Kishwar Desai | Tories may lose critical bypoll; dithers beset by a fresh inquiry

The Asian Age.  | Kishwar Desai

Opinion, Columnists

Now begins a massive inquiry on whether the Covid pandemic was properly handled by the Boris Johnson government.

Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson. (AP)

Bye bye Boris! Or should it be “Hasta la vista!” Those were the three famous last words used by Boris when he gave his resignation as Prime Minister. Somehow we never thought that he would actually ever leave — as he has been a larger-than-life figure ever since he became the mayor of London. However, now with the latest possible indictment looming large over whether he had actually lied to Parliament concerning the No. 10 drinking parties at Covid times — he has quit as Member of Parliament. Leaving us all waiting for the next act in this long-running drama. Surely he will return for one final curtain call!

On the one hand, it may be easier for Boris and his cohorts to actually speak the truth once they are no longer tied to Parliament and there is little need to follow the “whip” — but on the other we are wondering whether it is just another ploy to gain the popular vote when the “truth” hits the fans.

The committee looking into the “Covid Partygate” has just finished its report but before publishing they presumably let Boris have a look at it. And he has accused it of “egregious bias”. It was expected that the committee would find him guilty and he would face a vote in the Commons to decide whether he should be suspended from the Commons.

This will cause a by-election as per the rules, but chances are that the Conservatives will lose the seat as they are far behind Labour in the opinion polls. Boris has added more trouble for Rishi Sunak by nominating two sitting MPs (among many others) to a peerage. So while there are those who are loyal to Boris who are likely to quit Parliament, there are already over 44 Conservative MPs who have already announced they will not stand at the next general election.

This will mean more losses and some more Conservative Party members who have better options may just jump ship instead of waiting for the whole edifice to come crumbling down.

And this is not the only inquiry that the Conservatives need to worry about: There are many other inquiries going on about behaviour of MPs and their leadership. Now begins a massive inquiry on whether the Covid pandemic was properly handled by the Boris Johnson government. And at the heart of it are WhatsApp messages exchanged while Boris Johnson was Prime Minister. The inquiry wants to examine all the messages written or sent on phones, even in the WhatsApp groups of MPs of which there are many. Mr Johnson’s most recent phone messages while Prime Minister have been handed over to the inquiry as the official record. But these may include embarrassing messages from subsequent Prime Ministers while they were mere Cabinet ministers. So the government is dithering. That alone is enough for presumption of guilt. The only consolation is that the inquiry, as all such previous ones, will take years. By the time the reports come out, we should be a few more Prime Ministers down the line.

Meanwhile — the sun is certainly shining on London, as every day is declared to be the “hottest” at around 30 degrees. New York may compete with New Delhi for the top spot of the city with most polluted air, but London is competing on just being warm.

It actually feels like summer because finally Indians are back — as we used to be in pre-Covid times. We are on the streets, in shops and restaurants. The Indian cricket team is here as well. The Indian high commissioner, Vikram Doraiswamy, had invited all to a reception for the team at his Kensington gardens residence but the rail crash in Odisha meant immediate cancellation.

The team is here for the World Test Championship. No doubt the Indian MPs who are also here in a delegation will supervise the conduct and performance of the team… hmmm.

But London remains the go-to place for Indians as Shimla used to be for the British. We have the business organisations FICCI, CII in town. There are award ceremonies galore — awarding Indians and supporters of India in London — which included Meghnad Desai, Pinky Anand and other friends, in different ceremonies. And we await another ceremony again at the Indian high commission honoring certain MPs who have received Padma awards proving to be British friends of India. And so the Indo-UK friendship continues to grow at many levels. Soon we will have Manoj Ladwa’s India Global Forum also showcasing the best of Indian talent with engaging diaspora discussions. It is an Indian summer at last!

But if you are already in London then you can heave a sigh of relief because airport employees at Heathrow are going on strike. So if you are planning to come, then check on the strike status before you come and it may be better to land in Glasgow or Paris and then take a train. Train drivers, for instance, are only striking on odd days and not every day. They have a longer record of strikes so they know how to halt work without losing public sympathy.

Plan well and see you soon (as Boris would say) !