When you think about it, it is not all that surprising that the Government’s messaging on Christmas parties this year has been a bit of a mess — since it can’t even seem to decide whether or not it held a party last year.
In principle, we should all be fretting about the official review of the Omicron Covid variant and its impact. But — let’s be frank — the epidemiological complexities of a viral mutation are less of a talking point for normal people than the juicy details of the knees-up that allegedly took place in No10 on December 18, 2020.
Asking Downing Street sources about what exactly happened last year is a deeply rewarding festive pursuit, if only to hear normally articulate people lose their cool: “Look ... I just ... oh, come on ... why don’t you just f*** off?”
They know they are busted, but they hope that the fuss will fade quickly. This is a vain hope. For a start, ministers simply cannot get their stories straight. On the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, Dominic Raab declined grandly to comment on “unsubstantiated, anonymous claims” — but then let the cat out of the bag by saying: “I wasn’t there, by the way.” Which seemed to translate into: yes, okay, there was a party — but NFI.
Yesterday, however, Kit Malthouse, the policing minister, took a rather different line on the BBC’s Today programme. Appearing to concede that a gathering might have taken place at No10, he quibbled over the extent to which it would necessarily have contravened the Covid restrictions in place at the time. “I don’t know what the circumstances might have been,” he said. “How far people would have been apart, what size and space it was. There’s all sorts of variations.”
Well, there aren’t really, are there, minister? Two days before the alleged celebration, London had been made subject to Tier 3 restrictions which were quite clear: “You must not have a work Christmas lunch or party, where that is a primarily social activity and is not otherwise permitted by the rules in your tier.”
I am not quite sure what variation Malthouse had in mind. Is he seriously suggesting that the party was not, in fact, a party at all, but an official meeting (apparently involving 40 to 50 people at close quarters) to discuss, say, the renewal of Trident or Budget planning? And that there just happened to be party games and food and drink, and that the gathering went on past midnight because it was so important to the national interest? On this basis is Twister or karaoke compatible with the discussion in No10 of matters of high policy? I think we should be told.
Enter — but of course — the Ghost of Brexit Past, Dominic Cummings, who tweeted yesterday: “V unwise for No10 to lie about this”, adding that “some lobby hacks were also at parties in No 10 flat so trying to bury this story”. Note his menacing reference to “parties” plural. All of which would be hugely entertaining, were it not for the fact that, as the unauthorised revels proceeded in Downing Street, the rest of the country was abiding by legal Covid restrictions of varying severity.
The vast majority of people were still unvaccinated; 489 deaths and 28,507 new Covid cases were reported on the day of the party; the loved ones of the dying were unable to be with them in their last moments.
On December 19, as his fellow Tories nursed their hangovers, the Prime Minister announced the dramatic curtailment of freedoms during the Christmas period.
It is often claimed that voters have grown so cynical about politics that they are no longer shocked by lies. But hypocrisy is a different matter. Cummings’ own rule-breaking family trip in April 2020 to Barnard Castle — supposedly to check his eyesight — cut through to public consciousness, precisely because it so perfectly symbolised the egregious notion of “one rule for you, one rule for us”.
Ditto when staff had to remind Boris Johnson to wear a mask at Hexham General Hospital on November 8.
You cannot present yourself as an elite-bashing, people’s government — as this one has, aggressively — and then behave as though the rules do not apply to you. This is politics of the most raw and simple sort. In the end, the electorate will not stand for it.
Which is why the Christmas party story is so significant. For all its comic value, it could also be a deadly serious foreshadowing of future downfall.
Do you think the Downing Street Christmas party took place? Let us know in the comments below.