“I was made aware of multiple instances of disrespect and mistreatment by security and cleaning staff. This was unacceptable,” Gray wrote.
Gray wrote that “the senior leadership at the center” of the Johnson administration “must take responsibility” for a culture that allowed the parties to take place.
Despite the gory details of people vomiting on the walls, brawling in the corridors of Downing Street and, in many cases, evidence that those inside the building knew what they were doing was wrong, the Johnson’s job is not in immediate jeopardy.
With the next general election not due until 2024 and Johnson currently sitting with a large majority in Parliament, only his own Tory MPs could sack the PM, which in reality any potential rebel has neither the numbers nor the power. to do.
That sense that they’re stuck with Johnson, whose personal approval ratings have plummeted since the scandal began last year, is frightening conservatives. They fear Johnson has done irreversible damage to his own image in the eyes of most voters, who have finally seen “what he really looks like”, as one senior Tory official put it. The only thing left is that his reputation is now tarnishing the rest of the party – something that, according to opinion polls and recent election results, has already begun.
“Since taking office, his larger than life personality has dominated the political agenda, which is a good thing when the public sees you as funny and affable,” said a Tory MP and former Cabinet minister . “The problem now is that the country has learned more about what that personality really is, but it’s still so huge that it overshadows everything else.”
A current government minister told CNN ‘there is no doubt his image has gone from careless Brexiteer to liar who broke the law’.
Many conservatives who spoke to CNN agreed that the damage to Johnson’s image is particularly severe for a man who has been in the public eye for so long and with such an established set of strengths and weaknesses.
“We all have this friend that we know is probably doing bad things, but we don’t see them doing these things, so we can pretend it’s not that bad,” said Rob Ford, a politics professor at the University of Manchester.
“When we see the evidence that they’re really bad, it’s not surprising but still heartbreaking. That’s what happens with people who have continued to support Johnson. Their worst suspicions are being confirmed. .”
Speaking in Parliament moments after the report was published, Johnson said he was ‘humbled’ and had ‘learned my lesson’, adding: ‘I take full responsibility for everything that happened. came under my supervision”.
But he also repeated previous claims that the parties only escalated after he left, and insisted he was “surprised and disappointed” that several drink-fueled events took place – despite those which took place in the same building as his own office and apartment.
And he suggested the cramped quarters of government buildings and the “extremely long hours” of his staff responding to the Covid-19 crisis could explain why several parties and social events have occurred.
“I briefly attended these gatherings to thank them for their service, which I believe is one of the essential duties of leadership,” Johnson said.
As trivial as it may sound, Johnson has long nurtured the image of Britain’s problematic companion. He had previously been fired from one job for doing an estimate and another for allegedly having an affair. He stretched the truth beyond recognition in the Brexit referendum. He comes across as indelicate and shameless. Which is fine, until the public stops forgiving you.
“He always knew how to escape the clichés once applied to conservative leaders that he was elitist and disconnected. In a way, he avoided caricature,” says Salma Shah, a former adviser to conservative governments.
“Inevitably, more scrutiny is a given now that he’s in the highest office in the land,” she said. “What will hurt with the Partygate report, however, is that it really challenges Boris’ brand as a popular jovial character and makes that cliché applicable to him.”
In the medium term, the Tories fear they have two more years left with Johnson in office. “He’s become more divisive over time. I hope he reaches out to try and at least unite the party, but I’m afraid his instinct is to dig in and lash out if things continue. to go against him,” said a backbencher.
Others pointed to Johnson’s prime minister’s earlier difficult times when he sent allies to defend him on the news channels, only to backtrack on government policy and leave them ridiculous.
“Those who will still defend him against Partygate, in increasingly ridiculous circumstances, will over time be affected by the stain he has poured on the Conservative Party,” Ford said.
“If the polls can be trusted, most voters are now convinced that Johnson’s Downing Street is a place to vomit and spill wine, and then be rude to cleaners forced to put everything away, is considered acceptable behavior. No MP wants to be tied to this,” Ford adds.
Earlier MPs said they would wait for the Gray report before deciding whether to take action against Johnson. Now some say they will wait for an investigation to determine whether or not Johnson lied to parliament.
The government minister who spoke to CNN said he believes the real moment of truth will come in two special elections to be held on June 23. “We could lose those two elections to very different opposition, which I think most of us would take as a damning assessment of the party under Johnson. At that point, some of us will start thinking about our own seats, I guess.
In the long run, party members will want a postmortem on how Johnson came to power in the first place, given his flaws were widely known in Westminster.
Several current and former advisers who have worked with Johnson in various positions, inside and outside government, describe him as a man who has a short fuse and rarely truly believes he has done anything wrong.
Almost everyone who has ever worked for Johnson and spoken to CNN has described at least one occasion when he criticized his junior staff for putting him in a position where he was open to criticism from the media or his political opposition.
A former staffer attributes this to Johnson’s obsession with being liked. “It’s no big surprise that he was a media figure before,” they say.
“When you’re a columnist, you can just say whatever you want to make people think you’re funny. When you run a country and what you do really affects people, you can’t expect them to like everything. what you’re doing,” the former staffer said. adds.
Observations that Johnson’s personality is a box of contradictions are not new. He wrote columns that appealed to the conservative right while playing the role of liberal mayor of London. And for a long time, playing both sides worked.
And indeed, Partygate could mark the end of Johnson’s plate-spinning act. He could stay in power a little longer; he might even fight for — and win — re-election.
But few believe he can play the role of a serious statesman during a global pandemic while presiding over a culture where your staff throws illegal parties, vomits in government offices and is then rude. towards the people who mop it up — and stay universally popular while doing it.