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If you believe that Boris Johnson should resign and won’t change your mind under any circumstances, please stop reading now.

I’m not saying that you are necessarily wrong if the electoral prospects of the Conservatives are your main concern.  It may be that the party is doomed to defeat at the next election under his leadership.

Though my own take is that we could be more than two years from that event, and that if a week is a long time in politics, two years is an eternity.  The Covid pandemic and Ukraine war are reminders that anything can happen in public affairs, and frequently does.

Labour is six points ahead in Politico’s poll of polls.  That isn’t the 25 or so point leads that it sometimes racked up during the mid-1990s.  And Keir Starmer is no Tony Blair.  But let’s turn from the hazardous business of predicting events in 2024 to the challenging one of interpreting them now.

And to morality rather than partisanship.  The key fact to date is that the police have issued the Prime Minister with a fixed penalty notice for attending a birthday event he didn’t know about in advance.  You may therefore believe that he should resign.  I don’t.

My take is that were Johnson found to have planned rule-breaking social events, he should quit (though the timing would depend on circumstances: he shouldn’t go in the wake, for example and God forbid, of a further Russian chemical attack on Britain).

Being surprised by an event that others had planned and not walking out immediately doesn’t meet that test.  And prime ministers shouldn’t usually quit mid-term unless there has been a clear failure of major policy – a Suez or ERM-style debacle.

But matters are not quite that simple.  For if the police believe that walking into and staying at a surprise birthday event is worthy of a fixed penalty notice, then Johnson will soon be hit by more fines for other events. Photos of these may emerge before the local elections take place.

Off the top of my head, I am thinking of: the Martin Reynolds-instigated event in Downing Street’s garden; the so-called party in the Number Eleven flat on the day of Dominic Cummings’ departure; and whatever happened to mark Lee Cain leaving Number Ten.

Perhaps the Prime Minister will be fined for none of these, perhaps for all, perhaps for others.  If you are a Conservative MP, you can’t possibly know.  And while you may agree with me that being surprised at an event shouldn’t be a hanging offence, you could well believe that further fines would show greater culpability.

You may also think that your colleagues would think so, even if you did not, and that Johnson’s position would thus become impossible.  At which point, enter Keir Starmer – and the interaction between Commons votes and social media.

During the Theresa May years, Gavin Williamson worked out a counter to Labour’s campaigning technique of representing in the worst possible light Tory MPs’ votes against Opposition Day motions in the Commons: abstention.  No vote, no embarrassment, and no opportunity for Labour.

This was constitutionally controversial, and so was Labour’s response (at least in terms of the manner by which it was reportedly provided – advice from John Bercow, then the Commons’ Speaker).  That’s to say, the use of the Humble Address, which is understood to be binding.

Yesterday’s Labour motion was not a Humble Address, but the party’s tactics and the Government’s response echoed the interplay I describe above.  The Opposition motion referring the Prime Minister to the Privileges Committee was designed to expose Tory MPs during the run-up to the local elections.

The Conservative whips sought to draw the sting by tabling an amendment to it the view of which about a Privileges Committee referral was like St Augustine’s on chastity: give me an inquiry, but not yet.  They will surely have believed when tabling the amendment that Tory MPs would enable it to pass.

This position collapsed.  Why?  Because many of those MPs are unwilling to commit themselves in the chamber to defending Johnson before they know how many fixed penalty notices he will be served with, and what Sue Gray’s report into Downing Street social gatherings will say.  No wonder the whips ran out of supportive Tory speakers.

So the amendment wasn’t moved and Conservative MPs were unwhipped.  They won’t be embarrassed during the run-up to May’s elections (at least any more than they are already).  And Johnson is, after Gray reports, at the mercy of the Privileges Committee, which has the power to suspend or even expel him from the Commons.

The committee will have an effective Conservative majority, so such outcomes are unlikely to happen.  It would be deeply unfair if they did, since it’s evident that the Prime Minister didn’t mislead the Commons about the birthday event.  Had he done so, the event wouldn’t have been briefed to the Times, as Tom Harwood keeps pointing out.

But matters aren’t nearly that straightforward.  In sum, we have a multitude of possible fines; a series of charges (including misleading the Commons and breaching the Ministerial Code) and different investigators (the Privileges Committee, Sue Gray, and perhaps Christopher Geidt, the Independent Adviser on Ministerial Interests).

Johnson is becoming a Gulliver tied down by Lilluputian ropes.  The figures scampering on and about his mighty frame grow bolder: they tell newspapers that they’ve written to Graham Brady; they surface in the Commons to denounce their leader; they tweak at a cord here; tighten a knot there.  There may be Ministerial resignations.

If the Tory whips can’t put a motion defending the Prime Minister to a vote, events may create their own momentum.  A plausible outcome is a post-local election ballot with worst of all Conservative outcomes: Johnson wins – but with a big slice of his party against him, debate about further challenges, and his position weakened further.

That would be the best of all possible developments for Starmer.  In which case, a question posed before asks itself once again: if the Prime Minister has to quit, is it best he does so now – or rather, in the immediate aftermath of the local elections?

Feel for the good Tory candidates exposed in next month’s elections, left vulnerable by social events in Downing Street that were mostly civil service-led; which in some cases their leader may have been responsible for and for all of which, according to one constitutional take, he should be held accountable for.

It might be that a new leader would be a dazzling success.   But none of the potential Cabinet contenders have much of a track record at the very top of politics.  And while Johnson may be no Margaret Thatcher, he is like her in at least one respect: he has devotees.

There is a Johnson gang in the Commons and, like Theresa May’s now in his time, or Thatcher’s in John Major’s, they will stir the pot if he goes. A myth will spring up of a Brexit hero slain – hacked down by lawfare-waging Jolyons, Starmerite bores, embittered Mayites, pious Institute of Government types. Et tu, Steve?

Daily Telegraph columnists will rend their garments.  Some of our own will don sackcloth and ashes.  Even I, hardened cynic that I am, with breathe a sigh for the man who, more than any other, swung the EU referendum.

Gulliver escapes from the ropes but is convicted of treason for putting out a fire in the royal palace with his urine.  Perhaps there are twists to come in Johnson’s story which even he has not yet imagined.