Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Sue Gray’s report into alleged lockdown breaches in Downing Street is due to be published later today, with most references to the eight events being investigated by the Metropolitan Police removed.
An escape for Boris Johnson, thanks to the Metropolitan Police? Not really: it’s an escape for Boris Johnson thanks to the Conservative Party. The most important story from Sue Gray’s report is one that we all already know: that the Cabinet Office’s investigation into whether there were lockdown breaches in Downing Street uncovered sufficiently serious evidence that it had to report it to the police.
Back when I was selling books, if we had cornered a shoplifter, checked the CCTV and decided we needed to call the police, we wouldn’t have felt it necessary to have an all-staff viewing party or to wait for the magistrate to report back in order to bar the shoplifter in future. Similarly, most Conservative MPs know that the moment at which they could have brought about a change of leadership has already passed.
The most important shift in the last few weeks hasn’t been that large numbers of constituents have stopped emailing MPs (though there is now less pressure on MPs’ inboxes) or that Downing Street’s parliamentary operation is better organised (though it is, albeit from a very low base). It’s that Conservative MPs have doubts about the other leadership options on display: they aren’t convinced their preferred candidate could get past the party membership, or they worry that Rishi Sunak isn’t the finished article yet, or they think Liz Truss is too ideological to win an election.
It’s that uncertainty about who will replace the Prime Minister, more than anything Sue Gray might or might not say, that protects Boris Johnson – for now, at least.