As a lot of people in Boris Johnson’s life have discovered, there is a point where he has simply broken too many things for the relationship to be put functionally back together again. Is he at that point with the British public, or even with the Conservative party?
Many are getting a really addled whiff of Humpty Dumpty off the latest revelations, that the prime minister himself attended a “mass gathering” in the Downing Street garden during the first lockdown. This May 2020 BYOB drinks party, to which more than 100 people were invited, kicked off a mere 55 minutes after that day’s designated cabinet minister had given a national press conference insisting that people in England could only meet one person from another household outdoors, so … what was the party theme? Let them eat cheese and wine? Come as the last scene in Animal Farm?
Spellbindingly, Johnson yesterday refused to even admit he’d been at the drinks party, his smile twitching and his eyes swivelling as he cowered in some vaccination centre and gibbered: “All that, as you know, is the subject of a proper investigation by Sue Gray.” Had he been interviewed by Sue Gray? “All that is a subject for investigation by Sue Gray.”
I’m afraid the only sane response to this is: what?! What are you even talking about? Did you or didn’t you go to a big party in your garden, you smirking fibreglass toby jug? Or do you also have to wait for some veteran civil servant to tell you whether or not you put your pants on the right way round this morning? Honestly mate, just MAN UP. Johnson’s turn as “prime minister” seems to have moved past the sarcastic air quotes phase. This feels a lot like government by the crazy-face emoji, tongue lolling out and one eye boggling bigger than the other. Any Tory MP who voted for this galaxy-class liar to become leader should remember they were wrong on probably the biggest call of their career, and consider resigning before the next election to go and work for a charity/arms dealer.
Speaking of manning up, I wonder if the organisers managed to find any ladies to attend this 20 May party? I mean, I’m not saying that people who do well under Johnson are mainly guys who spent a significant part of the past decade masturbating to Game of Thrones. No wait – I am. But one of my favourite things about the one Downing Street cheese-and-wine “work meeting” that we have an actual photo of is that the only two women I can see in it are Carrie Johnson and Gina Coladangelo. Remember, girls: if you want to work at the heart of government, you need to be either a man, or in a relationship with a man who does. If you can dream it, you can do it!
Back to the BYOB party, though – sorry, I know you need flashcards to keep your rule-breaking Downing Street pandemic bashes in order – which was organised by Johnson’s principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds. Apparently Reynolds now wants to get back to the diplomatic service, and perhaps the Middle East, and there is some talk about him being made an ambassador. You know, like when you or I break the rules and mess up spectacularly at work, and they make us an ambassador.
Two days after the May BYOB party, the story of Dominic Cummings’ rule-breaking trips to Durham and Barnard Castle broke, which you’d think would have given these people a lifelong unforgettable lesson in just how incandescent the public were about elite rule-breaking. (And yet, given all the Downing Street parties which followed that Christmas, they somehow forgot it.) But in May 2020, who could have predicted that a potential 100-person boozy gathering could piss the general public off? Who could have predicted that people who’d watched their family members die on an iPad then buried them with only permitted numbers of mourners at graveside funerals would have an issue with it? No one at the party, apparently. In which case, every single one of them is in the wrong job and should resign and go and work for a thinktank/be our man in Havana.
Incredibly, even the Met are finally “in contact” with the Cabinet Office over the latest party revelation. So do settle down to another episode of this farce, which might be entitled NO RUSH, PLOD. Yet again we have to ask: where were the multiple police officers who were stationed in and around the Downing Street complex when this BYOB party was happening? Did they notice at least 30 people having a booze-up, three hours after their force’s official social media account was reminding people of the rules? If not, maybe they could consider their positions/go on the sick for two years then retire at 53 with a full pension.
Smartphones mean most people can check photos to see what they were doing on 20 May that year. I note this party occurred fairly soon after a Met officer told me to stop playing cricket in the park with my children, on the basis that cricket is “sport but not exercise”. Admittedly, I don’t care to run singles (I see myself as the Chris Gayle of Kensington Gardens), but let’s not forget how officious police forces up and down the land were at the time.
What so many hundreds of thousands of us will also never forget, alas, are our own darker stories: graveside funerals; Zoom funerals; funerals after which no gathering was allowed by law. Just weeks before 20 May, a 13-year-old boy had died alone in a London hospital, separated from his family, who were also unable to attend his funeral because they were adhering to isolation regulations. Every single person at the Downing Street party would have known that story.
But I am afraid this goes even further than shame and deceit. It is increasingly unignorable that these serial exposés of No 10 culture are taking place against a backdrop of growing conspiracism in this country. Significant numbers of people turned to online misinformation over the pandemic, and a lot of previously soft conspiracism is now calcifying in deeply concerning ways. More are being sucked down those rabbit holes all the time.
I say sucked; but every one-rule-for-them revelation amounts to a push. After all, when people repeatedly see the duplicity and double standards of those in command, is conspiracism really such an irrational response? The tragedy is that we will all end up paying for the breakdown in trust, both in ways which are already obvious, such as rising anti-vax sentiment, and in ways we cannot yet predict. But they are coming, and Boris Johnson’s way of doing business has hastened them. How can we counter some people’s conviction that “The Man” is lying to them, when the man is so often shown to be lying?