Boris Johnson is in the soup again; this time forced to cough up a £50 fixed penalty for one of his many lockdown parties (officers are still examining the others, and more fines are likely to follow).

The distinction may be a fine one, but Boris has not been convicted of any criminal offence. Unlike a police caution, receiving a fixed penalty notice doesn’t mean you admit guilt, or even that there is enough evidence to convict you of the offence. It discharges you of any criminal liability. The Prime Minister does not have a criminal record.

That hasn’t stopped commentators –who told us confidently back in January that Boris was toast– from engaging in desperate attempts to fan the flames of Partygate in the hope that the PM might get toasted this time round.

They were wrong then and they’re wrong now. Partygate, in isolation, won’t bring Boris down. The local election results on May 5 (if they’re bad enough and if Partygate is perceived to be a significant issue) could set the PM on a serious wobble, but the Conservative Party, even with its long and lurid history of chief-eating, has no settled desire to move against Boris and no plausible understudy waiting in the wings.

Rishi Sunak at one stage looked like a threat, but someone has not so much queered as ploughed and harrowed Rishi’s pitch with the leaks of his Green Card and his wife’s non-dom status. Liz Truss, –a favourite among some Tory libertarians– has all the Prime Ministerial gravitas of Kermit the Frog.

On top of this, Boris has started to get a bit of his sparkle back. He is doing a genuinely good job with Ukraine, albeit not nearly as good a job as his predecessor David Cameron, who in 2014 instituted Operation Orbital: an ongoing deployment of British troops which has trained 22,000 Ukrainian officers and NCOs in British Army doctrine and tactics, with visible results.
Nonetheless, for anyone who wants Boris gone, Partygate is the best weapon they are likely to lay their hands on, and his detractors will keep milking it for all it’s worth. A junior Justice Minister, Lord Someone, handed in his notice on Wednesday, saying that the ‘scale, context and nature’ of the Partygate breaches were ‘inconsistent with the rule of law’.

The suggestion that Boris’s ticking off undermines the rule of law is plain daft. The rule of law is the state of affairs that exists where laws are made in a democratically accountable way and enforced consistently; where anyone, however powerful, who breaks the law is held to account in the same way as anyone else.

Powerful people breaking the law –if caught and punished– don’t undermine the rule of law at all. What undermines it is when governments pass laws (Hunting Act 2004, we’re looking at you) which are so pointless, confusing or oppressive that they are widely ignored or defied.
Most people, at some point over the last two years, broke the law. If you did, you’d be mortified if, after dropping into someone’s house for a drink two years ago, you found the rozzers crawling all over your street or village, taking statement from the neighbours you most dislike, pulling down CCTV footage and obsessively attempting to build a case against you. But that’s what happened to Boris.

Adhering to stupid rules doesn’t make you a virtuous person. Prohibitions on murder, theft, adultery and envy have moral purpose and practical utility. ‘Thou shalt not expose for sale children’s clothes, for verily they are non-essential items’, less so. Lockdowns, and the absurd suite of ever-changing Covid regulations, made lawbreakers of far more people than Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak.

Of course, some people did exactly what they were told all the way through the pandemic. Either because they were taken in by the propaganda that told them that by abstaining from sitting on a park bench or sipping tea in the open air they were saving lives; or for fear of the consequences of being caught; or just because they’re sanctimonious prigs prepared to forego any amount of fun so long as they can stop other people having any.

P J O’Rourke observed that the beauty of fascism is that it gives every piss-ant an ant hill to piss from, and Britain’s Covid regulations did much the same thing. Police went about in packs, hounding anyone they saw dog-walking or taking a breather from permitted exercise. Local authorities –every officer in his own mind an Eliot Ness of public protection– haven’t had such a wonderful time before or since.

It made monsters of some; contemplate the soul-emptying inhumanity of ‘Jenny’, a nurse fêted by Kier Starmer for her public-spirited adherence to the rules: ‘I spent hours on the phone to a man who was in the hospital car park, utterly desperate to see his wife. He begged, wept, shouted to be let in but we said no – for the greater good of everyone else. She died unexpectedly and alone.’

If you think Jenny should be commended for this, there’s something wrong with you.
Lockdowns empowered society’s worst busybodies, finks and narks with authority to boss the whole nation around. The people who went along unquestioningly with this madness are the ones you ought to worry about, not someone –however powerful– who had a slice of cake and a drink after work.