‘Party-Gate’. A term many in the UK will now be familiar with in 2022 – more commonly known as the Downing St Parties (plural). Do you consider them ‘fluff’ or ‘trivial’ as the Minister for Brexit Opportunities (looks around room confused) Jacob Rees Mogg would like us to think?
Central to the British Constitution, is the fact that an Act of Parliament is the highest form of Law in the land. Understandably, there is a fiercely visceral interest in whether the UK Conservative Government is found to have broken their own laws during the unprecedented period of lockdown. Not least due to the fact they asked millions of citizens to abide with these laws to prevent further human collateral and spread of the coronavirus. From 2021 onwards, in England, fines between £800 - £10,000 were issued as penalties for breaking Covid restrictions regarding the gathering of groups. According to UK Parliament’s own library ‘lockdown laws can be categorised into three types of restriction: gatherings, movement and business restrictions, with which an array of specific restrictions might be imposed.’ As of Tuesday 12April 2022, both the Chancellor (Rishi Sunak) and Prime Minister (Boris Johnson) received criminal sanctions from the Met Police for breaking their own lockdown laws. In an unprecedented move, both men have refused to resign.
Before we jump in, let’s have a quick recap.
Party-Gate timeline explained
In October and November 2021 reports emerged from the likes of Pippa Crerar (Daily Mirror) followed by the now infamous footage of No. 10 staff laughing at covering-up a party during press rehearsals (reported by ITV’s Paul Brand). Originally thought to just be a small handful of occasions, this scandal quickly turned into a national embarrassment for the UK Government with a slew of new leaks, photos and parties revealed on almost a daily basis. Boris Johnson could only hope this scandal would pass into memory with the end of 2021. He was wrong.
Fast forward a few months later to calls for the Metropolitan Police to investigate and apply the law in the same manner they would everyone else. Bizarrely, as discussed in my previous article “The Thin Blue Line of Politics” – the Met chose not to get involved. This was short lived. As mentioned in my February piece: “The Met Commissioner’s involvement began back in December 2020, when the Met Police tweeted ‘holding a large gathering could be the difference between life and death for someone else’. It became clear Johnson's Government had completely decimated and delegitimised any authority they had, leading to a huge breakdown of trust between the public and their political leaders.
To date, we have seen a heavily redacted Sue Gray report, the unusual questionnaires given to suspects instead of interviews under caution, the resignation of Met Commissioner Cressida Dick, further denials of rule breaking from the Prime Minister and his Government, only 12 parties or gatherings chosen for investigation by Scotland Yard and over 50 fines already issued (with Met Police refusing to reveal names of those individuals found in breach of the law). But the most remarkable development is that we now have the first ever sitting Prime Minister to be investigated and charged with a criminal offence by police.
Mistruths, accountability and beyond
The fact these fines have now been issued go a long way to proving beyond all doubt that the law was broken at the heart of Government and in the Prime Minister’s own home of Downing Street during lockdown. Worse still, the Prime Minister himself has now been proven guilty and has lied in Parliament, which is bad in itself. Completely contrary to the various claims/excuses/denials from the Prime Minister himself. To conclude this recap, the official name of the ongoing investigation is Operation Hillman.
Up to this point, the only people who have resigned or been publicly named as fine recipients, notably are two females; Allegra Stratton and Helen MacNamara – perhaps being due to the fact they are key figures within Government (one an Ethics Chief, the other the Press Secretary) – or perhaps they are considered “lower hanging fruit” in Boris Johnson’s Operation: Save Big Dog (I kid you not!). Yes, you read that correctly, it was reported that in order to save his own job and limit fallout from the Party-Gate scandal, a plan dubbed “Operation Save Big Dog” (by the PM himself), was devised as a blueprint or roadmap to work out which heads should roll following the publication of the Cabinet Office’s findings, as well as highlighting the Prime Minister’s achievements.
All the above is a fine example of the state the UK currently finds itself in, at least politically. A Prime Minister who has a casual relationship with the truth and continually puts his own self-preservation before others, refusing to resign even after breaking the laws he set himself. An unlikely scenario that appears to have been normalised and accepted under the current regime.
Also normalised is a law enforcement service like the Met Police initially hesitating (inexplicably) to enforce the law on those who make them. Even to the point their own institution’s reputation and integrity is brought into question. Suggesting at best their inaction and unusual moves is an indicator of collusion if not cover-up and corruption. Finally, a complicit main-stream media exists that quite often accommodates a rather large number of Conservative MPs/representatives you didn’t even know existed until they are marched out to defend or deflect from yet another scandal within Government. Giving life to attempted narrative changes at the Government’s behest.
The trivial fluff
The only good thing to come out of this seemingly endless social injustice is the perception of the public at large. We are growing tired of arrogance and lies.
It might have escaped some of you that since the end of 2021 the Prime Minister’s appearance on media outlets has been extremely limited - save for a few scheduled and controlled pool interviews, Boris Johnson’s PR team have chosen to keep him firmly out of the limelight – sending the all too willing sacrificial sycophants in his place to defend the indefensible and sell their souls live on TV by chucking themselves on the proverbial Johnson bonfire – all in the name of a careerist, opportunistic plea to please the Prime Minister and take some of the heat off him. This occurs for reasons unknown, but you can often find Dominic Raab (Deputy Prime Minister), Nadine Dorries (Culture Secretary) or Michael Fabricant (Boris Johnson - if you ordered him from Wish) the main attraction in these car crash interviews.
Conversely, to see what keeping quiet and selling your integrity in the name of Boris Johnson rewards you with, you need only look at the ex-Education Secretary Gavin Williamson (fired twice from Government and named “worst Education Sec of all time”) who just received a Knighthood for “services” from Boris Johnson.
The language and denials over Party-Gate had subtly changed over time, this is most likely legally advised by the spin doctors at the heart of Government. The Conservatives appear to have opted for the gaslighting approach as put forward by Jacob Rees Mogg, who describes the national interest of establishing whether we had a law-breaking set of individuals in the highest offices of our land as “trivial” and “fluff”. Going so far as to attempt to use the recent catastrophes in Ukraine as a shield or narrative device as a reason to not pursue Party-Gate any further. Asserting that ‘now is not the time to remove a Prime Minister’ who may have potentially broken the law multiple times.
Though we now know without doubt that Boris Johnson has lied and been found guilty of breaking the law, they continue to sow the seeds of what is known as a ‘Mens Rea’ defence – loosely defined as the mental element of one’s choices. In legal terms it refers to the analysis of one’s intentions, knowledge, action or in-action. If Boris Johnson can paint himself as someone with plausible deniability or indeed that he was “unaware” of such gatherings (even ones in his own home or he was at), in the eyes of the law he may escape any further charges. Noting the change in language and refusal to deviate from certain wording over time, it appears obvious he has been advised to do so by his legal team, which in a sense is incriminating in itself.
Evading accountability at all costs is certainly a hallmark of this Government, but even by their standards, this was an ill-advised move on their part. Rees Mogg’s comments have struck a chord with many thousands across the country and internationally – most especially given the very clear impact lockdown and the restrictions that came with it had on families, individuals and businesses. The same level of visceral outrage that came with the Matt Hancock Affair, the Dominic Cummings Barnard Castle and Gavin Williamson school grades scandals (quite ridiculous just how many scandals this Government have had in such a short time right?) surrounds Party-Gate. Oddly, the Comms team at Downing St seem to believe this is another one they can weather, by exhausting the public with so many failures and gaffes it becomes tiring to focus on them all.
Hiding behind the wider issues in the world should not save this Government from their judgement day, but despicable as their use of greater humanitarian issues is, it has the potential to prolong the period between that day and now.
The Long Grass
On the day the first batch of fines for hosting/attending parties during lockdown were issued, Boris Johnson saw fit to host a champagne party for his entire parliamentary following in a plush London hotel. Bizarrely the horrendous optics of parading his MPs and Ministers past the large gathering of Covid bereaved families clutching candles and pictures of their dead loved ones seems to have not occurred to the Prime Minister. ITV’s Paul Brand managed to get several short interviews from the emotionless Tories as they trotted past weeping members of the bereaved public as if they weren’t even there. Encapsulating the very apparent divide in this country between the public and its leaders.
You can be sure that given the horrendous findings on their failings already exposed over the Covid response, this Government will do all it can to kick the impending Covid Inquiry into the long grass, perhaps even after the next general election, with them already delaying it twice now into 2023. It is imperative now for the public to insist this does not happen. That the blame isn’t entirely heaped on to the civil service or those that work under the Government but that it extends to those in high offices themselves. Mr Rees Mogg has already begun his campaign of blame shifting by claiming that the rules ‘may have been too strict’ and that people have ‘misinterpreted them’ – essentially preparing an attack on his own rules in the eventuality the Prime Minister is found to have broken more of them! This is the same man who blamed the Grenfell Tower victims for the tragedy that unfolded there.
In summary, it may feel like shouting into an echo chamber at times, after all, what can one do against such endless deviance and in-your-face gaslighting. But my solution is to find each other and engage. Find your ‘why should I care’ and you will eventually discover you are not alone in your thoughts or resolve about what is unfolding in this country.
I urge you to join the debate, voice your opinion and be heard in any way you can, only then will we break this cycle the Government have managed to survive in.
We are governed by consent and democracy, those that govern us therefore should be held to account with the highest form of law too. It must not be the case that we allow one rule for them and another for everyone else. For this reason alone, Boris Johnson should not be allowed to see out one more month as Prime Minister.
My deepest thoughts and sympathies go out to everyone that lost somebody during Covid.