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Boris is still the “least bad option” for the Tories

Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss. Leon Neal/Getty, Wiktor Szymanowicz/NurPhoto

The Downing Street party scandal started with reports of a few small “gatherings” and a glass of wine or two, says Sean O’Grady in The Independent. Now it seems that over lockdown governing was basically “a non-stop, booze-fuelled, funkadelic, superspreading knees-up”. This included two parties on the eve of Prince Philip’s socially distanced funeral, for which No 10 has had to apologise directly to Buckingham Palace. Depressingly, the current spin is that the May 2020 party Johnson attended is unlikely to be judged as illegal by Sue Gray, the civil servant investigating. No matter: the public have long since made up their mind that Johnson is sleazy, selfish and entitled. “Regime change” might not be far away.

Many Tories “swallowed their doubts” about picking Johnson as leader because they believed “that he, and only he, would get Brexit done”, says James Forsyth in The Times. Now that’s no longer an issue, he cannot defy “political gravity” as he has in the past. Most Tory MPs have a solely “transactional” relationship with the PM, so they’ll jump ship when he becomes too much of an electoral liability. The “crucial thing” for Johnson is to avoid a vote of no confidence, which is triggered if 54 Tory MPs formally request it. “He would be unlikely to survive one.”

But the Conservatives won’t oust Boris until they’ve lined up a suitable successor, says Fraser Nelson in The Daily Telegraph, and the two main candidates have been found wanting. Rishi Sunak’s silence after the PM’s apology on Wednesday fits with criticism that the Chancellor lacks the “killer instinct” of a true leader. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, who has “raw blonde ambition”, is dismissed by some “as an Instagram poseur who has never had to deliver the free-market vision that she dangles”. And neither they nor other contenders, like Michael Gove and Jeremy Hunt, could plausibly replicate the big “Brexity umbrella” under which Johnson united so many different types of voters in 2019. We’ll find out how the public really feel about all this at the local elections in May. Until then, he could be the Tories’ “least bad option”.