Boris Johnson’s Partygate remorse lasts all of 30 seconds

·6 min read
<span>Photograph: Jessica Taylor/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Jessica Taylor/AFP/Getty Images

Well, there we had it. It had been heavily briefed that Boris Johnson would be the model of remorse for his statement to the Commons on the Sue Gray report. But that Boris lasted barely 30 seconds and what we got thereafter was the classic narcissist’s non-apology. A tawdry torrent of self-pity. A man more sinned against than sinner. A good man cast adrift in a world he barely understood.

The Convict began by saying he was grateful to Gray. I bet he was. There was little doubt she had pulled her punches. She was a career civil servant, after all, who had spent a lifetime covering up other people’s messes. Yes, there were some telling details in her report – the wine stains, the puke, the brawling, the dodging out of sight of CCTV cameras at 4am, the altered invitations – all of which suggested that everyone knew they were acting against the law. But there was no smoking gun. Or not one that could flush out a prime minister devoid of shame.

“I don’t say this to absolve myself,” Johnson said repeatedly. Except he did. And time and again he found himself worthy of total absolution. The fixed-penalty notice he had received? That was for something that was never a party. But he accepted his martyrdom. Not. He would go to his grave believing he had done nothing wrong. Not least because as the police hadn’t busted him for any further crimes, then he couldn’t have committed any.

Nor did people understand quite how large No 10 was, so it was impossible to keep tabs on everyone. Which was weird because other prime ministers have complained how small the building is. And he had just been showing good leadership by turning up to the illegal leaving parties. It had never occurred to him that some of the parties might go on for hours. The Convict had always wondered why there was so much noise and the cleaners were complaining about having to clear up so many empties.

Johnson ended by saying the bad old days were over. The entire senior management team had changed – it hadn’t occurred to him that he might be in any way responsible for the chaos and law-breaking in No 10 – and from now on he was going to be extra nice to the little people. He might even speak to them.

“We are humbled,” he said with a dismissive, regal wave of his arm. Except he wasn’t at all. You need empathy and a state of grace to feel humbled. He didn’t even feel humiliated. Which any normal person would have been.

There was no hint of repentance or sincere apology. Just delusional ramblings. A man far more dangerous than a serial liar. An amoral sociopath capable of believing any falsehood to be true if it fits his solipsistic worldview. Nothing will shake his belief that he never lied to parliament or anyone else. The truth is just a matter of perception.

Keir Starmer tried to prise open the gaping cracks in the Convict’s logic. That’s how the light gets in. The report was a monument to hubris. Even though it appeared to have been heavily edited in parts, it still had enough in it for any reasonable person to expect the prime minister to go.

Did Johnson never wonder why everyone was permanently pissed and it was impossible to find anyone doing any real work after 4pm? How come he never looked at tables weighed down with booze and wondered what the fuck was going on? And the idea of the government’s ethics adviser bringing her own karaoke machine into work was straight out of The Thick of It.

By now, though, the Convict could no longer maintain even the facade of giving a shit. He tugged at his toddler haircut and smirked. Couldn’t Starmer just let go of his “sanctimonious obsession”? He was fed up with everyone droning on about party this and party that. No one was going to take him down. Top of the world, Ma. And Sue – Johnson lapsed into using just the first person – had investigated the party in the Downing Street flat exhaustively. As in not at all. Labour clearly believed she had been nobbled. But Johnson just wanted everyone to move on. To a place where no one could eat or pay their fuel bills.

The Tory response was muted. There were a few of the usual quarterwits – step forward Peter Bone, Michael Fabricant and Craig Mackinlay – to say the prime minister was a paragon of virtue and that no one could expect anyone to have obeyed the rules as they were all so complicated – but only Tobias Ellwood called out the Convict as a liar who was destroying the image of the Tory party.

“We will lose the next election,” he said, as several of his own side heckled him. They are as truth-averse as their leader. The rest of the Tory backbenchers made their excuses and left. Anything to escape the scene of the crime. Within 40 minutes of the statement starting, the benches were less than a quarter full. Though the stony-faced cabinet had to stay and take their punishment beating. The question is what happens next. Do the Tories feel lucky enough to put their letters in to the 1922 Committee? Or do they stick with the man who will drag them ever further into the dirt?

A couple of hours later, the Convict was giving a press conference in Downing Street. If anything, he was now even more deconstructed. Just phoning it in and openly laughing in journalists’ faces as he brazenly made no attempt to answer their questions. As if he believed he had got away scot-free on a technicality. His answer to allegations of lying to parliament and the country was yet more lies. It was somehow a fitting symmetry. He can’t help himself.

The closest he got to coming unstuck was when the Guardian’s Jessica Elgot asked him if he was not bothered that his press officers had openly lied to the media about parties they themselves had been at. It was like this. His media team were like him. They genuinely believed their own lies. The vomit in their waste bins was work vomit.

“My job is to serve the country,” Johnson said. In which case, why doesn’t he do us all a favour and bugger off. “I’ve got to love you and leave you.” Something he’s said to every wife and lover. He looked at his watch. Past four. Past wine o’clock. Time for a drink. There was going to be one hell of a party in the Downing Street flat tonight.

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