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All this will blend into one, in the end. It always does. Boris Johnson’s meaningless apologies already feel like Theresa May’s meaningful votes. They were important at the time, apparently. Now you’d struggle to remember which was which and what was the point of any of them.
For a prime minister to pre-empt Prime Minister’s Questions by having to apologise for his own behaviour before a question has even been asked is a vanishing rarity. That Johnson has now done it twice in as many months is precisely because on the first occasion he was lying. And he was lying on this occasion too, so it is close to a certainty that a third occasion will be along shortly.
Johnson’s contrition act was a one-star performance the first time around. It is unlikely the nation will be happy to have had to go and see the show again, not least as this one was even less convincing than the last.
Last time around, we were expected to believe that the prime minister was completely unaware of drunken parties that had been happening in 10 Downing Street, where he also lives, one of which had gone on beyond midnight. This time around we were expected to believe that he had gone to a party, at which food and drink had been laid out, to which an invitation containing the phrase “bring your own booze” had been sent, he stayed there for 25 minutes and had then left, not knowing he had been at a party.
Actually, that is not quite true. We are not expected to believe it, because he knows that nobody possibly can believe it. This particular lie was artfully crafted. He went to the party but didn’t know it was a party, and it was in his own garden. These are lies carefully chosen, words meticulously deployed to weave through the legal obstacles before him. They are a technically legal way forward.
It’s not important to listen to or remember a word that Johnson says. None of it is true. Over the past months, as revelation after revelation has come out, and the public have become ever more stunned and angered by them, it’s important to remember the only person to have been surprised by none of it is Johnson himself.
He has always known what happened, and always known what he did. If an inquiry into parties at Downing Street is likely to find he has broken the law and must resign, he is far too practised in the art of evasion to ever have commissioned it in the first place.
“His defence that he didn’t realise he was at a party is so ridiculous that it’s actually offensive to the British public,” Keir Starmer told him. And he knows what the rest of us know – that it’s true. And he knows an apology to the British people can’t possibly count for anything when it is underpinned by the requirement of those people to believe what are quite possibly the most preposterous lies ever told in British political history.
These sorts of affairs tend to percolate down to the same choice, between dishonesty and incompetence, and both are as bad as the other. It is not always fair, but it’s not always unfair either.
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Johnson will not resign. In the short term, his fate will be decided by his party, and they will not be asking themselves the same question the rest of the country is asking – namely, is this person fit to lead? – because they knew the answer to that was “no” two and half years ago, and it didn’t stop them then.
But it won’t be altogether long before they’ve got to walk up driveways, knock on doors, and find something to say to the people whom they, by proxy, expect to be stupid enough either to believe that the most powerful man in the country can go to an illegal party in his garden and not know it’s a party. Or alternatively, that the most powerful man in the country is lacking in the vanishingly small amount of leadership skills required to prevent an illegal party from happening in his own garden.
There is no answer to either, not least as the truth is almost certainly both. And on that basis, don’t be surprised if the third apology is the final one. That one, of course, will be the one that actually has consequences for Johnson himself, so it might even sound sincere.