Houdini, the Teflon Taoiseach and the Polytetrafluoroethylene Prime Minister…

So following an apparent pyrrhic victory in the party confidence ballot and notwithstanding the damning conclusions of the long-awaited “FINDINGS OF SECOND PERMANENT SECRETARY’S INVESTIGATION INTO ALLEGED GATHERINGS ON GOVERNMENT PREMISES DURING COVID RESTRICTIONS” (better known as the Sue Gray report) Boris Johnson lives to fight another day.

Partygate is simply the most serious in a long line of scandals which have dogged Johnson over the years. His alleged part in unlawfully promoting the business interests of ex-girlfriend Jennifer Arcuri and the controversy over who paid for the refurbishment of his Downing Street flat – not to mention his inappropriate attempts to defend party colleague Owen Patterson who was found to have broken lobbying rules – now seem like dim and distant memories. If a week is a long time in politics, then a year must be equivalent to a geological era.

Remarkably, the only UK PM to have committed a criminal act while in office is still here.

But for how much longer?

Unfortunately on the western side of the Irish sea though we are no strangers to the concept of leaders in positions of power not taking responsibility for their actions – or in some cases – their inactions. Arlene Foster famously refused to step down as First Minister in the wake of the RHI cash for ash affair and Michelle O’Neill insisted on staying on as deputy FM despite having broken covid social distancing rules at a funeral. But perhaps most controversially of all, Cardinal Sean Brady wouldn’t budge from his position as Catholic primate of Ireland following revelations that he had had prior knowledge of notorious paedophile priest Brendan Smyth’s criminal abuse of minors, yet chose to keep quiet and consequently, Smyth went on to become a serial abuser in various other parishes.

Johnson’s stubborn refusal to resign in the face of incontrovertible evidence against him including conclusive proof that he broke the law whilst in office is somewhat reminiscent of a certain former Taoiseach by the name of Charles J. Haughey was famously nicknamed Houdini after the legendary escapologist due to his remarkable ability to extricate himself from the various scandals engulfing him during his premiership.

Then there was Haughey’s successor Bertie Aherne, dubbed the “Teflon Taoiseach” after the mounting allegations against him constantly failed to stick. Indeed the recent cases of cronyism and nepotism, not forgetting the series of scandals within the Tory ranks are not unlike the cute hoorism of the Fianna Fáil of old.

So if Aherne was Teflon Taoiseach, does this make Johnson with his similar non-stick credentials a sort of Polytetrafluoroethylene PM?

Johnson may well be a secret admirer of Haughey and Aherne, despite his questionable attitude to the Irish. During his time as mayor of London he was allegedly overheard saying “I didn’t think the Irish could read” when a young female reporter from the Irish Post had arrived to interview him.

Then there was his infamous “why can’t he be called Murphy like all the rest of them?” jibe directed at the then Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

The similarities between Johnson and Haughey have not gone unnoticed in the Irish media, but Matt Cooper points out one crucial difference:

“Charles Haughey, who served as Taoiseach in various periods between 1979 and 1992, was the greatest crook of all, a populist with many similarities to Johnson, albeit one who tried deliberately to display himself as more sophisticated than he actually was, dressing up rather than dressing down in the Johnson way.”

However Stephen Collins in the Irish Times hits the nail on the head:

“Both Johnson and Haughey came to power, despite their obvious character flaws, because enough of their parliamentary colleagues believed that they would prove to be an electoral asset.”

We may though have reached the point where Johnson has outlived his usefulness as an electoral asset.

At this point, I should declare a minor financial interest in the matter. I’m not a regular gambler, but back in November 2021 I placed a small bet that Johnson would be replaced as leader of the Conservative party by the end of 2022. So I stand to win the princely sum of £12 should things come to pass.

Will he prove his credentials as the Polytetrafluoroethylene Prime Minister or are Bojo the clown’s days at the Downing Street circus numbered?

One word may make all the difference – byelections.

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