‘Failure of leadership’: what the papers say about Johnson and the Sue Gray Partygate report

The front pages of the British newspapers offer very contrasting shades of Gray in their handling of the report into the Partygate scandal and its implications for Boris Johnson’s tenure in 10 Downing Street.

“Drinking, fights, vomiting: all in a day’s work, says PM” is how the Guardian sums up the prime minister’s attempt to brazen out the publication of Sue Gray’s report which found that the “senior leadership” in No 10 should bear responsibility for the boozy culture.

According to sketch writer John Crace, after 30 seconds of remorse in the Commons, Johnson quickly reverted to type with “the classic narcissist’s non-apology. A tawdry torrent of self-pity. A man more sinned against than sinner. A good man cast adrift in a world he barely understood”.

The Mirror focuses on how, as the nation was in lockdown and mourning loved ones alone, the prime minister and his staff were “Laughing at us all”.

Metro picks up the comment from a senior aide to Boris Johnson as its headline. “Red wine on No 10 walls, vomiting, fighting, but… ‘We got away with it’”.

The FT says “Johnson unbowed as Gray lays bare lurid details of No 10 parties” and reckons a Tory coup is now “unlikely”.

The i picks up the theme of Gray’s conclusion: “‘Failure of leadership’”.

It’s quite a different picture if you look at some of the Tory-supporting papers, however.

The Mail adopts an indignant tone with a headline asking: “Is that it?”. It’s positioned below a lengthy sub-headline building up to its main punchline: “For months the PM’s enemies salivated at the prospect of Sue Gray skewering him. Yet after her report’s innocuous photos of him with juice and M&S sandwiches, even they must be asking …”

Nor is there any possibility of mistaking the Express for one of Johnson’s enemies as it gives the prime minister an easy ride. “Really … is this what all the fuss is about?” is its front page headline over a picture of him toasting his staff.

For the Telegraph, the Gray report is not the main story of the day as it prefers to lead with “Sunak to extend energy bill relief”. However, it does report that “Johnson denies cover-up of Abba party at Downing Street flat”, and also carries an unlikely tease to an inside story by the TV presenter Patrick Kielty reading “Wild late nights in Sue Gray’s pub”.

The Times also places the cost of living story first and Gray second. Its headline is “Gray report vindicates me over No 10 parties, claims Johnson”.

The Sun, meanwhile, combines the two in what it calls a “message to PM Boris”. “The Party(gate) is over… now help our readers through the cost of living crisis”.

But if the pro-Johnson papers hope their champion is finally out of the woods, the treatment of the story by the non-London press might give pause for thought.

The Northern Echo, which serves many constituencies that turned Tory in 2019, has a hard-hitting front page in which it has a picture of Johnson overlaid with the words of Labour MP for Middlesbrough Andy McDonald as the headline: “‘Blood on your filthy privileged hands’”. The paper says 66% of its readers want Johnson out of No 10 amid anger at how “countless North East lives were lost while PM partied”.

The Yorkshire Post is not quite so bloodcurdling but it is nevertheless damning of a government with many seats in the region. “Failures of leadership and judgment’” it says under a picture of a rueful-looking Johnson.

In Scotland the Record says “Tory party enough to make you sick”.

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