It started last Sunday when Boris Johnson, newly arrived at the G7 summit in southern Germany, told ITV that his “golden rule” for politics – a rule apparently never aired before – was that politicians should not talk about themselves, only about their policies.
Speaking to BBC News the following day, the Prime Minister similarly dismissed all questions about domestic political problems, including a double loss in the by-elections and new rumblings of discontent among Tory MPs.
“The job of the government is to continue to rule and to resist the contempt of the media, however brilliant, to talk about politics, to talk about ourselves,” he said.
A storyline was set up. In interview after interview, whether they were TV clips or more casual questions by reporters traveling with the prime minister, Johnson stressed that it was simply not his business to delve into such matters.
“I’m no longer a member of that sacred guild,” he said, referring to his past life as a journalist. “It would be a demarcation dispute for me to cross over and talk about politics. I need to talk about our program for the government.”
Towards the end of the trip, this insistence raised eyebrows. In a final TV interview with GB News, Johnson was repeatedly questioned about how he could run policy without asking very serious questions about his authority and whether voters trusted him. Again, it was rejected.
What is going on? The short answer seems to be that Johnson, who has just completed a marathon, nine-day visit abroad, starting with a Commonwealth summit in Rwanda, was somewhat burnt at the opening stage and decided on what could be described as a bunker mentality.
When asked about his political troubles before leaving Kigali, Johnson launched one of his signature improvised answers, which ended with pondering the idea of winning three elections and remaining in power into the 2030s.
This would be bold for any prime minister. For someone who had just lost two seats in the House of Commons and 41% of his MPs voted to impeach him, critics said it was “insane”.
And so the media shutters went down. While he was lavish and colorful at the G7 and NATO, doing TV interviews every day, an on-air conversation with the traveling media and a closing press conference to explain the efforts to get international support for Ukraine, he declined. steadfast about any party political or personal matters.
It is clear that the policy has been personally set by the Prime Minister and not by his media team. It arguably paid at least temporary dividends — at his press conference at the end of NATO, just about every question was about policy.
However, it is one thing to do all this at an international summit devoted to the fate of Ukraine. Back in the UK it will probably be trickier.
On Wednesday, Johnson will appear before the liaison committee, which is made up of the MPs who chair subject-specific select committees, where he is closely questioned about more than just the nuts and bolts of policy.
Likewise, renewed moves by Tory MPs to remove the Prime Minister will not go away simply because he prefers not to talk about it. The 1922 Committee of Backbench Conservatives is about to elect a new executive, which can be critical in deciding whether a new challenge arises or not.
But one thing seems clear. At the moment, Johnson seems to be enjoying his role as international cheerleader-in-chief for the Ukrainian cause, where the problems are simple and he is regularly praised. Whether or not his ostrich-like approach helped domestic political concerns, at least it gave him a few days to just not think about it. For a prime minister as battled as Johnson, that would be welcome.