Boris Johnson continues his Roadrunner act as Labour miss the mark over James Dyson texts: Bill Carmichael

Another week, another “scandal”. This week it is the text messages sent between Boris Johnson and inventor Sir James Dyson; last week it was the Greensill lobbying affair involving former Prime Minister David Cameron, and the week before that there were questions over the Prime Minister’s relationship with US businesswoman Jennifer Arcuri.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson removes his mask to enjoy a pint in the beer garden during a visit to The Mount Taven public house and restaurant in Wolverhampton, West Midlands, on the local election campaign trail. Picture: Jacob King/PA Wire

I think that is where we are up to, but to be frank it is getting quite hard to keep track, because these so-called scandals come so thick and fast.

Yet the Prime Minister and his team bowl forward, the brickbats bouncing off them without even leaving a mark, and the voting public seemingly unconcerned about the latest critical headlines.

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There is lots of pearl clutching among the pundits and professional commentators at the Prime Minister’s behaviour, but ordinary folk don’t seem too bothered. Each passing scandal does little but add another percentage point or two to his approval ratings.

It must be incredibly frustrating if you are one of those dreaming of the Prime Minister’s demise. I am reminded of the Looney Tunes cartoon featuring Wile E Coyote trying to trap the Roadrunner using a variety of mail-order contraptions from the Acme Corporation.

In each episode, just as you think the coyote will finally get his dinner, the contraption comically blows up in his face – sometimes literally – and with a cheery “Beep, beep” the Roadrunner races off unharmed to the horizon.

Now Mr Johnson doesn’t quite have the Roadrunner’s figure, but he seems to have the same ability to emerge from each perilous episode almost unscathed.

Why is this? One reason is that the public know Mr Johnson is something of a bounder, and that is already “priced in” to his reputation. Allegations about his sexual conduct may have so-called progressives calling for the smelling salts like some Victorian spinster aunt but most people these days just shrug their shoulders.

Johnson is also enjoying something of a “vaccine bounce” in the polls following the success of the Covid immunisation rollout. He and his team certainly 
deserve our thanks, but I can’t see this bounce lasting long and it may not be an issue at all come the General Election in 2024.

But there is another factor at play here that is helping Johnson no end, and that is many of these “scandals” and not in fact scandalous at all.

Take for example the latest hoo-ha over the Dyson text messages. Labour has gone to town on this one describing the exchanges as “jaw dropping” and an example of “Tory sleaze”.

But I can’t see this one sticking. This happened at the height of the pandemic when there were very real fears that hospitals would be overwhelmed with sick and dying patients. The Department of Health put out an urgent call for companies to make 20,000 ventilators to deal with Covid patients and Sir James offered to help, but he wanted reassurances that if his staff returned to the UK they would not be penalised by the tax system.

Yes, the messages were an unorthodox way of doing government business, and yes, Mr Johnson uses text like a teenage boy, but this was a national emergency with tens of thousands of lives at stake, so perhaps it was reasonable that the normal protocols were not strictly followed.

And the crucial point to remember is that Sir James didn’t make a penny out 
of this. In fact his efforts to help our country cost him a cool £20m in development costs. In short there is absolutely no evidence of any corruption or sleaze.

In the Commons Mr Johnson mounted a robust defence saying: “I make absolutely no apology at all for shifting heaven and earth…to secure ventilators for the people of this country.”

Similarly, in the Greensill affair the crucial point is that Cameron’s lobbying efforts failed to secure any benefit for his employer. It raised some important issues, not least the fact that senior civil servants are moonlighting for private companies. But if a former Prime Minister can’t bend the rules in his favour doesn’t that indicate the system is a pretty robust defence against corruption?

With the Dyson texts Labour seem to think they have finally caught their Roadrunner, but my feeling is that this is another contraption that is likely to backfire on them.

“Beep, beep” as the Prime Minister might say.

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