It’s the story which refuses to leave at the end of the night: the saga of the Downing Street Christmas party. But how much of a hangover could it cause Boris Johnson?
Claudia williams, narrating:
Hello I’m Claudia and this is the Sensemaker.
One story everyday to make sense of the world.
Today… hypocrisy at Number 10.
Over the last few days, a video leaked to ITV News has caused outrage in the UK.
It was filmed on the 22nd of December 2020, and it shows Allegra Stratton, then the Prime Minister’s spokesperson, joking with colleagues in a mock press conference.
Government officials were laughing about the lockdown rules.
Rules that the rest of us were all meant to be following…
And joking about a supposedly “fictional” Christmas party that had happened the Friday before. On Friday the 18th of December, 2020.
The clip has added heat to allegations that the Number 10 Christmas party on that Friday wasn’t “fictional” at all.
According to the Daily Mirror there may have been several gatherings at Downing Street in November and December… one of which the PM might even have attended.
And it’s emerged that Gavin Williamson – then the education secretary – held a Christmas party at his department too.
It looks like people in government were living it up while the rest of us were locked down…
Remember, at the time, most of the country was under “tier 2” or “tier 3” restrictions which meant no socialising indoors.
London was in tier 3… the highest tier of Covid restrictions before a full-on lockdown.
And the next day, on the 19th December, Boris Johnson tightened the restrictions on Christmas even more:
“It is with a heavy heart that I must tell you we cannot continue with Christmas as planned.”Boris Johnson, BBC News
Just as the government was gearing up to announce that a normal Christmas was off the cards… they were having their own party.
Of course, this wouldn’t be the first time during the pandemic that people in Number 10 have done the exact opposite of what they were telling the public to do.
But, can the prime minister come out unscathed from yet another scandal?
The first big pandemic rule breach was Dominic Cummings’ infamous trip to Barnard Castle.
“Mr. Cummings didn’t stay at his home in London where he was filmed earlier this year; instead he travelled more than 250 miles to see his elderly parents in County Durham.”ITV News
It was a clear breach of the lockdown…
But Dominic Cummings pretty much got away with it…..for a while, at least.
He stayed on at Number 10 for another six months before falling out with the Prime Minister and his wife.
Matt Hancock, then the health secretary, broke restrictions in the early months of the pandemic too.
News broke in June of this year that he’d been conducting an affair during the first lockdown when social distancing guidance was still in force.
In his job as health secretary Matt Hancock has been going on TV and radio all the time to talk about how important it was to obey the rules.
“It is incredibly important that everybody follows these new rules and we will be bringing in strict enforcement so that they can be followed.”Sky News
So when his rule-breaking came to light…all of those speeches about following the restrictions looked really hypocritical.
He did resign over the incident – so at least there was some accountability.
But, the fact that all of these powerful people seem to feel like the rules don’t apply to them…?
It does say something about the culture at the top of the Conservative party…
So far…none of these scandals has touched the man in charge…
But could the Christmas party affair be the scandal that finally catches up with Boris Johnson?
There are signs that this is proving to be a tricky moment for the Prime Minister…..perhap the trickiest so far in his tenure at No 10.
Earlier this week, Boris Johnson had to bring in new Covid restrictions.
“It’s now the proportionate and the responsible thing to introduce plan B in England…to slow the spread of the virus.”Boris Johnson, The Guardian
But some people – some of them prominent – are questioning whether the government even has the moral authority to make these rules now:
“We have to be able to carry the public with us and we can’t do that if the public feels they’re not being told the truth so this is not just about a party at downing street last Christmas this is about the credibility of the government this Christmas and that’s what matters.”Sir Roger Gale, ITV
There’s massive amounts of anger not just from the opposition, but also from within his own party.
Ruth Davidson, one of the top Conservative figures in Scotland, had strong words to say about the Christmas party incident:
“The idea that the people that were making these rules were themselves breaking it and that his official spokesman was laughing about it you know people are furious. None of this can be defended.”Ruth Davidson, ITV
Boris Johnson has promised an investigation into the Number 10 party.
And he’s talking tough about what’ll happen to the rule-breakers.
But will that be enough to smooth this over?
It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that this scandal is hurting him.
And what we do know is that it’s hitting right at a moment where his pull with voters appears to be on the wane.
Over the last few months, his approval rating has already slipped… and if what happened after the Cummings and Hancock scandals are anything to go off… this will only hit him further.
Could this be the moment that his popularity goes into terminal decline?
The super divorce: The Akhmedovs and a game of hide and seek
When a High Court Judge awarded Tatiana Akhmedova a record £450m divorce payout, it was only the beginning of a case that went on to become the most expensive family feud in history…