DAILY MAIL COMMENT: If voters think it’s one rule for them and another for Boris Johnson, that’s the fastest route to the calamity of Keir Starmer in Downing Street
Let’s be clear: the Daily Mail is a steadfast supporter of the Conservative Party, its aims and its values.
Yes, there are times when we do not entirely see eye to eye.
Like any true friend, we are not unthinkingly loyal. We have never been afraid to hold a Tory prime minister’s feet to the fire on behalf of our readers.
But this newspaper passionately believes that Conservativism is — and has been — the greatest force for good in this country’s political history.
So we have absolutely no qualms about backing Boris Johnson in his ambition to build a better Britain.
It’s true, of course, that controversy — and chaos — seem to follow him like iron filings are drawn to a magnet. And while he’s never been short of vision, his attention to detail can sometimes be sorely lacking.
But the Mail continues to believe that with his intellect, energy, optimism and charisma, he is the right man to lead the nation.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has pushed the button on Plan B coronavirus curbs amid fears that Omicron could be causing 1,000 hospital admissions a day by the end of the year
Voters of all persuasions warm to him despite his flaws and shortcomings. As he has proven many times, he is a winner.
Glance around the Cabinet table and no one else comes close to his stature, or his ability to inspire ordinary people, from Blyth to Barnstaple.
In his short time in power he has achieved great things. He banished the horror of Jeremy Corbyn, delivered Brexit and a world-leading Covid vaccination programme.
And his brave decision to ditch all restrictions in July — despite the scaremongers warning it would spell disaster — was a masterstroke.
Sir Keir Starmer, by contrast, is an unremitting dud. He has nothing remotely useful or incisive to say about the major issues of our time — particularly on the pandemic.
So how dispiriting that Boris has handed Labour’s leader such a gaping open goal.
Today, the Government not only stands accused of dishonesty, but — worse — of taking the public for fools.
Last December, as infections soared and socialising was banned, No 10 was the venue for a lockdown-busting Christmas party, with staff enjoying alcohol, games and exchanging ‘Secret Santa’ gifts.
A leaked recording from Downing Street showed staff laughing about a party allegedly held at Number 10 amid lockdown restrictions last Christmas
Despite Downing Street flatly denying it ever happened, a damning video emerged on Tuesday of officials joking and giggling about the event.
Mr Johnson insists he had no idea about the shenanigans. But is that really plausible?
He has ordered a Cabinet Office investigation to get to the bottom of this imbroglio, which must not be a whitewash.
He insists he is ‘furious’.
Perhaps you are, Prime Minister. But nowhere near as furious as the millions who made immense and painful sacrifices to protect the nation’s health — only to have their public-spiritedness thrown back in their faces.
While we endured the most wretched Christmas in living memory, his staff appear to have been whooping it up.
While too many families suffered the heartbreak of being cruelly barred from visiting ill or dying loved ones, they were clinking glasses at a boozy bash. It is indefensible.
Of course, part of Boris’s appeal has been his status as an outsider, for whom the normal political rules don’t apply.
But some rules cannot be flouted. When the Government lays down gruelling edicts for the whole population to follow, those in authority are duty-bound to treat them as sacrosanct.
Let’s not be wide-eyed. In reality, lots of families breached the restrictions to a greater or lesser extent over the festive season.
However, Downing Street must set an example by holding itself to a higher standard than everyone else.
If Mr Johnson had taken action when the party allegations surfaced a week ago, they may have been dismissed as a year-old storm in a teacup.
Instead, the vacillation, dissembling and denial of the past seven days turned it into a raging hurricane of recrimination.
Stratton gave a statement to reporters from her doorstep in North London on Wednesday, announcing she was handing her resignation to the Prime Minister
Such a casual attitude to propriety plays perfectly into Labour’s most damaging charge against his administration: that there is one rule for Boris’s chums — and one for the rest of us.
Another recent example was his shambolic attempt to get Owen Paterson off the hook in the ‘cash for lobbying’ scandal.
If the PM hadn’t blatantly tried to tear up standards rules, the Tories might be in a better position to avoid a bloody nose at next week’s by-election in Mr Paterson’s former constituency of North Shropshire.
Enough is enough. Boris must, finally, get a grip on the No 10 operation because these scandals are occurring far too frequently.
Questions of competence matter. And at a time of rising uncertainty, the public is entitled to ask if his team is up to the job.
We need the reassurance of capable government. The challenges ahead are myriad: fixing the social care scandal, tackling the Channel migrants, maintaining law and order and levelling up the left-behind regions among many others.
Mr Johnson should also be trumpeting his successes: the extra jobs at Nissan in Sunderland (in spite of Remainer doom-mongering), huge inward investment for the green revolution and — crucially — the freeports which can help make Brexit a triumph.
And, of course, Boris must stay clear-eyed and proportionate about Covid. A year ago, the first Briton had a coronavirus vaccination as part of the mass rollout.
The jabs, we were told, were the keys to get out of this nightmare. Yet yesterday, the PM forlornly announced more liberty-limiting restrictions.
So much for the promise that our road to normality would be irreversible!
Instead, Britons must work from home, use vaccine passports for nightclubs and football matches, and wear face masks in more places.
Mr Johnson is clearly spooked by a surge in the Omicron variant. And scientists from Sage — insulated in their academic bubble from the harsh realities of life — are clamouring for the population to be placed once more under house arrest.
But while more transmissible, there is scant evidence the new strain is deadlier — and an encouraging amount to suggest it is not.
Boris Johnson (centre), Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty (left) and Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance (right) as the Government introduced further Covid measures
Yet the toll of extra restrictions will be punishing. The respected Institute for Economic Affairs says Plan B will cost the economy £4 billion a month — sending it into another tailspin just as it recovers.
More carnage for business, more bankruptcies and job losses, more homelessness and debt, more cancelled operations and more mental health problems.
Is this really a price worth paying to protect against a variant from which not a single person has yet died?
Some (including, tellingly, his own MPs) suspect Mr Johnson has brought in curbs to bury the bad news of No 10’s Christmas party. If correct, he’s playing politics with people’s lives.
And won’t people ignore the rules if they take the view that ministers and officials so shamelessly break them?
Mr Johnson’s moral authority and credibility have been badly harmed by this unedifying episode.
To govern effectively, and not see a slump in the polls, he needs to claw them back — and quickly.
That means making Downing Street dynamic, rather than shambolic. To paraphrase Boris, less Bertie Woosterism, and more boosterism.
The truth is, if voters believe it’s one rule for them and another for Boris, that is the fastest way to end up with the calamity of Sir Keir as Prime Minister.
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