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Dead Man Walking ... ?

Yeah but not but yeah but .. the short answer is – search me, guv. Some facts, however, are inescapable. Boris Johnson’s premiership is wrecked. And, as our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, he knows as well as anyone it’s not a matter of if but when the daggers will plunge.

It’s starting to read like an Agatha Christie whodunnit. More baffling by the minute, but you always know Poirot will get there in the end.

After all, hardly anyone actually believes Bojo’s ‘no one told me it was a party’ line of defence.

What? Had he left his eyeballs in the office when he popped out into the garden?

The Daily Star’s been having fun mocking (sic) him up as Pinocchio, with an ever so long nose.

It even gave the Labour leader a chance, at Prime Minister’s Questions, to access his inner Marxist. Groucho, that is, not Karl.

The strong-arm tactics allegedly used by whips to force those who want to force anti-Johnson MP’s to lower the ante, look to be turning nastier still.

But it’s worth making two points here.

Whips whipping is not new. One-time top Labour minister Jack Straw recalls, as a newbie, one of these guys grabbing him by the naughty bits.

When he asked what he’d done wrong, the answer came back: ‘Nowt, but think what I’d do if you crossed me.’

Also worth remembering many of the plotters are just as wet behind he ears. Only MP’s for a couple of years, and mostly absent thanks to the pandemic.

Against that, as they only got in thanks to traditional Labour voters from oop north defecting to the Conservatives, they’ve reason to be afraid. Very afraid.

Polling last week from JL Partners, whose founder used to research for Number Ten, suggested the Tories could lose almost all seats in the so-called red wall.

Hence what’s been termed the ‘Pork Pie Putsch’, following a gathering at the office of Alicia Kearns, MP for Rutland and Melton.

Melton is of course the home of that most adored delicacy, Mrs King’s Pork Pies. Food for thought, so to speak, for the boy who wanted to be ‘world king’.

On the other hand, there was a rebel named Lord Mowbray in Shakespeare’s play Henry Four, Part Two.

His response to the monarch’s promise, much like Johnson’s, to be a good boy from now on, was every bit as scornful. ‘It proceeds from policy, not love.’

However, maybe out of inexperience, (pork pie plotters take note), he got taken in by it, and ended up getting his head chopped off.

Further up the greasy pole, there’s a truism in politics. ‘The hand that wields the knife shall never wear the crown.’ Think Brutus, here.

Once Tory leadership contender now old stager David Davis had obviously factored that in when he told Johnson in the chamber ‘in the name of God, go’.

Less than subtly comparing Boris not to the Winston Churchill he so adores, but to Neville Chamberlain, whose legacy hasn’t played so well, was brutal.

So was the defection from Tory to Labour by the Bury South MP Christian Wakeford.

He later explained it was threats from the whips about constituency funding that finally tipped him. But he has got form.

When the sleaze scandal over Owen Paterson blew up in Johnson’s face, he it was who called the now former MP, to his face, the rudest word in the book.

Far too rude for this column. Suffice it to say it rhymes with ‘front’.

But as, a mark of the not very nice mood in Tory ranks these days, Wakeford’s been called in his turn ‘prick’, ‘snake in the grass’ and ‘w***er’.

Whatevs, what happens next largely depends on what Whitehall’s new super-sleuth Sue Gray says in her report.

She’s looking into some sixteen gatherings that seem to have taken place in defiance of Coronavirus restrictions in force at the time.

The most notorious of which was the one attended, on his own admission, by Johnson himself. The one he said he didn’t realise was a party.

Of course nibbles and bottles laid out everywhere can easily be mistaken for computer screens and sheaves of paper. Er …

A Prime Minister knowingly misleading parliament has to fall on his sword. That’s the rules.

So had he actually been told in advance there were concerns about this event going ahead? If so why didn’t he get it pulled? Or at very least swerve it?

Ms Gray’s got some tricky calls to make. Basically deciding whether to extend her brief as Sleazebuster-In-Chief to Lord High Executioner.

She was tough enough during a civil service career break to run a pub in Northern Ireland’s so-called ‘bandit country’. But her killer instinct?

According to one former government aide: ‘She makes Robespierre look like a choirboy.’

But another said: ‘Her nickname is Sue Gray area because everything she does is so murky.’

Meantime, sitting in what looks to many like the condemned cell, Johnson’s been scrabbling around for juicy populist treats to fill the troops’ bellies.

Naval gunboats in the channel? Shipping migrants halfway round the world for processing? Bashing the BBC? That’ll be ‘operation red meat’ then.

Except that few seem impressed. Calling it instead ‘operation dead meat’.

But spare a thought for the guy. At any other time he could have framed his ditching of almost all Covid restrictions as vindication of his pandemic policies.

Arguably, he can anyway. Problem being it’s been a bit of a week for burying, ahem, good news.

Behind that, however, is loads of unmistakeably not at all good news, for any of us.

Inflation’s just climbed to its highest level for thirty years, squeezing everyone trying to buy anything, and wiping out pretty much any wage rise anyone’s got.

Then there’s the new energy price cap, which could drive bills for millions up by fifty per cent.

Oh, and let’s not forget the looming National Insurance tax hike. That even worried Cabinet ministers, but is going ahead anyway.

The way things are heading, it’s little wonder Labour’s surging ahead in the polls. And proof as near as dammit positive, that Johnson’s days are numbered.

As Hamlet opined about the special providence of the fall of a sparrow: ‘If it be not now, yet it will come: the readiness is all.’

Part of that readying process could be the expected March budget.

Assuming Johnson somehow manages to limp on till then, and Chancellor Rishi Sunak hasn’t slipped into his slot, he’ll have a jolly difficult day.

Coffers are sorely depleted post pandemic. Meaning whatever he does is likely to make him look a lot less dishy.

Maybe he’ll try and lead the voters by the nose with tasty titbits, same as rescuers determined to lure a dog in danger back to safety last week.

A terrified Jack Russell named Milly was spotted on treacherously squidgy marshland near Portsmouth, but volunteers in kayaks couldn’t get to her.

However, a drone pilot had the brilliant idea of dangling a sausage on the end of a rope in front of her nose, and thus luring her back to dry land.

Hooray! Happy pet! Happy owner!

But sausages don’t cost billions. And some voters might be even cannier than dogs. A moot point, mind.

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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