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Peter Franklin is an Associate Editor of UnHerd.

As we survey the smoking ruins of the political landscape, we can only ask one question: why?

Why has the Prime Minister done this to himself? Indeed, why does anyone fall into a needlessly self-destructive spiral?

In some cases, it’s because they’re cut off from the networks of support that most of us rely on. They have no one to rescue them and no one to rescue themselves for.

But in other cases the problem is not one of isolation, but insulation. The recidivist need take no responsibility for his decisions, because he is surrounded by those who deny, excuse or cover-up on his behalf. In the therapeutic jargon this is called “enabling” and the people who do it are “enablers”.

They say it’s lonely at the top, but that’s not really true. As Prime Minister, Boris Johnson is buttressed by multiple sources of support. He wouldn’t have been able to make so many unforced errors if he hadn’t been enabled over-and-over again.

Thus whatever his failings as an individual, there is a systemic issue too. Thus any talk of change at the top is an exercise in scapegoating — albeit with a very naughty goat in this case. But before he’s cast out into the wilderness, let’s pause to consider who else is responsible for the current mess — starting with the Cabinet.

When he became Prime Minister, Boris Johnson appointed the weakest Cabinet in modern British history. As beneficiaries of accelerated (and, in many cases, undeserved) promotions, they were very much his creatures. However, over the last two years, the top team has strengthened. The best performers have grown into their roles and a few of the worst have been sacked. Furthermore, the evidence of dysfunction in Downing Street has become impossible to ignore.

Collectively, if not yet individually, the current Cabinet has the clout to stage an intervention. However, there’s no evidence they’ve attempted any such thing. Some of them may be more interested in succeeding Boris Johnson than salvaging his leadership, but at this rate there won’t be much left for them to inherit.

If ministers won’t act, what about the parliamentary party? It’s clear from recent rebellions that the backbenchers aren’t happy. But as usual the unrest is directed to little useful purpose. Let’s not forget that it was pressure from one backbench faction — the second jobbers — that pushed the Prime Minister into his disastrous course of action on parliamentary standards.

Meanwhile, the libertarian wing of the party continues to push its Britannia Unchained vision — oblivious to what voters actually want from the Conservative Party; which is a competent, patriotic government capable of controlling our borders, levelling-up the land and taking the rough edges off global capitalism.

As for the 1922 Committee, it has degenerated into a rebel encampment. Rather than facilitating the next leadership contest, it should be promoting constructive proposals for change. Unfortunately, the Conservative Party is a machine with only two settings: (A) unquestioning obedience to the leader and (B) regicide. The first of these allows dysfunctional leadership to continue unchallenged; the second does nothing to address underlying problems.

It’s not that leaders don’t matter. Clearly they do. However, systems matter too. One person who understands this is Dominic Cummings. He’s certainly not held back in his criticism of Johnson — comparing the Prime Minister to a shopping trolley that is forever veering off course. However, he also criticises a system of government that encourages inconstancy.

There’s no better example of this than “Partygate”. In 2020, the Government discovered the hard way that the public expect our leaders to follow the same lockdown rules that they impose on us. The two-week hate directed at one of their own (Cummings, ironically) should have also been all the warning required.

The communication “experts” who rule the roost in Downing Street should have put protocols in place to avoid the merest suggestion of hypocrisy in high places. But instead of erring on the side of caution, they drove off the cliff-edge of recklessness — even going so far as to film themselves joking about the matter.

Perhaps it’s not such a good idea to have these PR geniuses running the asylum. But would civil servants be any better? They too share the blame for Partygate — not in a political sense, but in terms of basic administrative rigour. They were the ones who drew up the Covid rules, so what excuse did they have for not ensuring strict observance from one end of Whitehall to the other?

It may be that officials in relevant departments did raise concerns and were over-ruled. If so, that is something the internal investigation ought to reveal. But, unbelievably, the man who was meant to be leading that probe — the Cabinet Secretary, Simon Case — has had to step back because of questions about his own actions in this affair.

I’m not trying to absolve the Prime Minister of his ultimate responsibility here — after all he is the head of government. However, his weaknesses as a leader are as obvious as his strengths. They can’t have come as a surprise to anyone. The real shocker is the failure of the Cabinet, the parliamentary party, Downing Street and the civil service to compensate for these flaws. Far from keeping Johnson out of trouble, they have led him into temptation.

So what happens now? Hopefully not a leadership contest; the country would never forgive the indulgence. However, the task of systemic change can and must start now — beginning with the Downing Street operation and working outwards. Clearly, Johnson is the last person to trusted with the painstaking process of reform. What the Government needs therefore is a Deputy Prime Minister — by which I mean a real one, not the consolation prize handed out to Dominic Raab at the last reshuffle.

Currently, Boris Johnson serves as both the chairman and chief executive of his government. If he is to remain in post at all, it must be as a chairman only. A new Deputy Prime Minister would come in to restore discipline and direction to Downing Street.

Two names spring to mind. The first is Jeremy Hunt, who has the stature and ability to perform the role. However, as a possible leadership candidate in any future contest I wonder if the other contenders would allow the appointment.

The second name is a member of the House of Lords and therefore not a leader-in-waiting. Crucially, though, she has experience of reviving Conservative fortunes and of standing up to Boris. She is fearless, competent, popular and understands the levelling-up agenda. So step forward, Ruth Davidson.

Of course, the Prime Minister would have to humble himself to offer her the job — let alone persuade her to take it. But that could be just the sign we’re looking for.