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A wait off his mind ...

Timing is everything. After a week of fevered speculation that Boris Johnson might be blown sky-high at any moment by the Whitehall investigation into law-breaking parties at Number Ten, it’s now looking likely the really bad bits will be held back for weeks. And, as our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, the relief at the top is palpable.

‘This suspense is terrible. I hope it will last.’

That sentiment, expressed jokingly in Oscar Wilde’s funniest play, is almost certainly shared by the Prime Minister. Earnestly, manner of speaking.

At the same time dozens of Tory MP’s, readied for regicide when the full report comes out, must have in mind the Grand Old Duke of York.

Marched up to the top of the hill, only to be marched down again.

Cabinet sleazebuster Sue Gray, widely regarded as deadlier than the average male, has been looking into whether Johnson knew laws were being flouted.

There’s been a wave of condemnation of an apparent culture of top people’s boozy bashes, in total disregard of orders they themselves were issuing.

But the conspirators poised to strike have been holding back until they can see the smoking gun for themselves.

This did seem imminent. Now it doesn’t.

The spanner in the works is the parallel police probe into alleged cases of ‘serious and flagrant’ rule breaking.

Late-night high-jinks at Number Ten, the night before the Queen cut a lonely figure at Prince Philip’s funeral, must surely fit into that category.

This investigation could well take at least a month, and until it’s over the Met wants Ms Gray to steer clear of topics like that.

Some say it’s a conspiracy. Other call it corruption. Just as likely it’s just a good old-fashioned cockup.

But during the interim tempers at Westminster may well cool. Voter rage might also dissipate. Not like there’s nothing else to think about.

Which is why the delay is such a potential lifeline for the currently embattled Boris Johnson.

Apart from anything else, it gives him more time to get going with his own fightback.

It’s making headway already, as his loyal consiglieres seek to cajole, bully or bribe waverers back into line.

Ministers will also do their damndest to change the subject. Midweek sees publication of a government paper on helping people oop north.

Still, the situation remains immensely volatile. A week in politics used to be regarded as a long time. Now a couple of hours could do the trick.

And any reader who stumbles on this column after the seismic shift that could yet take place is advised to read no further, and go and feed the cat.

Some semblance of government is nonetheless still carrying on, with its better or worse impact on the nation.

Take the planned hike in National Insurance that’s likely to lead to higher prices in the shops, as bosses as well as workers have to pay it.

This will feed into what’s billed the cost of living crisis, when taken in tandem with rising inflation, potentially costlier mortgages and soaring energy bills.

Interestingly, new figures show government coffers have been less fleeced by the pandemic than expected.

Borrowing is actually thirteen billion pounds lower than forecast – exactly the same amount to be raised by the planned increase.

Ditch it then, say many top Tories. At the time of writing, ministers were insisting it was set in stone. Then again, these days almost anything goes.

After all, they had promised not to raise taxes at all. So if they do change their minds they’re only sticking with what they said in the first place.

There’s also a hint of uncertainty about the upcoming deadline for huge numbers of frontline health and care workers to get the jab or lose their jobs.

That too was set in stone, until the Health Secretary admitted a few days ago he’s ‘reflecting’ on the implications, at a time of high demand, of losing staff.

Some of them might reflect, however, on news just in from the UK Health Security Agency.

Within a fortnight of getting the booster, figures show, protection from death from the Omicron variant is ninety-five per cent. Worth having, surely?

Also nice to know limits on visitors to folk in care homes are being scrapped altogether this week. A blessed relief to many.

Fingers crossed the post-Omicron and even more catching subvariant, titled BA.2, doesn’t diss that little lot.

We can but hope also that Russian tanks don’t roll into Ukraine in defiance of formidable defences on the ground, and a massive international outcry.

No one knows how far Putin’s prepared to push it. Or whether he’s already shored up against sanctions by siphoning loads of dodgy loot into England.

Our Yankee allies have expressed ‘dismay and frustration’ at the way we Brits seem to have turned a blind eye to that little scam for years.

The good folk in Ukraine itself, meanwhile, have had no choice but to mirror Johnson’s strategy over partygate.

Plan for the worst, while hoping for the best.

But even if the doesn’t quite hit the fan, Johnson’s got a job on his hands restoring any semblance of public trust.

Last week’s YouGov poll for The Times gave Labour a clear lead for the eighth time in a row. Six points ahead.

And, devil as ever in the detail, scarcely over half of those who backed Boris last time round say they’re prepared to give him another chance.

So much for the guy who’s always traded as a chancer. Though he’s not alone there.

Remember his old Svengali, now worst-ever enemy, the bloke with the appalling taste in hats?

That’s the one, Dominic ‘Barnard Castle’ Cummings. Who managed to find the place in spite of apparently not being sure about his eyesight at the time.

Not all bad news, mind.

English Heritage, which manages the site, is happy to report visitor footfall was up twenty per cent last year.

Covid restrictions, which other people at least have tended to stick by, have made for more staycations than normal.

There can be little doubt, though, Cummings’ conduct unbecoming did help put the pile on the map.

But if voters who like chancers, but don’t think Boris is quite the ticket, might want to plump instead for a certain octogenarian in Nottinghamshire.

This splendidly unscared gent confessed to police, when pulled over in his Mini, that this wasn’t the first time he’d been driving without licence or insurance.

In fact, he’d been at it since he first got behind the wheel just over seventy years ago. He was twelve at the time.

Yes, that’s right. Twelve.

It’s one of those stories you expect to read on April Fools’ Day. But multiple sources confirm it really is true.

Also, maybe worth bearing in mind, the man’s luck did finally run out.

Food for thought for the Prime Minister. To supplement the birthday cake.

Peter Spencer has 40 years experience as a Political Correspondent in Westminster, working with London Broadcasting and Sky News. For more of his fascinating musings on the turbulent political landscape, follow him on Facebook & Twitter.


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