Johnson's authority and credibility are draining away and more heads might have to roll to save his

At a time when the PM needs to be leading the country through a public health challenge, he is instead lurching from one crisis to another and his MPs' are watching, wondering whether this electoral asset has past his peak.

Johnson's authority and credibility are draining away and more heads might have to roll to save his

Image: The PM is fighting fires on several fronts

Boris Johnson is a politician who seems to live by the motto of ‘don’t explain, don’t apologise’.

That he came to the House of Commons on Wednesday contrite, with an unreserved apology and the promise of an inquiry by the cabinet secretary into the Christmas party in No 10 – which he still maintains didn’t take place despite a leaked video suggesting it did – showed us that the PM is acutely aware of the political danger he’s now in.

Doubling down on denials is no longer an option. At best this whole sorry saga will prove to be a bruising couple of weeks punctuated by the Christmas break; at worst it’s an inflection point in which a politician who was once celebrated and supported by colleagues for having the popular touch is now getting it badly wrong and is becoming a liability not an asset.

He is fighting a number of fires on a number of fronts and the scandal of what’s been really going on in No 10 still has space to blow up badly.

In No 10 staff have gone to ground, shell shocked after an awful 48 hours, which has resulted in one of their colleagues Allegra Stratton appearing on camera, broken and in tears, offering her resignation. Others are now facing an investigation by the cabinet secretary Simon Case.

Police won’t investigate Downing St Christmas party – as PM’s adviser resigns over leaked footage

Their boss, the prime minister, didn’t hesitate on Wednesday in throwing them under the bus, saying he was “furious” about the leaked footage of a mocked-up press conference in which aides joked about a Christmas party, which he and his team insisted for a week hadn’t happened.

Announcing an inquiry into events, the PM said if there was a party – and I have been told by two sources there was – then those involved will face consequences.

So more heads could roll as the PM does what he needs to keep his.

“Buying time because they don’t know what to do,” is how one former No 10 operative described the Case inquiry.

But now it’s underway and his own team is under fire, there are obvious questions about what else might come out – and how damaging it might be for Mr Johnson.

His former adviser Dominic Cummings set hares running on Wednesday when he tweeted that another party was held in the Downing Street flat on evening of November 13 – the night he was sacked. Add that to questions around a third reported party in No 10 on November 27th and the problems just build.

Poll finds most people think lockdown Christmas party at Number 10 happened – despite denial

In parliament the mood is also souring. Some MPs are privately fuming over the Christmas party row, which comes on the heels over the mess No 10 made over the investigation into Conservative MP Owen Patterson’s lobbying.

Mark Harper, the former chief whip, went public on Wednesday night as he complained that “the credibility of those at the very top has been seriously damaged” and said he would not support new Plan B measures.

I’m told the rebellion is building. The mood is febrile and MPs – their inboxes perhaps filling up with angry emails – are now beginning to, openly and unapologetically, defy their leader and their whips.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross told Sky news Mr Johnson should resign if he was found to have misled Parliament about the party. The former Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson accused the prime minister of “taking the public for fools”.

What is Plan B and why is the government introducing restrictions again?

Within the government there is a sense of foreboding. One senior minister told me they were worried about the lack of pitch rolling into the new restrictions – which is unhelpful when it comes to managing the party but also getting the public buy in.

“It was already bumpy with irritation around the party over the party and No 10 missteps and now it’s going to get really bumpy as the PM tries to push through COVID restrictions many simply don’t like.”

And what about the public? Millions have watched the mock-up press conference footage leaked to ITV News.

Like the Dominic Cummings debacle, this has had cut through, and Labour are seeking to capitalise, accusing No 10 of laughing at the public. Less than one in ten people believe the PM when he says there wasn’t a party in No 10, according to a Sky poll released on Wednesday.

And it matters because this about far more than a party, or three, in No 10 last December. It matters because of the public health messaging.

At a time when the prime minister needs people to adhere to another set of restrictions, his authority and credibility are draining away.

There are obvious questions as to whether the public will heed his warnings. And if they don’t there is a real-world knock-on effect that could cause serious difficulties for our hospitals and for our communities early next year.

At a time when the PM needs to be leading the country through a public health challenge, he is instead lurching from one crisis to another and his MPs’ are watching, wondering whether this electoral asset has past his peak and is becoming a liability, with all the implications that brings.

MPs supported Mr Johnson because he is a winner; at the moment, he is losing, badly. The Christmas break can’t come soon enough.

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