Big Dog was having a bad morning. Normally he could rely on Grant Shapps to put up a spirited defence of any government lie, which is why he had been sent out to do the morning media round.
But not even the transport secretary had been bothered to put a positive spin on the latest birthday party revelations. He had even made the schoolboy error of calling a party a party, when everyone knew that word was a no-no inside No 10.
Nor had the usually reliable Nadine Dorries shown her face on Twitter after being ridiculed for claiming the previous evening that a birthday celebration for the prime minister in the cabinet room, organised by his wife, and attended by the interior designer, Lulu Lytle, clearly constituted a high-level work meeting.
In fact, the only two MPs showing any public enthusiasm for him had been the always absurd Jacob Rees-Mogg and Michael Fabricant. Which was a mixed blessing as he haemorrhaged support every time they opened their mouths.
Then had come the appearance of the Metropolitan police Commissioner, Cressida Dick, before a committee of the Greater London assembly. There she had announced that, after Sue Gray had forwarded some of the evidence she had gathered, a police investigation into some of the parties at No 10 would be a good idea after all.
Dick had offered Boris Johnson some encouragement. For a start she had said she would only be investigating parties for which there was already plenty of evidence. Far be it from the Met to actually go to the effort of digging up any new evidence for itself. That would be a waste of police time. And she had seemed reassuringly slow on the uptake about the failure of the police stationed inside Downing Street to wonder what all the noise was and why so much booze had been smuggled into the building. It also appeared to have only just occurred to her that there might be CCTV footage of some of the parties. No, not parties. Work events.
Even so, a police investigation wasn’t ideal. Big Dog sighed and poured himself a drink even though it was only just past midday. On the plus side, it might delay things for a few weeks or even months. That was always good news when your only gameplan for the past few weeks had been to find ever more creative ways of trying to hang on to your job till the end of the day.
The downside was Sue Gray must have found clear evidence that he – and others – had broken the lockdown laws and the shit was sure to hit the fan sooner or later.
His more immediate worry, though, was to find a Cabinet Office minister stupid enough to answer Labour’s urgent question on the latest party allegations and the police investigation. “Don’t worry, prime minister,” said Steve Barclay, chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster. “I’ve got just the man. It’s Mike Ellis, the paymaster general. He’s already made himself look abject by doing two previous UQs on your parties …”
“Please don’t call them parties,” said Big Dog. “It makes me nervous.”
So it was that Oily Mike found himself up against Angela Rayner in the Commons for the third time in a matter of weeks. Labour’s deputy leader went in studs up. What part of the prime minister stuffing his face with a Colin the Caterpillar cake, which his wife had just happened to bring down – along with darling Lulu – from the upstairs flat to the cabinet room, where 30 of his staff had just happened to gather to sing Happy Birthday, did everyone not understand was against the rules that the government had itself imposed on the rest of the country? You hardly needed a police investigation for that, but hell, now that there was one we had better see it through. And in the meantime why didn’t Big Dog just resign?
Oily Mike was momentarily taken off guard. What should he call the prime minister? The Accused? The Perp? The Defendant? No, that was it. The Suspect. MPs shouldn’t be so quick to pre-judge the Suspect. It was quite normal for the Suspect to drop in for a quick cup of tea with his wife.
And the 30 guests were all waiting to debrief him on an important fraudulent Covid test-and-trace contract. And they were only singing Happy Birthday to wash their hands. And as it was a surprise party there was no way you could expect the Suspect to remember having been there. Otherwise it wouldn’t have been a surprise. As for the cake, the Suspect had a long history of thinking he could both have it and eat it.
On previous occasions, very few Tories had come to the chamber to make idiots of themselves. But this time there was a hardcore of about 20 Boris loyalists. Edward Leigh raged that we were on the brink of war and the PM was about to be brought down by a piece of cake. Theresa Villiers was adamant that the Suspect should have an exemption because he had helped to organise the vaccination programme.
Giles Watling moaned that all criminality committed by the Suspect was a vexatious waste of time, while Graham Stuart thought he could detect terror in the opposition benches. In the government benches maybe. Where do Tory selection panels find such idiots? Stuart Anderson reckoned the charges were destabilising the country and should be dropped, while Mark Jenkinson detected a media plot. To discover the truth. Richard Bacon thought the crimes were so minor they should just be forgotten and that we should have a 10-day celebration for the life and works of St Suspect.
Back in Downing Street, the Suspect thought he had things nailed down for now. Maybe the Met would take so long to report back that everyone would forget he was a liar who had broken his own rules. That he could bring the country down to his level by implicating it in his nihilism and deception. That somehow we had got the government we deserved. People so disengaged they’d let anything go. Then came the unwelcome news that Sue Gray’s report would be published this week. Now the shit really might hit the fan.
Even the Suspect thought it was touch and go whether he could talk his way out of this one.