And so we bid a none-too-fond farewell to a year of frustration and disappointment for millions across the country. 

Steve Norris

Steve Norris

To be fair, if you were a country house agent life was pretty good. If you’d invested in sheds you’re probably reading this in Barbados. But for most of us, it was a year of disruption and restriction. Everything from shopping to your annual holiday suddenly became a nightmare.

For the occupants of 10 Downing Street, it has been almost universally awful apart from the birth of baby Romy, a sister for Wilfred.

Last January, the polls were moving against Boris Johnson and by December not only was he polling awful numbers in national polls, he was also the worst-performing minister in the entire government in Conservative Home readers’ polls – rating even lower than Priti Patel.

He may have won the Hartlepool by-election, but bad losses in true-blue seats like Chesham and Amersham and North Shropshire have frightened a large number of MPs who can now see their own seats under threat.

My experience of Boris when he was Mayor was that he left others to do the hard work

All of this reflects a growing concern at Westminster that it is Boris himself who is the problem. He handled the Owen Paterson affair appallingly. The saga of who paid for the refurbishment of the Downing Street flat may be much about nothing but it reflects a common view that the prime minister of the United Kingdom is actually a stranger to the truth on far too many occasions.

Politicians are often accused of mendacity of all sorts but seldom if ever have there been so many occasions on which it is evident that it is a regular default position. My personal experience of Boris when he was mayor was that he left others to do the hard work, seldom read the official papers and, like many incredibly clever people, he was actually intellectually quite lazy – always knowing that he could wing any occasion with a quip and a laugh. Being mayor of London, he could just about get away with it. As PM he simply can’t and he is being found out by the most ruthless of judges, his own MPs.

Boris Johnson Christmas 2021

Source: Flickr / Number 10

There are reasons he might not be in quite as much trouble as all this suggests. Firstly, Conservative Home readers are ultra-conservatives, many of whom simply think Boris is too left-wing, happy to hand out untold billions like confetti. They don’t even reflect the average

Tory party member of whom there are around 200,000. A general election can be as far away as late 2024 and a week is a long time in politics.

Handling of Covid

Also some of the irritation over Johnson comes from his handling of the pandemic and in the last couple of weeks that might just have changed. Whereas Drakeford in Wales and Sturgeon in Scotland have locked their countries down in a joyless effort to outdo England, Johnson refused to introduce restrictions.

The result was well-publicised trips across both borders into England by people looking for some fun on New Year’s Eve. The contrast between two old hard lefties and Boris could not have been more stark.

So he may yet survive. But it’s common knowledge that Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 committee of backbenchers already has a number of letters calling for a leadership election, including quite a few from the so-called ‘red-wall’ MPs first elected in 2019. When and if he gets to 54 he will tell the PM that he can either fight or resign.

Mrs Thatcher fought and lost in 1990. To quote her in the same breath as Johnson seems bizarre, but it is evidence of one of the great truths in politics: when Tory MPs reckon they need a change of leader they’re pretty ruthless going about it. Who they choose to replace him will be fascinating and for another day.

Steve Norris is chairman of Soho Estates and Future-Built