Clive Bull 1am - 4am
LBC Views: The PM and Partygate - What a difference a few hours makes
12 April 2022, 16:06
Over the last few months I have been very critical of the Prime Minister and his government, not least over their handling of the Ukrainian refugees, the approach to helping the worst off with the cost of living crisis and then gay conversion therapy.
No one ever remembers when I am critical; they only remember when I say something positive about Boris Johnson or his government. This hasn’t happened very often recently.
It is perfectly possible to be both critical and praise him and his government depending what the issue is.
I haven’t been a Conservative party member for nearly 12 years. I still identify as being on the centre right, but in the last 12 years I have voted six different ways in various elections – Conservative, Green, UKIP, LibDem, Brexit Party and Independent. I am a fiscal conservative but a social liberal. If the German FDP existed here, I’d probably vote for it.
Yesterday I delivered a monologue on LBC praising Boris Johnson for going to Ukraine and for his general policy towards the war. I genuinely believe he has led from the front and made all the right decisions regarding military aid and support for President Zelenskyy.
I said on air that a few weeks ago I had said I wanted a prime minister I could be proud of. Yesterday, I said that by visiting Kyiv and being far more supportive than any European country I felt I could be proud of my prime minister. On that issue.
Well, the Twitter wrath of Hades descended upon me, and my Twitter feed has been unreadable ever since. It didn’t help that I called a caller an idiot for what he was saying about the trip. Well, he was an idiot. This morning I was trending on Twitter.
A few hours is a long time in politics and just after 2pm this afternoon we learned that both Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak are going to receive fixed penalty notices and fines of £50.
Yesterday, I was proud of my prime minister. Today, that same prime minister has been found guilty of breaking the law. At this stage, we don’t know which party he is fined for attending, but does it matter? Well, in one sense, yes.
His defence in the House of Commons was that he was assured that all the events were within the rules, and he had received assurances to that effect.
So the question that must be answered is this: Can he prove that he didn’t wilfully and knowingly mislead MPs? If he can’t prove that, he would have to resign under the rules of the Ministerial Code, which he himself has approved. But given Priti Patel was allowed to keep her job, when she was found to have broken the very same code, you start to wonder if Boris Johnson thinks he can brazen it out.
To be found guilty of breaking the law and the Ministerial Code… well, it doesn’t get much more serious than that. Do we doubt that if a junior minister had been found to have done the same, they wouldn’t be out on their ear before you could say “I like ice in my Pimms”?
But, but, but… There is a school of thought - and I will admit that it is one that has swirled around my mind for a long time – that says that you can’t possibly get rid of Prime Minister for having a drink, even if he is fined by means of a Fixed Penalty Notice. So, the argument goes, he wouldn’t have to resign if he got a Fixed Penalty Notice for a speeding offence, so why should he over this?
In the end, we need the full details before we all decide which side of the fence to fall down on. We need to know which event he attended, which led to the fine, to work out categorically if the Ministerial Code was broken. We also need to see the full Sue Gray report, which surely must now be published in the next 48 hours. Of course Labour, LibDem and SNP politicians have rushed to call for Johnson’s immediate resignation. Well, they would, wouldn’t they. It’s what opposition politicians are programmed to do. I don’t’ blame them for that.
And if you are one of the people calling in to Shelagh Fogarty’s show, as I type this, whose mother died while you were obeying the rules, then I understand why you would also conclude that the game ought to be up for the Prime Minister.
Yesterday I said I was proud of the Prime Minister. Today I have no hesitation in saying that by being fined for breaking the law, and probably the Ministerial Code too, he has brought shame on himself and his office.
But should he resign? Or should he be forced out by his colleagues? Boris Johnson is in some ways a lucky politician who no matter how deep in the shit he is, he always somehow gets himself out of it. But sometimes luck runs out. He is lucky Parliament is not in session at the moment, but next week it will be. At the moment, I don’t detect that the party will move against him. The publication of the Sue Gray report may change that.
One more point. What happens if Rishi Sunak falls on his sword and Boris Johnson fights on? Uncharted territory.
If Boris Johnson resigns the one person with the biggest smile on his face will be Vladimir Putin. The person with the biggest hangdog look would be Volodymr Zelenskyy. Expect Downing Street to launch that as their main defence in the next few days.
As you can probably tell by now, I find this a very difficult call to make, and frankly I’m not ready to do it. I want to know the details of the fine (or possibly fines) and I want to read the whole Sue Gray report.
But in the end, the fact remains that he has broken the law.