Further up the street from Boris Johnson's house, near Trafalgar Square, is the Whitehall Theatre. It's best known for the Whitehall Farces, a long running – and very popular – series of five plays in the low-comedy, English farce tradition. The critics hated them, the public loved them.

But the latest Whitehall Farce is loved by neither critics nor the public. The investigation of the Partygate affair has become farcical, in the worst meaning of the word. Hapless, bumbling, incompetent are the more printable words that crop up in the general chatter around the investigation into whether or not some parties or gatherings took place in Downing Street during the lockdown, and whether any of them constituted a breach of the Covid rules, made in that very office complex/home.

And for Boris Johnson, the week has had so many twists and turns that a farce writer would struggle to keep up. At the start of the week he looked like a dead man walking – by the end of the week he was doing a damn fine impression of Lazarus. Is there a more versatile actor on the political stage at the moment?

Because the delay in the publication of the Sue Gray report buys Mr Johnson time. It broke the momentum that has been building against him over the previous week to ten days, with Westminster primed for an immediate putsch in the 1922 committee of backbench MPs as soon as the Sue Gray report was published, and the gory details it is expected to contain emerged, photographs and all.

Ms Gray has become the Godot all are waiting for in this Whitehall Farce, the unseen, unheard central figure the whole show revolves around. But this week it veered into pantomime over when her report would be delivered (oh yes she is, oh no she isn't).

Boris Johnson leaving Downing Street this week

The role played by the Metropolitan Police has become the one that is attracting most of the boos and hisses. Just when it looked like the inquiry led by Sue Gray was ready to report, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Cressida Dick, announced her force was investigating some of the Partygate events to see if there had been a breach of the law.

This announcement came out of the blue, at a meeting of the London Assembly police and crime committee. The committee has a monthly Q&A session with the deputy mayor in charge of police and criminal matters, and the Commissioner of the Met or one of her deputies, to discuss "topical matters" of policing in this vast city.

The committee's work programme for the first quarter of this year was signed off on 6 January, with the first Q&A session of the year due last Tuesday, 25 January (the next one is on 23 February). So people who follow the work of the Met Police knew the Commissioner was going to be in front of a group of politicians asking topical questions - it was listed in that day's news diaries. And one of those topical questions was why the Met had not investigated all the reports of parties/gatherings in Downing Street.

It took from Tuesday to Friday for the Met to issue a definitive statement saying they didn't want parts of the Sue Gray report to be published. Then it took until Friday afternoon for a clarification to the Press Association newswire, stating that the police are only investigating incidents that could lead to a fixed penalty notice as a punishment. In other words, a fine. This was after media and legal speculation that the reason the police didn't want details in the public domain was that they might be investigating more serious offences, such as destroying mobile phone data or video files.

Yet former senior police officers have been on British TV in the past few days saying fixed penalty notices are the lowest level of offence, the simplest investigation that probationer police get to do. Not hard at all. They wonder why some of Scotland Yard's most senior officers and specialist units are involved in this at all.

Why, some have argued, is Sue Gray holding back her publication for fear of getting in the way of an investigation that could result in little more than a handful of people getting on the spot fines from the police?

Some journalists and barristers are reporting that the police don't want to prejudice their own investigation – distinct from prejudicing a criminal trial – and they want to start the investigation fresh. But they could have done that at any time over the past two months, not the day the Sue Gray report was due to drop.

Indeed they could have begun an investigation on 20 June 2020, when the Times newspaper reported a gathering in Downing Street to celebrate the Prime Minster's birthday, at which a number of people, including the Chancellor Rishi Sunak, tucked into a birthday cake decorated with a Union Jack. This is the cake the Prime Minister was "ambushed with" according to Northern Ireland minster Conor Burns. He also changed his story during the week, claiming there was no cake. No wonder this Whitehall farce isn't exactly packing them in.

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson can spend this weekend at his country estate, Chequers, safe in the knowledge there won't be a Sue Gray report to deal with. Giving him time to shore up support among Tory backbenchers – something he has been doing intensively since last week. The unofficial leadership campaign is in full swing, with the PM fighting by all means necessary to hang onto his job.

Every one of the main contenders to his job have felt the sting of adverse publicity this week – none of it with any fingerprints from the whip's office on it of course. Focus group results that favour the PM have been reported with indecent haste. And in the rush to offer 'red meat' to the base of Tory voters – the better to convince wavering MPs to stick with the current leader – no dog whistle is being left unblown.

The longer the Gray report remains unpublished, the more you sense the air going out of the anti-Johnson campaign in the Tory party. That's why he ends this week stronger than he began it.

Farce? You couldn't make it up.