"Where's Boris?" is a refrain that has dogged the Prime Minister throughout the coronavirus crisis.
It even featured on the front of last week's Spectator, as the magazine he once edited asked: "Where is the man we thought we voted for?"
Never has Mr Johnson been more conspicuous by his absence than at Thursday's hugely significant Commons statement by Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor.
As Mr Sunak introduced his winter economy plan, which will replace the furlough scheme with a new Job Support Scheme, the Prime Minister (and First Lord of the Treasury) was nowhere to be seen on the front bench.
He later emerged at a police station in Northamptonshire (as seen in the video below), where he busied himself meeting new recruits, sitting in a police car with flashing lights and watching a first aid demonstration involving plastic dummies.
Then, just as Mr Sunak was taking to his feet to deliver one of the most difficult announcements the Government has had to make during the pandemic, Mr Johnson recorded an interview with Sky News about fines.
Asked why he wasn't supporting the Chancellor as he took the controversial step of winding up the highly successful 80 per cent wage subsidy furlough scheme, he replied: "I fully support the package of measures we've drawn up. What I'm doing here today is settling out the vital corollary of those measures.
"They wont help unless everybody works together. We must all work together to drive the virus down."
A Number 10 source later confirmed that the PM had expected to record the clip at 11.45am and tune into the Commons but was delayed, while the Chancellor’s speech had been expected at 12.30pm but came half an hour early (you can watch a summary below).
Yet with Mr Johnson advocating ever more draconian measures while his Chancellor Mr Sunak, 67 miles away, was trying to rescue the economy, is the Government actually taking its own "working together" advice?
Even Conservative MPs felt a sense of Downing Street pulling in different directions as backbenchers questioned the PM's priorities. One particularly peevish Tory described "the boss" as "AWOL", running a "Government with no strategy… a Government of third-rate hangers-on and sycophants".
Another said: "It's the inconsistency that is getting MPs down. Number 10 seems to spend a lot of its time panicking and lurching from one crisis to the next. We need a steady hand."
The revolt against the latest lockdown rules, being led by the 1922 committee chairman, Sir Graham Brady, certainly speaks of a disconnect between Mr Johnson and the party faithful who propelled him to power in July last year.
But there remains a contradiction at the heart of Number 10's Covid decision-making too.
Having opposed the 10pm curfew and seemingly helped to water down the restrictions announced on Tuesday, "hawkish" Mr Sunak could not have made himself clearer as he concluded his statement by saying we "must learn to live with" the virus and "live without fear".
Pointing out that "the price our country is paying is wider" than the coronavirus death toll, he added: "As we think about the next few weeks and months, we need to bear all those costs in mind."
Tory MPs have interpreted this as not only a message to disgruntled backbenchers but also to Mr Johnson himself as he continues to be accused of being "held hostage" by Sage (the Government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies).
Following their doomsday scenario of 50,000 infections a day by mid-October (illustrated in the graphic below), some mischievous Conservatives have even taken to nicknaming the chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, and the chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, "Witless and Unbalanced".
As one senior parliamentarian put it: "What Rishi said was a slap in the face to [Health Secretary] Matt Hancock and the scaremongering scientists and a nod to the PM. The message was clear – we cannot gamble any further with the economy."
Naturally, some Tories also see it as Number 11 "standing up" to Dominic Cummings, who they blame for Downing Street's over-cautious approach.
"He's the one spreading this climate of fear," said one, amid suggestions it was the PM's chief adviser who suggested he add the line to his Tuesday statement about involving the military. "He wants people to be scared."
Which may go some way to explaining why Mr Johnson spent most of Thursday listing the different fines people face for breaking the rules. "A £200 fine for not wearing a mask, a £10,000 fine if you organise a gathering of more than 30," he said, before admitting: "Nobody wants these fines in place. We are a freedom-loving country."
His insistence that "nobody will be penalised for doing the right thing", at the very moment Mr Sunak was pulling the plug from a large number of jobs that are no longer viable due to the pandemic, was similarly contradictory.
And still Mr Johnson continues to instruct people to return to working from home, while the Treasury is desperately trying to keep town and city centres afloat. "That's the balance in this package," the PM conceded. "It's about working together to drive down the virus now, but also keeping education and the economy going. That's what the Chancellor is setting out today."
If only he had been there to see it.
Justifying the decision to send Mr Johnson up the M1, a spokesman said: "He was there to talk about Covid enforcement. It isn't conflicting to have the Chancellor in the House setting out the winter plan and the PM talking to the police about £10,000 fines.
"If we depress the virus it's good for the economy. If we have tough enforcement and people following the rules, we will get through this."
The spokesman added that the PM had "hardly been invisible", having given a Commons statement and a televised address on Tuesday, appeared at PMQs on Wednesday and then visited the boys and girls in blue on Thursday.
Until now, the Government could afford to prioritise lives over livelihoods as it subsidised the nation's wage bill.
But with the sun setting on the furlough scheme, the darkest times for our economy may be yet to come. Few would disagree that such a grave situation demands an ever-present PM, shoulder to shoulder with the Chancellor.