Johnson still seeking to control image in eye of partygate storm | Boris Johnson

With Omicron ripping through the nation’s schools, and the rules on mask-wearing, travel testing and vaccine passports all in flux, the public might have expected to hear from Boris Johnson at the Downing Street podium in recent days.

But the embattled prime minister last gave a Downing Street press conference almost four weeks ago, on 4 January.

Instead, as partygate revelations have continued to emerge, we have seen him in a series of carefully-choreographed public appearances at a vaccine center, a school or a green energy project.

Occasionally, journalists are allowed to fire a few questions at him – but since a disastrous interview with Sky political editor, Beth Rigby, a fortnight ago he has submitted himself to little public scrutiny.

Johnson’s image has always been carefully controlled. He employs a taxpayer-funded photographer on a salary of more than £ 100,000 a year, and his aides have long favored scripted broadcast clips as a way of putting his message across directly to the public.

And as he fights for his political life, Johnson’s every move is being as carefully controlled as it was during the 2019 general election campaign, when he dodged major interviews, and was so reluctant to answer impromptu questions that at one point he hid in a fridge .

That bunker mentality is expected to continue this week, as Downing Street plans a flurry of announcements to distract Johnson’s own MPs from Sue Gray’s pared-back report and the ongoing police inquiry.

Political journalists have traveled with previous prime ministers to Iraq and Afghanistan but when Johnson flies to Ukraine on Tuesday, he will do so without the scrutiny of a pack of pesky reporters – although one doughty wire journalist and one broadcast team will go along to record proceedings .

'I get it and I will fix it': Boris Johnson responds to Sue Gray report - video
‘I get it and I will fix it’: Boris Johnson responds to Sue Gray report – video

Despite the humility he has awkwardly sought to display in his public apologies for lockdown-busting behavior in Downing Street, by hot-footing it to Ukraine he appears determined to project political strength. That echoes the bullishness on display in the House of Commons last week as he confronted Keir Starmer, with Tory backbenchers roaring him on.

Labor frontbencher Emily Thornberry, who shadowed Johnson when he was foreign secretary, calls it “strongman politics” – she has accused him of aping Donald Trump and the Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, in wanting to project a macho public image.

When there were questions about Johnson’s health in the wake of his severe bout of Covid in 2020, he treated an interviewer from the Mail on Sunday– and their photographer – to a display of press-ups.

Aside from tough guy, Johnson’s other winning public persona is the bumbling-but-likeable buffoon – perhaps the worst possible demeanor for a man accused of overseeing (or failing to notice) a slapdash party culture.

It will be a sure sign that No 10 believes he has weathered the storm, if the prime minister returns to his bumbling old ways – but for the next perilous few days, his every utterance is likely to be carefully controlled, and the Downing Street podium kept firmly under wraps.

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