Partygate – will it be the Prime Minister’s undoing?

‘There we have it. After months of deceit and deception, the pathetic spectacle of a man who has finally run out of road.’

These were the withering words of Labour leader Keir Starmer at PMQs on Wednesday, placing real emphasis on the gravity of what has been revealed to the British public in the last few days. It has been revealed that on May 20 2020 Martin Reynolds, Principal Private Private Secretary to the Prime Minister, sent an invitation to around 100 Number 10 staff encouraging them ‘to make the most of the lovely weather and have some socially distanced drinks in the No10 garden this evening.’ It is believed around 30 staff attended, including, it has finally been admitted, the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister insists that ‘technically’ the gathering may have been within the rules as the garden is an ‘integral’ part of Number 10, ‘an extension of the office.’ But nonetheless he promised ‘I’ve come to this House to make amends.’ Yet, the Prime Minister owned up to little. Characteristically, his remorse seemed to extend to little beyond the fact that he had been caught.

Mr. Johnson admitted he should have broken the occasion up and sent the staff inside. As for his own presence, he claims to have not realised he was at a drinks party – a defence Starmer rightly described as ‘offensive to the British public.’

This is, of course, not the first time this Government has broken their own rules, lied to the public, or refused to come clean in the face of latterly confirmed allegations. But in deferring all difficult questions, including initially his own presence at the event, to the pending investigation by Sue Gray, Johnson treats the British public with contempt. 

Contemporary guidance stated you could meet one person from outside your household, in an outdoor space, two metres apart. At this time the streets and parks of the nation were empty. Over thirty-six thousand people had died. 

The moral outrage of many is diluted by the commonplace elasticity with which much of the public has treated successive lockdown restrictions. But it is worth emphasising that this took place in the first lockdown, a time of common compliance, a time of fear, and a time of loss for many.

The words of Hannah Brady, writing to the Prime Minister on behalf of the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, have more power than my own:  ‘Dear Prime Minister… In September of last year you looked me in the eyes in the Rose Garden of Downing Street and told me you had done everything you could have to save him… It is now clear that whilst my dad’s death certificate was being signed and me and my younger sister were grieving alone, dozens of people were gathering, clutching a bottle they had been invited to bring, in the same place you told me you had done everything you could.’ 

The sense of betrayal in Ms Brady’s words are palpable.

This sense of duplicity, of double standards, has emerged again and again in recent months, but it is the personal tragedy of many that brings solemnity to this most recent act from Number 10. It is worth remembering that it was Dominic Cummings that first alerted the press that May 20 was a date to investigate. Cummings may certainly be out in the political cold but he continues to be a thorn in the Prime Minister’s side. With the date of Sue Gray’s report still unconfirmed, multiple parties having now been leaked, and discontent growing in the party, the questions remain; how long will this sore weep, what else does Cummings seek to reveal, and how many perfidious performances of sorrow can the public ensure before they, or his party, call this pantomime to a close?