Things fall apart. It had been intended as the comeback day. The day when Big Dog finally stopped barricading himself in his Downing Street kennel and came out to prove there was life in the confidence trickster yet. That, by sheer force of personality and the odd gag, Boris Johnson could make the Tory party – and possibly even the country – fall back in love with him.
And yet right from the start of his TV interview with Sky’s Beth Rigby at Finchley Memorial hospital in London, it was clear the prime minister was running on empty. All passion spent.
Things fall apart. This was Johnson as we’ve rarely seen him. Not contrite, exactly: he still doesn’t really seem to believe he’s the cause of his own fall from grace. But certainly Hang Dog rather than Big Dog. Someone who can tell the game is up. Someone who has run out of last chances and has no more lies to tell. None that will be believed, anyway. A beaten man no longer in control of his own destiny who is waiting on a miracle to save him.
Things fall apart. Rigby went straight to the heart of the matter. Dominic Cummings says you are lying and that you were explicitly warned the party should not go ahead. This account has been confirmed by a second source. So, have you lied? she asked the prime minister. For once Johnson was wearing a mask inside a hospital, but even so there was no sign of the usual telltale smirk. His eyes were the giveaway, as they invariably are. Puffy, almost closed, the pupils bloodshot pinpricks. Eyes that had stared into his soul and been surprised and alarmed to find that he had one. Albeit a primordial work in progress.
Things fall apart. “I’m sorry for my misjudgments,” he said, before hastily correcting himself to speak in the passive tense. He was sorry for the misjudgments that had been made. That was better. His safe place, where he was not responsible for his own actions. Nobody had told him he was doing anything against the rules. When he had gone out to join the party – not that it was a party – he had thought he was attending a work event.
Things fall apart. This was either gaslighting of the highest order – after all, he had made the rules and told the country to obey them at frequent press conferences, so you would have thought he knew what they were – or we were witnessing the partial implosion of the Johnson psyche. Someone so detached from a painful reality he could no longer take any responsibility for himself and could only relate to himself in the third person. A separate entity.
Things fall apart. What followed was a police interrogation as, slowly and forensically, Rigby destroyed every alibi. Was Johnson saying that Dom was a liar? Boris didn’t dare do that. All he could do was repeat his assertion that no one had told him that the social event had been against the rules. Presumably because no one really thought they needed to spell it out that plainly, as they imagined the reasons for not having a party were blindingly obvious.
Things fall apart. Was Dominic Lawson a liar? He, too, had said he knew someone who had warned Johnson not to go ahead with the party. “Um, er,” said Big Dog.
“All I can do is humbly apologise for what happened.” And repeat that no one told him it was a bad idea. Then no one had bothered to tell him to put on his shoes or wipe his bum that morning. Every time he said it, pulling nervously on his toddler haircut, he sounded a bit more feeble. A bit more pathetic. You could almost sense his grip on power growing looser by the minute.
Things fall apart. Rigby picked up the pace. Should Sue Gray interview Cummings? Should Cummings give testimony under oath? Would he resign if he was found to have misled parliament? How ashamed was he at having to apologise to the Queen? What did he think of the ministerial code? Presumably not very much, given he hadn’t sacked Priti Patel when she was found to have broken it. Big Dog sighed sadly. How was it that everyone found it ludicrous that he could go into the garden, see trestle tables laden with food and booze and 40 people getting a bit pissed and imagine he was at a work seminar? Who hadn’t done that?
Things fall apart. “Will you still be prime minister beyond the end of this year?” asked Rigby. Johnson stared into eternity. He thought of how Dominic Raab had admitted the party had actually been a party to Sky’s Kay Burley earlier that morning. And had then gone out of his way to distance himself from it by saying he definitely hadn’t been invited and wouldn’t have gone anyway. Thanks for nothing, Dom.
Things fall apart. Big Dog thought of how junior defence minister James Heappey had been laughed out of the Commons by all parties during an urgent question on bringing in the navy to control migrants in the Channel. The halfwit had been stupid enough to confess he hadn’t a clue what the plan was. Operation Red Meat was dead on arrival. He thought of how that snake Rishi Sunak had yet again refused to offer him any support. Next year? He’d be lucky to make it through to the end of the week at this rate.