Sue Gray report paints Johnson as cruise ship captain, in charge but not in control

Boris Johnson is a laissez- faire prime minister running a laissez- faire administration – Owl

Peter Walker (Extract)

Perhaps the most accidentally telling line of Boris Johnson’s apology-meets-explanation in response to the Sue Gray report came when he outlined recent personnel moves inside Downing Street: “The entire senior management has changed.”

Aside, of course, from the man at the very top. And while Johnson insisted he took “full responsibility for everything that took place on my watch”, the Gray report eloquently chronicled what has been a refrain of Johnson’s political career – the sense of a man officially in charge, but not necessarily in control.

For many Johnson supporters, this characteristic is portrayed as a strength. He is, they argue, more chairman than chief executive, the visionary and salesman who leaves tedious detail to diligent if less talented underlings.

This way of working was perhaps most beneficial when Johnson was mayor of London, a sometimes ceremonial role with the bulk of the granular decisions devolved to subject-specific deputy mayors.

In central government, things become more difficult. The string of social vignettes set out in Gray’s report portray Johnson less as a central point of power than a sort of gilded spectre, guided between meetings and stumbling across parties, making a brief speech or raising a glass in a toast before being led off again.

If being prime minister is to captain a ship, the Johnson of the Gray report commands a cruise vessel, one where the main task involves being amiable to passengers at the dinner table…..