won’t ‘let’ me name him, I am pretty sure those few know how happy I am to celebrate with him. Yay!”

Yay indeed, but what else is there? Enough to warrant his resignation? Yay!

I thought that Jeremy Corbyn had a point when he told Andrew Marr off for not raising the issue of the prime minister and the pole dancer during his interview, or during Marr’s interview with the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab. Marr’s only defence, which is a substantial one, is that there are even weightier matters around that crowd into his scarce time – imminent no deal, the disintegration of the Labour party, the climate change emergency summit in New York, the collapse of Thomas Cook…that sort of thing. The secondary defence is that Raab would just have said he didn’t know anything about it.

Yet, as I say, just imagine if it was Blair or, comedic potential side, Corbyn who’d been caught up with Arcuri, or some left wing equivalent? The media would have wet themselves over it. Corbyn is right to query an “alleged abuse of power” and Johnson should quit if the claims are substantiated, notwithstanding Brexit. I’m sure Her Majesty would be pleased to receive his seals of office. One day we may know just how mucky a pup we now have as prime minister. We should be told sooner rather than later.

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