Voices: How much merlot was drunk during Monday’s cabinet meeting? For nothing appears to have been achieved

·5-min read

Another day, another window opened on the Downing Street rolling s***show advent calendar. It is becoming very hard even to remember what the most recent disaster is.

That the Brexit negotiator has quit for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with the fact that he’s still negotiating Brexit two years after it happened dominated the news agenda for about five minutes.

The latest government howler is a photograph of a 19-person party in the Downing Street garden, taken, in a really exciting twist, from inside 11 Downing Street. It features Boris, Carrie, the baby, Dominic Cummings, 14 other Downing Street staff, cheese, wine and absolutely no evidence of anything other than a highly convivial social occasion occuring. And said occasion occurred on 15 May 2020, when the rest of the country was permitted to meet one other person outside and only for exercise, and the BBC was reporting that for breaching these and other draconian measures, some 14,000 people had been issued with fines. Several hundred people also died lonely, isolated deaths, away from family, but then you will have already known that.

Would it theoretically be possible to feel sorry for whichever cabinet minister’s job it would be to have to go round the TV studios and claim that there was absolutely nothing untoward occurring in the already infamous picture? Well, we’ll never know, because the person in question turned out to be Dominic Raab.

To give you a bit of insight into how well Raab’s little media round went, the Covid regulations legal expert Adam Wagner had initially said it was possible that no regulations were actually broken in that photograph, that the government might, actually, be in the clear, but that Raab’s various TV interviews had changed his mind. That is to say, the actual justice secretary, just by going on television and talking, had somehow conspired to make his own government retroactively break the law. That is quite an achievement.

But what was he meant to do? He tried, first of all, to claim that it had been “a work meeting”. This was a little bit unfortunate, given that the government’s former press secretary had tried that exact line out in a dress rehearsal and found it to be so absurd that the entire room fell about laughing, and in so doing created the very scene that would force her to resign.

Other excuses offered were that “everyone was in predominantly business attire”. Just a glorious one, that. It’s not even that everyone wears “predominantly business attire” at, say, a wedding, and at the time weddings were banned. It’s that the very thing that’s prompted the discussion in the first place is a photograph in which it can very clearly be seen that almost no one is wearing business attire at all, most are in jeans, and several are in trainers.

The picture also features Dominic Cummings, the most senior adviser in Downing Street who, for his most important meeting in Downing Street – the one that would end with his own little cameo in the Downing Street garden – wore an orange T-shirt and two-stripe tracksuit bottoms that are currently £17.99 on Amazon (delivery not guaranteed in time for Christmas).

All of which set the scene for Monday’s three-hour cabinet meeting, at which the government would have to decide on future restrictions. Look, none of us were in there, at this normal business meeting, so we don’t know how much merlot got drunk before they ultimately decided to do absolutely nothing, and it may very well be that absolutely nothing was the right thing to do.

Throughout this pandemic, which has only been going on for nearly two full years now so we shouldn’t rush to conclusions, the people who’ve rushed to act have almost always been made to look stupid, and those who’ve had the courage to wait and see how it all pans out have been entirely vindicated, so you’d be brave to say they haven’t done the right thing.

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“We will not hesitate to take action,” said Boris Johnson, just after 5pm, when he had been expected to hold a Downing Street press conference, but wasn’t doing so because he had nothing to announce other than that he will not hesitate to take action, because he had hesitated to take action.

He would explain that the government just wasn’t convinced by the Omicron data, that it would take longer to decide. On Saturday, ministers were warned that delaying action, to wait until the data was clearer, is likely to lead to large numbers of hospital admissions and, inevitably, deaths. But look, you can’t rush these things. People have bought turkeys.

In parts of London, official coronavirus cases are tracking at over 3,000 cases per 100,000 people in the 24- to 29-year-old age category, and the actual number is certainly much, much higher. So it’s very important that nothing should get in the way of these people’s mass Christmas exodus back to every minor town and city in the country, and while they do so, the government can just wait a bit, maybe have a look at the data over a nice glass of claret and a slice of stilton and maybe see if they can be bothered to do something about it in the new year.

That’ll be fine, won’t it? It’s certainly worked up til now. If it hadn’t, well, why would everyone in Downing Street have so much to celebrate, every night and day of the week?

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