There was never any chance of getting Rishi Sunak to do it. The chancellor had made it clear he wasn’t going to offer anything but the most half-hearted support. Ideally, he wouldn’t be spending any time in the same postcode, let alone the same room, as the prime minister from now on.
But Boris Johnson had been more disappointed in other members of his cabinet. Liz Truss’s phone had gone straight to voicemail. Dominic Raab had called in to say he was exhausted after committing random acts of psychopathic violence to try to offset humiliating himself with a supportive tweet.
Michael Gove had ruled himself out by making himself available to do anything that was required. The last time the Govester had made that kind of offer was when he had been Johnson’s campaign manager for his 2016 leadership bid. And he knew how that had ended. The man couldn’t be trusted not to betray his own shadow.
In the end, there had been only one man left standing. “I need someone with a cunning plan,” Johnson had told Brandon “Baldrick” Lewis, the secretary of state for Northern Ireland. “I am that man,” Lewis had replied. “I have a plan so cunning it will defeat even our most cunning enemies.” Good, then you’ve got the job, Boris had said. So it was that Baldrick came to be sent out to defend the prime minister’s lies on the following morning’s media round.
Baldrick first came unstuck when Sky’s Kay Burley made it clear from the off that she thought she was dealing with a halfwit. Though that might have been to overestimate Lewis’s intellectual faculties, as he couldn’t really explain anything very much. He reckoned that Johnson’s boyfriend apology had covered all the bases and been both heartfelt and insincere.
Why should he say sorry and mean it when he didn’t think he had done anything wrong? Besides it had been commonplace at the time to use Boris Johnson impersonators – it’s amazing what you can do with a clown in a blond toddler wig – for roleplays in No 10 work meetings, so it was possible the real Boris hadn’t even attended the party.
Not that it had been a party, of course. And even if it had been, then the prime minister definitely hadn’t read the email from his principal private secretary about it. We had Johnson’s word for that and what more could you want from a man who has repeatedly lied to wives, friends, parliament and the entire country. That’s what made him such a great leader. Because he wasn’t afraid to take the big decisions on when to lie and when to merely conceal the truth. Bring on the next election and another five years of the Great Dissembler.
Err … hang on, said Burley. Back to the party that Boris was unable to tell was a party even though there were trestle tables with food and drink and various staffers were lying face down in the flower beds by the time he turned up. Still that wasn’t a party, said Baldrick. It was just a cunning plan to make it look like a party. Besides, the trestle tables had really been there for spreadsheets.
Baldrick’s head was still spinning by the time he had moved studios to Radio 4’s Today programme, where Nick Robinson concluded the dismantling that Burley had started. No one was sorrier than Boris, Baldrick said, and instead of being the only person who was in the garden to not recognise that a party was a party, he wished he hadn’t stayed for 25 minutes wondering what work event had been taking place, before conveniently forgetting about the whole thing until details of the party that wasn’t a party had been leaked to the media at the end of last week.
It was the insincerity of the apology that made it so sincere. After all, no one would have believed a sincere apology from The Liar. And he had heroically gone to prime minister’s questions, which he was obliged to do, to explain why he hadn’t really done anything wrong. Something he was sure the inquiry would establish as it was being undertaken by Sue Gray, who just happened to be employed by the prime minister and was therefore far from independent. It was all just a huge misunderstanding that could soon be cleared up. Then everyone would be free to have a massive work event to celebrate.
With that, Baldrick shrivelled up in a ball and went to hide until the next time he had a cunning plan – he was fortunate not to have any self-respect to lose – and the mantle of Operation Save Our Boris, codename Sob Story, was passed to Jacob Rees-Mogg, who was making the weekly business statement in the Commons. On reflection, Johnson might have wished Jakey had said a little less. In his own mind, the leader of the house is a model of good manners and easy charm: in reality he is a 12-year-old entitled brat in an oversized suit whose default setting is to be patronising and offensive. The very model of passive aggression.
After making a point of doubling down on his dismissal of Douglas Ross, the leader of the Scottish Tories in Holyrood, as a lightweight – the reality is that it’s Mogg who is the lightweight – Jakey went on to insult the Welsh. He had done more for the independence movement in five minutes than the Nats had achieved in years. Then Rees-Mogg went still further. It was incumbent on all Tories to support their leader even if he was proved to be a liar and a fraud and Johnson couldn’t be expected to obey the rules as they were far too harsh in the first place. In fact, an intelligent person would have been obliged to break them. That’s what the rest of the country – we little people – who managed to do so were told.
There was just one more thing to do for Boris. Draw a second red line on a family member’s lateral flow test. Now he could hide up in Downing Street where no one could get to him for the next five days. And maybe everyone would have forgotten about his lies by the time he got out. Some hope.