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Editorial: The PM's disgrace must prompt a reckoning with the Tories – and a change of direction

BORIS JOHNSON’S shamefaced admission that he was indeed at a May 2020 party in the Downing Street garden will only increase pressure on him to quit.

But the High Court’s ruling that a “VIP lane” for public health contracts that prioritised suppliers “because of who they knew, not what they could deliver” shows the whole government, not just the PM, has treated the public with contempt since the start of the Covid crisis.

The Prime Minister might have adopted a humble tone in the Commons today — offering an apology to all those who were “unable to mourn their relatives” while he partied with flunkies at No 10 — but he has certainly not “come clean.” 

His claim that a drinks session to which 100 people were invited “could be said technically to fall within the guidance” at the height of the first lockdown is ludicrous — this was when people were barred from meeting more than one person outside their own household outdoors. 

Attempts to portray it as a “work meeting” that may have innocently strayed beyond the guidelines are equally feeble — indeed, the injunction to “bring your own booze” indicates that organisers knew the event was dodgy and wanted to keep it off the books.

The Prime Minister is isolated. So feeble are his excuses that Speaker Lindsay Hoyle would not even stick up for the arcane conventions of Westminster debate and rebuke Labour’s Keir Starmer for calling him a liar in the Commons today.

There is no shortage of Tory MPs ready to brief the press that his days are numbered.

Johnson’s personal mendacity and arrogance should provoke a reckoning with an entire kleptocratic elite.

A virus that has bereaved millions and impoverished millions more through the economic fallout of multiple lockdowns has been nothing but a get-rich-quick bonanza for those at the top.

This is a tale of two pandemics. The anguish of ordinary people barred by the rules from the bedsides of dying relatives was held cheap by a political class that, we are learning, broke these rules as a matter of routine.

The cynical exploitation of a health emergency to enrich ministers’ friends and relatives undermined public health — billions were wasted on unusable personal protective equipment, billions more on a non-functioning test-and-trace system.

As We Own It points out, the privatisation of the NHS supply chain means that even decisions on what equipment to order were being taken by for-profit firms, not the health service itself.

As yet there is no sign of an apology for this. Disgraced ex-health secretary Matt Hancock even tries to portray the High Court ruling as a vindication of his procurement strategy.

Labour’s focus on Johnson is understandable. But his resignation on its own will not address the crises facing ordinary people.

His authority is already so weak that the government is rudderless. Deadlock on how to respond to omicron has resulted in a do-nothing approach that sees pressure mount on the NHS while infections soar.

A Chancellor bent on another round of the same “austerity” that left Britain in no position to handle this pandemic is not offering support to help workers forced to isolate or crippled businesses.

Nor does the government have a policy on the energy price rises that will hit working-class households like a ton of bricks later this year, while its refusal to offer real pay rises to public-sector workers at a time of rapid inflation will accelerate the decade-long assault on wages, exacerbate staffing shortages and further undermine our public services, including the NHS.

Johnson’s disgrace must be the moment to push for a new start — a rejection of his discredited pandemic policy and pressure to act on pay and rising prices. Otherwise avenging the Prime Minister’s insult to us all will not heal the injury his party is inflicting on our country.

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