This latest scandal, over a deputy whip in Parliament accused of sexual misconduct, is just one in a long, wearyingly similar series of self-inflicted troubles to befall Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government.
And his response to it — his original claim that he had not been aware of any formal complaints against the official, Chris Pincher, followed by a series of painful revelations and finally by the admission that in fact he had known all along — was textbook Johnson.
Mislead, omit, obfuscate, bluster, deny, deflect, attack — the prime minister’s blueprint for dealing with a crisis, his critics say, almost never begins, and rarely ends, with simply telling the truth. Instead, he tends to start with a denial, move through several interim admissions in which his previous falsehoods are recast as honorable efforts at transparency, and then end with a great show of remorse in which he appears to take responsibility for what happened while suggesting that it was not his fault.
Consider how Mr. Johnson weathered the scandal before this one, over boozy parties held at No. 10 Downing Street and other government offices in violation of the strict Covid lockdown rules his government had imposed on the rest of the country. Like a defense lawyer keeping all his options open in court, Mr. Johnson deployed a series of often contradictory statements to explain away “Partygate,” as it was called.
“Those were meetings of people at work,” he said initially, when photos of the first party emerged. “This is where I live, and it’s where I work. Those were meetings of people at work, talking about work.”
When it became clear there had been a second party, in the garden, and that he had in fact attended, Mr. Johnson’s spokesman first said the prime minister had not been told in advance that a gathering would be taking place.
Mr. Johnson himself declared that he had known about the party but had mistakenly thought it was a “work event.” Then, echoing Bill Clinton’s famous “I didn’t inhale” explanation when accused of smoking weed while at Oxford, the prime minister declared that in any event, he had stayed for only 25 minutes.
“Nobody told me that what we were doing was against the rules,” he said. “When I went out into that garden I thought that I was attending a work event.”
After that, evidence of myriad other parties began pouring into the newspapers so thick and fast that it began to seem as if not a day had gone by when the staff at No. 10 was not partying into the night. There was one in which Mr. Johnson was photographed with staff members, draped in tinsel and wearing a Santa hat, and another that turned out to be a birthday party held for him, with a cake.
Mr. Johnson continued to repeat, variously, that he knew nothing about anything, that if he had known he would not have gone, that people had to work and sometimes they did it when wine was present, and that, as far as he knew, no rules were broken.
He ended up paying a fine for breaching Covid regulations, along with his wife and 81 other people, after the police opened an investigation into 12 of the parties.
Mr. Johnson then shifted into full contrition mode and appeared to believe (correctly, as it turned out) that his apology would be enough to get him through the latest rough patch.
After new details emerged of a seven-hour party in Downing Street the night before the funeral for the Duke of Edinburgh — a funeral at which his widow, the Queen, sat by herself because of Covid restrictions — Mr. Johnson said that he was very sorry.
“I deeply and bitterly regret that that happened,” Mr. Johnson told the House of Commons. He added, “I can only renew my apologies both to Her Majesty and to the country for misjudgments that were made, and for which I take full responsibility.”