“I get it and I will fix it” was the prime minister’s response to Sue Gray’s damning report asserting “failures of leadership and judgement” over the antics of No 10 and the PM himself in what we now refer to as Partygate. The question, of course, is whether that is enough.

Steve Norris

Steve Norris

Boris Johnson is good at apologies – let’s face it, he’s had plenty of practice. The issue now is whether it will satisfy his MPs and in the process save his premiership, and the immediate reaction was not helpful for him.

Like Trump, Johnson’s regular indiscretions are baked into his persona. Most people couldn’t care less about who paid for his wallpaper or his affair with a pole dancer or how many children he’s sired. Let he without sin cast the first stone.

But all that changed as the stories of the No 10 parties emerged, because they touched a very raw nerve. A mother who could not comfort her dying child, sons who weren’t able to hold a dying parent’s hand and, yes, people who were caught and fined for what they saw as harmless human interaction were all furious that Johnson appeared to believe that there really was one law for him and one law for the rest of us.

Boris is an occasional good laugh but incapable of running  a whelk stall

That touches a raw nerve in this country. MPs are still getting hundreds of emails from furious voters turning their backs very firmly on Johnson and the party he leads. How can we buy the idea that the prime minister didn’t know the rules that he himself had signed off and announced with great solemnity?

To put it bluntly, Johnson has gone from the great election winner of 2019 to the party’s real problem. In 1990, I witnessed the removal of a massively successful and globally respected leader who had led the party since 1975 and been PM for 11 years.

It happened because she who had been such an asset winning three elections was by then a liability. Two years later, Thatcher’s successor John Major won an election the party was widely predicted to lose. That surely is the position now.

Boris Johnson

Source: Shutterstock/ Alexandros Michailidis

Liability: Boris Johnson is now far from the election winner he was in 2019

Boris’s few supporters point to his reputation as a winner of that 80-seat majority in 2019. I have always personally thought the credit for that should go to Jeremy Corbyn, who decent Labour voters despised, and to Keir Starmer who told Labour Leave voters in the north that they were ill-educated and almost certainly racist.

The vox pops in the new Tory Red Wall seats immediately afterwards hardly mentioned Boris. It was all about how Labour had ignored them, taken them for granted and insulted them in equal measure.

Only a matter of time

But even if Boris did help the Conservatives win in 2019, the real question is whether he can win in 2024. My view is that if he does survive Partygate, it will only be a matter of time before he will do or fail to do something that will only reinforce Labour’s claim that the UK government is corrupt, lying and incompetent.

As anyone who has worked with him knows, Boris is an occasional good laugh but temperamentally incapable of running a whelk stall. The current crop of Tory MPs is perhaps too inexperienced to do what clearly has to be done, but if they fail to grasp the nettle now, any Tory with a majority of less than 10,000 is in deep trouble come 2024.

If I were still in parliament, my letter would have been in Sir Graham Brady’s hands for several months already. Once Brady has 54 letters, there will be an election for leader. MPs will select the top two. My vote would go to Jeremy Hunt, but there are others who are perfectly competent.

What every Tory should remember is that unless Boris goes, the likelihood of them retaining their seats in 2024 looks pretty slim.

Steve Norris is chairman of Soho Estates and Future-Built