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24 May 2022

Why didn’t Boris Johnson fear another partygate photos leak?

You hardly need to be Garry Kasparov to calculate that, when you throw people under the bus, there is a chance they will want revenge.

By Jonn Elledge

Who is leaking these pictures? That’s the question I keep coming back to. Here we are, just days after a Metropolitan Police investigation apparently exonerated the Prime Minister, and suddenly they appear on ITV News. In the foreground is a table, covered in half-empty wine bottles and open packets of biscuits; behind it stands Boris Johnson, smirking, his glass up-raised.

The only concession to the pandemic then raging, the only slight dampener on the mood, is the tub of hand wipes. Other than that, it’s an image so familiar to anybody who has ever gone to a slightly depressing work do that I can almost taste the unsettlingly room-temperature wine. However disappointing it looks, though, it is very, very clearly a party.

Those close to No 10 were briefing last night (23 May) that the timing is the work of a disgruntled former staffer. This thesis was given a veneer of plausibility by the fact that the disgruntled former staffer Dominic Cummings has been literally going round predicting that images would emerge showing that the PM “obviously lied to the Commons and possibly to the cops”.

There is, however, another candidate, or rather a group of candidates: plenty of current staff are no doubt feeling pretty disgruntled too right now, after receiving fines for attending the exact same events the Prime Minister did. By definition, these guys were in the room, and had phones, and now they’ve been punished and he hasn’t. Motive and opportunity.

The possibility of damning photographic evidence appearing should have been obvious as soon as this whole thing started. As early as this January – when partygate already felt like it had been dragging on forever, even though, in retrospect, it had barely started – someone close to the Prime Minister was going around briefing nervous MPs that the plan was to pin all the blame on his junior staff so that he would get away scot-free. That plan was named “Operation Save Big Dog”: a notion even more nauseating than the thought of lukewarm white wine.

You hardly need to be Garry Kasparov to calculate that, when you throw people under the bus, there is at least some chance they will want their revenge. You don’t even need to be Dominic Cummings: just the vaguest understanding of human nature should do it. Yet either this possibility never occurred to Boris Johnson, or he didn’t believe it would matter if they did.

Two explanations leap to mind. One, which I have often thought, is that Johnson doesn’t entirely understand that other people exist in quite the same way he does. The rest of us are all just the mob – a backdrop against which the grandeur of his ambition is to play out. This is, in the most charitable interpretation, what reading too much Cicero at a formative age can do to you.

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The other explanation for why Boris Johnson doesn’t think about consequences is that he’s never previously experienced them.

[See also: How dangerous are the partygate photos for Boris Johnson?]

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