WE should maybe look on it as the smack of infirm government. More evidence, were it needed, that the Prime Minister, in the opinion of his former ­closest adviser, most resembles a ­rudderless shopping trolley careering and crashing around the aisles with no discernible sense of purpose or direction.

Little wonder, with U-turns more ­frequently visible than in a sanitary ware showroom, that our erstwhile European partners have concluded Mr Johnson’s ­indecision is final.

Worse still that he is a man of his word only for the time it takes for the latter to be uttered. His signature on a document merely indicates that he was present at the signing, not that he feels in any way bound by it.

That the current Westminster ­government is “led” by a man supremely unfit for the office into which he manoeuvred ­himself is no longer a matter for debate ­according to former PM John Major (below) and pretty well all those by whom he was previously employed.

The National: John Major

It is in that context that we may view the latest handbrake turn. If there is one sport at which Boris Johnson excels, it is ­chancing his arm. Stretching the ­boundaries of ­acceptable behaviour up to breaking point, then retreating in some ignominy if his gamble proves unsustainable.

READ MORE: Michael Russell: Tories will one day face a reckoning for their Brexit lies

The charge sheet is long and ­inglorious, from his extramarital adventures and ­subsequent denials of paternity to his failed attempt to shut down parliament when it looked likely not to do his bidding.

His personal conduct has set the tone for others to feel entitled to bend and stretch the rules. Holidays underwritten by friends and donors, most recently by one who lost his seat and was promptly ennobled. ­Refurbishment of his political home paid for by another party donor, one apparently recompensed when this shoddy arrangement reached the public domain.

Were the television company ­responsible for “Shameless” to be contemplating a ­sequel, they surely have a readymade ­leading man. And little need for an external scriptwriter.

It is a truism that the tone and ­ethics of any institution from a school to a ­government is set at the top. And just as a morally sound head teacher can ensure ­probity in the staff and students, so too can the leader of a political party.

It is not an accident therefore that ­Johnson’s choice of housing and ­communities cabinet secretary was caught overruling a local planning ­decision so that a party donor might benefit.

It is not an accident that when engulfed by the pandemic, the planning ­shortfalls of all previous administrations cruelly ­exposed, the first instinct of his then health secretary was to spray contracts around pals and party donors, often ­regardless of experience or competence in the field.

It is no accident that when found to have acted illegally – twice – in an ­English high court, the response was not an immediate resignation but a shrug of indifference.

READ MORE: Mhairi Black: One U-turn does not dispel mistrust around Boris Johnson

Westminster has had many previous scandals involving poor and often ­illegal behaviour. Cash for questions, dodgy ­expense claims, residence flipping to ­maximise tax breaks.

The House of Lords is the living ­embodiment of an institution which ­showers perks and subsidies on its ­inmates whilst turning a blind eye to the fact that only a small percentage of its ­residents ­actually participate in any meaningful way in the business of the house.

There is a long and ignoble tradition of vowing to abolish this unelected and now bloated anachronism up until the point of the ermine being donned, at which ­juncture the urgency of reform magically dissipates.

The National: Lord Evans of Weardale, chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life

Last week Lord Evans (above), former boss of the British Security Services ­unveiled a report, two years in the making, into standards in public life. It’s worth ­recalling what he said in a speech when these important deliberations were batted away by a government high on swagger and entitlement.

“It cannot be right that MPs should ­reject, after one short debate, the ­conclusions of the independent ­Commissioner for Standards and the House of Commons Committee on ­Standards – conclusions that arose from an investigation lasting two years.

“It cannot be right to propose an ­overhaul of the entire regulatory system in order to postpone or prevent sanctions in a very serious case of paid lobbying by an MP.

“It cannot be right that this was ­accompanied by repeated attempts to question the integrity of the ­Commissioner for Standards herself, who is working within the system that the House of Commons agreed in 2010.”

From which we may deduce that Lord Evans is not a very happy ­chappy. His ­dismay found echoes in many ­publications which are normally ­content to heap praise on the Tories, whilst ­denigrating their ­opponents. Coupled with a ­salutary lack of support from his own back benches, Mr Johnson, as so ­often before, reached for the handbrake and executed a ­screeching turn.

The dismal truth, however, is not only that standards in public life have, in some cases, slipped beyond recognition, but that the UK’s shock threshold has been so damaged by serial misconduct that we too are in danger of shrugging our shoulders.

That whole mantra of the PM’s ­failings being “priced in” is nothing short of a ­disgraceful failure to accept and ­denounce misdeeds which would once have led to swift political death.

When the Scottish parliament was set up there was an attempt to ensure that ­nobody could behave disgracefully ­without coming to the attention of the procurators fiscal.

Such are the laws of unintended ­consequences, that a raft of high profile politicians found themselves in the dock for what were lowly misdemeanours rather than high crimes.

The National: Henry McLeish pictured in the City of Glasgow College where he is now chairman...Photograph by Colin Mearns.11 January 2012.For Herald news, see interview by Andy Denholm..

Tory leader David McLetchie, pilloried for charging for too many taxis. Henry McLeish defenestrated as First ­Minister because of a sub let office. Ditto Wendy Alexander for accepting a modest ­campaign donation from a Jersey address.

Set beside a Westminster MP’s ­“egregious case of paid advocacy, that he ­repeatedly used his privileged position to benefit two companies for whom he was a paid consultant” these earlier breaches of Holyrood guidelines seem like small beer brewed into scandal by the attentions of a press pack often using Freedom of ­Information as serial fishing expeditions.

Yet here too we may all be guilty of conniving in a general lowering of standards by being accepting of things which we know to be beyond the pale in a civilised society.

How often do you hear folks saying “politicians – they’re all the same”.

Except they’re not of course. ­Everyone in my trade knows many career ­politicians who are in it for all the right reasons, some of them, far from feathering their own nests, choosing a parliamentary route rather than a private or public ­sector job which would have paid more.

And, it has to be said, many ­people in my trade spend a large part of their ­professional lives endlessly looking for sticks with which to beat their elected ­politicians even when the supposed breaches of the codes are, frankly risible.

An outcry when the First Minister takes her mask off for a couple of minutes at the funeral of a close aide and friend, yet ­relative indifference when the PM wantonly breaks the Scottish law by not wearing one at COP26. Perhaps it’s easier to doze off without one.

It took a tenacious American ­broadcaster to call him out on this, ­whereupon he looked positively ­startled at a line of questioning which could ­hardly be called hostile.

It is, of course, much worse on the other side of the pond, where Donald Trump has so lowered the bar on gross behaviour that his adherents felt it acceptable to trash their own Congressional building.

Yet some in his party continue to ­dispute the appalling evidence of their own eyes.

Parts of public life are broken. We need to fix them.