Boris Johnson will never change his tricks, even after he is forced out of Downing Street
The Prime Minister's instinct to lie and bluster his way out of trouble is so deeply ingrained that it will never leave.
Pictures of Boris Johnson with a new tie and haircut this week led to speculation by one senior journalist that it may mean “he has made a New Year's resolution to be less chaotic and erratic in his approach to governing.”
Of course it’s hard to think of a lower bar for a prime minister than getting changed and brushing your hair.
However, any suggestion that the Prime Minister had actually turned over a new leaf was quickly disabused during his first appearance in the House of Commons in 2022, on Wednesday.
Johnson’s attachment to the truth has long been flimsy. However, his performance at this week’s Prime Minister’s, during which he rattled off a series of lies so frequent that it was impossible to track them all in real time, was remarkable even for him.
However, the sheer volume of lies pushed out by Johnson during the session meant that I missed a couple more that I probably should have been included, as well as some other claims which were merely very misleading, rather than completely untrue.
But what was really striking about the session was what it says about the Prime Minister himself.
Rather than being forced by recent events, including the collapse of his own approval ratings and the Conservative Party’s humiliating defeat in North Shropshire, into reforming his behaviour, Johnson instead appears to have simply doubled down on his worst instincts.
Most importantly his instinct to simply lie and bluster his way out of trouble appears to now be so deeply ingrained in the Prime Minister that no amount of political setbacks will ever rob him of it. It is fundamentally who he is and has always been.
That this is the case was confirmed this week with the release of correspondence between Johnson and his so-called independent adviser on ministerial standards Lord Geidt.
The letter reveals how Johnson and Number 10 appears to have deliberately misled Geidt over his attempts to use Conservative donors to pay for the refurbishment of the Downing Street flat.
It confirms that WhatsApp messages between Johnson and the Conservative donor Lord Brownlow, showing how Johnson had personally solicited the donations, were withheld by Johnson and his officials.
Details about the letter were leaked in advance to the Financial Times, containing Johnson’s bizarre claim that the messages were only withheld because they were stored on his old phone.
The weakness of this excuse is so obvious that it could be seen from space. Anyone who has changed phone numbers knows that messages can be easily transferred onto their new device. And even if that feat of technical ingenuity escaped him, Johnson could simply have told Geidt about the exchanges himself. And in any case Geidt’s correspondence reveals that the old phone was later accessed by officials for “another purpose” anyway.
Yet the fact that Johnson still persisted with this most flimsy of excuses, despite it being so obviously untrue, shows again that his instinct to simply lie his way out of trouble will never disappear.
This ingrained dishonesty, just like his ingrained disorganisation, was obvious when he was Mayor of London and it is even more obvious now that he is Prime Minister.
This instinct is so much a part of his personality and politics that it will remain with Johnson, even if it ultimately leads to him being forced out of Downing Street.
The old saying that ‘old dogs cannot learn new tricks’ is not entirely true. Many people do learn from their past mistakes and mature as they get older.
However, everything we have seen over the past two years suggests that Johnson is not one of those people.