Partygate is back and the overwhelming evidence that Johnson broke the law and repeatedly lied about it should be the end of his reign, writes Terina Hine
The partygate scandal has been reignited: a leaked photo to ITV News, the BBC’s Panorama investigation and finally, after six months of waiting, the publication of Sue Gray’s report.
Time alters perception, so it is important to remember much of the report covers a pre-vaccine time, when Covid was surging and the NHS was under enormous strain. Away from Whitehall people were isolated, trapped indoors, scared, suffering, and in some cases dying alone.
Sue Gray highlights a failure of leadership: “Senior leadership at the centre, both political and official, must bear responsibility for this culture.” She makes it clear the behaviour was not reflected across the civil service as a whole, but was concentrated at the heart of government.
We now have pictures and damning testimony from insiders. All involved believed they were above the law. Any regret comes less from what they did and more from being caught and thrown under the proverbial bus.
The BYOB email sent by Martin Reynolds, senior official and PPS to the Prime Minister, went to over 200 staff. One replied that the daily press conference would have just finished so “be mindful of that as speakers and cameras are leaving, not walking around waving bottles of wine.” They knew what they were doing.
Parties were endemic and the PM and leading civil servants condoned and participated. When a security guard attempted to break up a particularly raucous event, he was ridiculed and laughed at; cleaners were shown a lack of respect and were poorly treated. Staff arriving at work were regularly met with bins overflowing with empty bottles. The Bullingdon Club mark two.
One of the Panorama interviewees stated his sorrow that their time at No.10 would not be remembered for all the good work they did during the pandemic. He said the parties helped relieve the tension of working in incredibly difficult times. They believed they would be protected. Really the heart bleeds.
The leaving do for director of communications, Lee Cain, in November 2020, where Boris Johnson was photographed raising a toast with his Prime Ministerial red box tossed to one side, was apparently so crowded staff were sitting on each other’s laps. No Covid rules respected - no masks, no social distancing, no thought.
But still it looks as though Boris Johnson will hang on and his leadership go unchallenged by his MPs. Unsure of who may follow, scared of losing their jobs or ministerial positions, they continue to lie and cover up to save their skins.
Boris Johnson believed he was above the law, that the rules he set for the rest of us did not apply in Downing Street, and he was right. Gray abandoned her investigation into the ABBA party at the PM’s flat when the police took over. It appears this event may have fallen through the cracks with the police failing to take up the mantle.
Last week the Metropolitan Police closed its partygate investigation, issuing the PM with only one fine. The lack of action taken by the Met embroils London’s police force well and truly into this political scandal.
Former senior officer and now Lib Dem peer Brian Paddick is amongst many who are questioning the credibility of the police’s investigation. The Met, with its own seriously tarnished reputation, has added political corruption to its charge sheet.
The court of public opinion is not quite as generous: a Savanta poll (Wednesday) concluded 66% of the country want Johnson to resign. The public know the rot flows from the top.
Once again we have been treated to the embarrassing debacle of ministers trying to defend the defenceless. Grant Shapps dutifully did the broadcast rounds on Tuesday morning, but even he was unable to deny Johnson took part in another illegal event. Nor could he deny his boss attempted to prevent publication of Sue Gray’s report.
That Johnson tried to halt the publication of the report will not surprise anyone. He clearly has no boundaries when it comes to undermining due process. His attempts to interfere with an independent investigation and his lying to parliament could yet prove more damaging than the photos and the report itself. As with Nixon, it may be the cover-up that proves fatal.
Gray’s report tells us little we didn’t already know. Like the Panorama programme, it embellishes, provides detail, confirms. But neither the public nor the Tory MPs need any more information about the culture of corruption and entitlement at the heart of government. They have known for years that Boris Johnson is unfit for office.
The culture of rule breaking is led from the very top: the prime minister has broken the law, presided over illegal parties throughout Covid lockdowns, has blatantly lied to parliament, has tried to subvert an independent investigation, and has successfully encouraged the police to ignore his crimes. He is clearly rotten to the core.
But he goes on, down but not out. Johnson is a diminished PM, in office without authority, presides over a government with an 80-seat majority that struggles to enact legislation and a cabinet so divided it cannot come up with a plan for the cost-of-living crisis. Earlier this week, the foreign affairs select committee said there was a “fundamental lack of seriousness” in government. They couldn’t be more correct.
At this point in the sorry saga it is impossible to predict what the tipping point will be. The PM has (again) apologised, is “humbled” by the experience, is willing to take full responsibility. In his statement to parliament, Johnson claimed he didn’t know what was going on. Yet more lies. But with no obvious replacement to unite a divided party and no real opposition from Starmer’s Labour, the charlatan will continue.
Following one party in 2020 Martin Reynolds’ messaged staff “We seem to have got away with it.” It is time to show they have not. With no resignation or leadership contest in sight we must take to the streets on 18 June and demand Boris Johnson Must Go; Tories Out!
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