We used to call it the TD at school. And it was a terribly effective strategy: total denial. No matter what evidence they have on you, even if caught red-handed, just TD it.
A teacher saw you coming out of The Crown. He wasn’t even on the other side of the street, but right there in front of you as you walked out of the pub. He reported it to your house master, who called you through into his study. Just TD it. Give no ground. “But Mr O’Hanrahan saw you as broad as day,” he says. Look them in the eye and say with total assurance: “Nope, sorry, it wasn’t me.” If you can find some way to believe in your own words, so much the better.
Forget our post-truth era. Boorish public schoolboys have been at this for generations. The school authorities didn’t quite know what to do with the TD. And nor does the former Director of Public Prosecutions, for that matter.
On the matter of Downing Street Christmas parties, Boris is doing a classic TD. It’s my party and I’ll lie if I want to. Everyone knows what he is up to. But there is always just a little anxiety when you say something like the word “lie”, especially in print. Can you soften it a bit, comes many an editor’s cautious reply? Just say it a little differently. That’s why the TD is so effective. It bludgeons people into submission.
This situation is not complicated. Christmas parties were not allowed. They were illegal and people were fined for holding them — yet they clearly had one at Number Ten. It makes no difference if the social distancing rules were kept. The Prime Minister has now ordered an inquiry into the matter, which is very strange. Who needs to have a high-level inquiry into whether a party took place in your own house?
It’s not just that he broke the rules; he broke the rules that he himself had made. One rule for them, another rule for everyone else. On the very same day that Boris’s mates were knocking back the mulled wine, there were people out in the country who were being denied the opportunity of holding the hand of a dying relative because they were keeping the rules. One day, this will bring him down. Like at Belshazzar’s feast, the writing is on the wall. Mene, mene, tekel, upharshin.
The leaked footage of Allegra Stratton, the then Press Secretary to the Prime Minister, chuckling to herself at the ridiculousness of trying to defend the patently indefensible was the final straw. You could see the TD being formulated in real time. “Err, err, what’s the answer?” she asks around at fellow aides, looking completely stumped. “I don’t know,” says one. “It wasn’t a party, it was a cheese and wine,” says another. But the TD only works when it is rock solid. This TD is now broken, exposed, busted. It’s one thing for a 16-year-old schoolboy to do it. It’s quite another for the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
It’s often the things we like about our politicians that bring them down. Tony Blair’s belief that he could do anything was hugely attractive, right up until the point when he invaded Iraq, his can-do attitude slipping over into a monstrous kind of hubris. With Boris, many of us warmed to the merrie England Cavalier. We were all in on the joke. And those who weren’t were Puritan kill-joys, the grim faced ranks of Labour moralists, always shouty-angry, always wagging their fingers. Who’d want to party with them anyway? That’s the perpetual problem of the Left: a preference for morality over joy.
Still, it’s totally fitting that Boris will be brought down by a party. I will always be grateful to him for pushing Brexit though. And there was much to appreciate in parts of his Covid response, particularly the fast roll-out of the vaccine. Credit where it is due. But the party is over. Even your own supporters don’t believe you, Boris. You can hear it in the voice of every Conservative wheeled out to defend you. When the TD crumbles, everyone around is left exposed. You have taken us all for fools. It’s time to go.
Boris’s apology for his Press Secretary’s behaviour only highlighted his leadership failure. In the world of our Prime Minister, it’s always the fault of someone else, someone junior. And so, surprise, surprise, Allegra Stratton has been thrown under the bus. How long can Boris expect to rely upon colleagues if he treats them like this? And how long will they keep on trying to defend him in public when their efforts are so transparently risible to everyone else?
The Conservative Party needs new leadership, because things are only going to get worse as trust continues to decompose. And the next election is only getting closer. Many in the party believe that Boris is a proven election winner and that it would be madness to come over all January 1649 right now and, as it were, do the Puritans job for them. But the leader of the Cavillers has now been found out and swift action is necessary.
The Tory Party has a ruthless genius for re-invention. Now is the time to cut out the lies and find some honourable new leadership. Boris has served his purpose. So it should act soon to get ahead of a downward curve. Sell, sell, sell. Certainly, it will be more lucrative to do so now than in a year or so.
At Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday, Keir Starmer was right to remind us of that photograph of the Queen sitting alone at the end of a pew at her husband’s funeral in Windsor. That is what leadership looks like: to share in the situation of the people that you seek to lead.
That, by the way, is the reason for the incarnation, for Christmas. God shares in the human condition — however hard, whatever the suffering. That is what a Christmas party should be celebrating. The Queen gives us servant-hearted leadership. But for Boris, leadership is entitlement. It’s time for him to go.