Boris Johnson can’t (or won’t) discipline – POLITICO

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LONDON — Even after being accused of sexual assault on a drunken night out, it’s hard to get in trouble with Boris Johnson.

Despite grim allegations groped against senior MP Chris Pincher after a boozy night out at a private club in Westminster, the Prime Minister has spent nearly 24 hours fighting to keep his ally in the Conservative Party.

Pincher left his powerful post as Deputy Chief Whip – second-in-command of the team tasked, somewhat ironically, with keeping Tory MPs in line – but there was a full day of pressure before Johnson bowed to the inevitable and suspended party membership of Pincher, pending investigation.

This lack of decisive action came as no surprise at Westminster, where Johnson’s reluctance to brandish the knife at offending colleagues is legendary.

Those who know him say he likes to protect his allies; is fed up with confrontation; and— crucially —has little qualm about the standards himself.

“We are supposed to be the party of law and order and the party that protects the victims, but now we seem to be the party that encourages the predators,” complained a Tory backbench MP. « The protection you enjoy as a minister now is far more than that of any other Briton. »

Examples of Johnson’s leniency date back almost to the day he entered No 10. The Prime Minister refused to sack Home Secretary Priti Patel after it was discovered she had bullied civil servants; tried to keep Health Secretary Matt Hancock in Cabinet after breaking COVID rules by carrying out an extramarital affair in his government office; and didn’t flinch when Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick was found guilty of breaking the law when he approved a Tory donor’s bid to build a lucrative housing estate.

In one memorable instance, Johnson fought to keep his then political adviser, Dominic Cummings, after an infamous lockdown escapade at a medieval castle to test – he claimed – whether his vision was good enough to conduct.

On this occasion – like most others – Johnson’s loyalty has caused him enormous political damage, for little obvious gain. Cummings left under a cloud eight months later.

Conduct vs Comrades

Johnson’s allies insist the Prime Minister was reluctant to jettison Pincher because he wanted due process to be followed, and argue that people should be innocent until proven guilty.

« Often we hear that Boris Johnson will throw anyone under a bus to advance his own career or save his own skin, » said a Cabinet minister. « But when there are people in trouble and a proper process needs to be followed, he doesn’t rush to judge. »

The same person added, « You can’t have a puppet court and give sanctions or punishments to people before the facts are known. »

It doesn’t help the Prime Minister, however, that allegations about Pincher have been circulating in Westminster for some time. The MP was investigated over another assault allegation in 2017, although he was cleared.

When Pincher was offered the job of Deputy Chief Whip earlier this year, Cabinet Secretary Steven Barclay raised concerns about more recent allegations against him and triggered an ethics committee review. government, delaying the appointment for several hours. But since the allegations could not be substantiated, the panel gave the green light to the nomination.

Some have compared the Pincher case with the case of Tory MP Neil Parish, who was quickly stripped of his whip and then resigned as an MP after admitting to watching pornography in the House of Commons.

Pincher was an arch-loyalist, having been heavily involved in a shadow support operation that kept Johnson in place as he struggled to keep his job after the Partygate scandal. Parish, on the other hand, was not a Johnsonian.

“The message we are sending here is that we will protect [serious transgressors] if they are loyal, but if you inadvertently watch a bit of porn and you’re not loyal, you’re gone,” one MP said.

A former cabinet minister has suggested that what might look like Johnson’s loyalty is actually something much more sordid. « It’s the transactional basis on which it runs everything, » they said. « It is to establish a mafia, or a coterie, or a tribe whose main purpose is to share the spoils. »

Self-preservation mechanism

Some Johnson critics see the Pincher incident not as an act of loyalty, but as the prime minister seeking protection from attack.

“He doesn’t do loyalty; it’s not him,” said Sonia Purnell, Johnson’s biographer and former colleague. « He doesn’t believe in the rules that apply to him, so it’s extremely difficult, if not impossible, to enforce them against a close colleague. »

The feeling that Johnson is a rule breaker has followed him throughout his career. He has repeatedly felt the wrath of standards watchdogs, for example over Conservative donations to renovate his apartment; a gifted retreat on a private Caribbean island; and on lockdown parties, for which he was slapped with a police fine.

His approach to the standards of public life earned him a reputation for running a rogue administration. “There is more tight control of the fire alarm system at No 10 than there is of anything else,” a government official said.

Johnson also has a reputation for avoiding confrontation, which may explain his insistence on sticking with the bad guys.

He is famous for his inability to say « no » to people. On one occasion in 2008, he promised to fire a member of his team who was causing trouble, only for the staff member to walk out of the meeting with a new job title and higher salary, according to a civil servant who worked in his office at the time. .

« He likes to weigh in everywhere but he doesn’t like people who stand up to him, » said the former minister quoted above. « Look at his Cabinet for shit sake. He hasn’t named anyone who might be a challenge to him.

Purnell, the biographer, agreed. « He really doesn’t like confrontation, » she said. « He prefers to dodge, or dodge or dodge or weave. » The explanation, she said, was simple. « If you confront someone, there’s always the possibility that they’ll come back to you with something stronger, so they’d rather avoid that altogether, » she said.

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