Wednesday 20 April 2022

Timing the Non-Apology

Befuddlement is everywhere in politics right now. No one can explain why Vladimir Putin decided to invade Ukraine, when the application of common sense would have told him it was destined to be a costly mess. No one knows why the Tories haven't given Boris Johnson the heave ho, with some political science explainerers putting it down to "magical thinking" (in fact, entirely realist concerns are in play). And to the miasma of mystery we can add another: why has Johnson apologised for his first rule breach when more are to come?

This was the centrepiece of yesterday's performances in the Commons, and Keir Starmer went in on it heavily for Prime Minister's Questions. Johnson affected his humble tone and wore his sorrowful face, only to discard both at last night's meeting of Tory MPs where, without the cameras watching, he bounced around in his usual ebullient way blaming everyone but himself for breaking the Covid rules he decided and implemented. The arrogance of someone who didn't think their behaviour in front of his lackeys wouldn't get widely reported and picked up by the Leader of the Opposition. But it's what one might expect from a Prime Minister who has led a consequence-free life and stands every chance of keeping his job. Still, apart from the loyalists who are incontinently noisy about their support, most Tories are waiting to see how the local elections go (which, fortunately for Johnson, don't hold much scope for huge Labour advances into their local government fiefdoms). After that there's the outcome of the Wakefield by-election to look forward to, but that depends on whenever Imran Ahmed Khan makes good on his promise to resign. Their mood is changeable if events don't go Johnson's way, and so the vulnerability remains.

This still begs the question: why apologise now with more fines, revelations, Sue Gray's report, and perhaps photos to come? To try and kill it as a story. The Johnson line, which on the face of it does not sound unreasonable, is that he was at work and was effectively ambushed by a cake. It was those pesky little people in Number 10 who got the Prime Minister into hot water - an account supported by the same fine issued to Rishi Sunak, who just happened to be passing. It was an accident for which he should not be punished beyond the fixed penalty notice. By repeating this story, this is what Johnson's handlers want mentioned in every broadcast defence to the point that enough of the public look on, conclude it wasn't his fault, and move on. With this lodged in the popular imagination and hoping for story fatigue, when the next round of fines are imposed the hope is the public won't care, won't be motivated enough to scrutinise Johnson's behaviour - which involved instigating a leaving do and, apparently, partying with guests in the Downing Street flat. And so Keir Starmer and the rest will look like clowns trying to capitalise on a relative non-issue while Johnson gets down to the serious business of palling around with Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

The timing matters for the gambit Johnson thinks will best suit his chances of survival. And, given the ways things are, he's calculated this move with a good chance of success.

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Anonymous said...

"No one can explain why Vladimir Putin decided to invade Ukraine"?
No one?
Scott Ritter?

Anonymous said...

See also Jacques Baud

Anonymous said...

And this:

Anonymous said...