No, people are not bored of Partygate and not moving on – because no one will ever forgot those lockdown times. A very real fear of death for themselves and others kept almost everyone obedient to the letter of the law, after the sternest of warnings by Boris Johnson himself. Imagine if they had known then that Downing Street was partying on 13 November, almost a month before the first vaccination was administered, long before that protection saved the day.
The photos show Johnson raising a glass at a leaving do for his head of communications, Lee Cain. The Metropolitan police found that this wasn’t worthy of a fine for the prime minister – but that it was for someone else who had attended the same event. Nor was Johnson fined for all the other parties he attended where underlings took the rap. That makes the Daily Mail’s splash last Friday, designed to exonerate Johnson and castigate the police, look rather more apt today: “What a farcical waste of time and £460,000.”
The mystery of the Met’s decision-making deepens. Will the thousands who paid fines around the country for lesser parties be reimbursed? Mired in multiple shocking stories themselves, was the Met intimidated, paralysed by the fear of overstepping its constitutional role, chaotic or dumbly following Downing Street nudges? The Liberal Democrats have rightly referred this to the Independent Office for Police Conduct who should speedily tell us why.
No mystery though that a Downing Street corrupted from head to toe tried to smear and lie its way through yesterday. They lied all day that they hadn’t instigated a meeting between Johnson and his investigator Sue Gray, until humiliated into confessing it was them after all. Their briefers had already smeared her, quoted in the Times and headlined in the Mail, “PM’s allies accuse Sue Gray of ‘playing politics’”. Now the Mail has decided to wipe the whole story off the front page altogether.
Most shocking is the allegation in the Times that Sue Gray was “pressured” to drop her report in the No 10 meeting. Since “I’m waiting for Sue Gray” has become a playground joke answer to “Did you do it?”, the public outrage at gagging her would have been unsurvivable. But that shows how utterly out of touch the whole fetid Downing Street outfit has become – however many times they shuffle the deckchairs and job titles.
Tomorrow another episode of the great stink in Tory Westminster will be revived when the committee on standards in public life, chaired by Chris Bryant, produces its new code of conduct – it’s likely to toughen ministerial rules and clamp down hard on MPs’ second jobs and lobbying for private interests. That revives the stench of the Owen Paterson lobbying scandal. Will Johnson again try to weaken its recommendations? Bryant has recused himself from chairing the upcoming privileges committee investigation into whether Johnson lied to parliament. It will ponder the precise philosophical meaning of what constitutes “knowingly” or “deliberately” misleading MPs.
The court of public opinion is all that matters to Tory MPs anxiously guarding their seats, as two key byelections approach. Labour MPs visiting Wakefield report that Partygate is alive and angrily kicking away Tory votes. So much for Downing Street briefers shrugging it off as yesterday’s news, too trivial for most voters in the face of a cost of living crisis. But how bad does their private Partygate polling need to be for them to prefer that people talk about soaring energy bills and hungry families forced into food banks?
I don’t know how many lives a greased piglet has, but the prime minister still is a long way from rescue. In the meantime, just observe the contemptible silence of Tory MPs devoid of any sense of propriety, only eyeing their electoral chances. The former head of the civil service, Bob Kerslake, had it right last night when he asked: “Could you imagine any of this happening when Theresa May was prime minister?”
For Labour, however, a damaged and disgraced prime minister, propped up by despicably dishonourable Tory MPs, is nothing but good news.