Why Boris Johnson’s behaviour matters more than the polls suggest - NationalWorld comment

As a new poll reports that the public remain indifferent to the Tory sleaze scandal, here’s why it remains vital that the prime minister is held to the standards expected of his office

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his partner Carrie Symonds stand outside the door of number 10 Downing Street (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)

The most commonly used phrase in the Westminster bubble this week was “cut-through”.

It was the question on the lips of every lobby journalist, columnist and podcast host: yes, this is all bad news for Boris Johnson, but does it have cut-through?

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Do the public care if the prime minister initially used cash from a Tory party donor to renovate the Downing Street flat where he lives with fiancée Carrie Symonds? Will they be shocked by the “John Lewis nightmare” comment that reeked of out-of-touch elitism?

The answer, according to a new poll, is no.

A YouGov poll on Westminster voting intention put the Tories on 44%, unchanged from April 21-22, before the sleaze scandal engulfed Downing Street.

Despite everything that’s happened over the last seven days, Labour was down a point on 33%.

Mr Johnson’s Teflon-like shield against scandal has become a prevailing theme of his rise to power, a cliché even.

Now some commentators are even suggesting that his disregard for protocol is the secret of his success.

Speaking on Sky News, Guto Harri, Mr Johnson’s former Director of External Affairs when he was Mayor of London, argued that it’s this part of his character, his willingness to not be so “preoccupied with process and procedure” which is the secret to his success, with projects like Brexit and the vaccine rollout.

That’s one way of looking at it. And the latest poll suggests that the public care little for what might seem on the surface like highly-politicised, he-said-she-said rows.

But the other perspective is that the core values we used to demand in political leaders - integrity, transparency, honesty - are just dusty principles that put the brakes on radical governance.

In his own foreword to the latest edition of the Ministerial Code published last year, Boris Johnson himself wrote: “To fulfil this mission [Brexit], and win back the trust of the British people, we must uphold the very highest standards of propriety.”

The lesson of Donald Trump and the siege of the Capitol in the US is that it can be a very slippery slope when we start to lose sight of our most basic principles.

The PM will have been given a boost by this latest poll. He will now believe he’s untouchable, no matter what the Electoral Commission probe uncovers.

The question of how he conducts himself now, in the wake of this scandal, could come to define British politics – even if the matter of the flat refurbishment will be remembered more for Carrie Symond’s denigration of a much-loved high street brand, than for the very real issue of sleaze.

Mr Johnson’s initial reaction of “nothing to see here” does not inspire confidence.

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