Issue: ‘Partygate’ (again)
The long-awaited Sue Gray report into the Downing Street lockdown parties is now live for all to see.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been hammered for months over his rumoured (and confirmed) attendance at a series of lockdown rule-breaking gatherings/parties/coming togethers during the Covid-19 pandemic. His responses to press or MP enquiries have not been consistent or forthcoming. Johnson is also the first prime minister to have broken the law while in office, receiving a fixed penalty notice for his attendance at one gathering.
The lobby is now combing over the Gray report and matching it to Johnson’s past statements (and those of his defenders in the Cabinet and party) to find any inconsistencies. There are also new photos of the parties.
The ‘line to take’
“I commissioned this report to set the record straight and allow us all to move on. I accept full responsibility for my failings. I am humbled by the whole experience. We have learned our lesson.”
(N.B. – the line Johnson actually delivered varied, but all of the component bits were there)
Our initial response: Zero f**ks given.
As in, this dry, rote, perfunctory statement demonstrates Boris Johnson doesn’t care what ordinary punters think about his lockdown transgressions. This statement isn’t for the families who couldn’t visit their loved ones as they lay dying in hospital.
Our more considered response: While most of the statement is demonstrably untrue, it does the job. Barely.
For a start, Johnson didn’t commission Gray’s report ‘to set the record straight’, he commissioned it because he was cornered after weeks of bad news stories. And then there’s the fact he (allegedly) invited Gray to a meeting to ask whether it was necessary to even publish the report, given the police investigation.
‘Allowing us to move on’ really means ‘allowing me to move on’, which isn’t something in Johnson’s purview to grant. Only the people will decide when they can move on. And while many undoubtedly have, those who took the rules seriously and followed them, to the point of not visiting loved ones as they died alone in hospital, probably haven’t moved on.
On the question of accountability, the Prime Minister accepting ‘full responsibility’ for his ‘failings’ is contradicted by his continued presence in his role. To most people, accepting full responsibility means something more than issuing a collection of stiff sentences organised into a dull statement.
The prime minister also claims to have been ‘humbled by the whole experience’. This is also, mind you, the same prime minister who attended all of these parties after nearly dying of Covid. Humbled? Fat chance. He’s only ‘humbled’ because he got caught.
That said, job one in these situations is to not add any fuel to the fire or open up new avenues of enquiry. On this count, the statement does the job. The Westminster lobby will see nothing much new and judge the statement according to that narrative frame. What’s more, with the Met Police having decided not to levy further fines, and Sue Gray declining to investigate the so-called ‘flat party’ following Dominic Cummings and Lee Cain’s departures, this appears to be the last gasp of new info for Partygate.
What the Westminster bubble might miss, however, is that people who haven’t followed every twist and turn will instead be focusing on the big picture: that a Prime Minister who made the rules they had to live by during a difficult time didn’t abide by them and didn’t care that his team (who knew better) chose not to adhere to them, either. And people don’t like being mugged off.
Does the job ✅