As the nation suffered through and obeyed COVID restrictions for the greater good, No.10, the government and the Conservative Party at large have been accused of double standards by hosting a series of parties. The response to the allegations have been bungled as well, leaving the Prime Minister in a vulnerable position.
Several parties are believed or are known to have taken place during periods of COVID restrictions in November and December last year. The first took place on November 13th and was hosted by Carrie Johnson in the Downing Street flat, this is the same day that Dominic Cummings left as Chief Advisor to Boris Johnson. The date would also mean the party took place during the second national lockdown. Such a party has been denied by supposed guests as well as by a spokesperson for Carrie Johnson. Boris Johnson would also deny that the party took place.
The second party also took place during the national lockdown on November 27th and was believed to have been hosted by the Boris Johnson. The party was supposedly a leaving do for Cleo Watson who was an aide to Dominic Cummings. The Guardian was told that not only did Boris Johnson host the party at No.10, but gave a speech and remarked on how full the room was.
On December 10th, whilst London was under Tier 2 restrictions preventing indoor mixing, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson would host a party at the Department for Education. The Department would later admit that a gathering did in fact take place.
The Conservative Party would admit that its staff at the Conservative Campaign Headquarters held a party on the 14th of December. London was still under Tier 2 restrictions preventing indoor mixing. The party also said that it took disciplinary action against 4 members of staff.
The Christmas Party on the 18th at No.10 in the middle of Tier 3 restrictions has been the focus of most of the outrage. Staff were reportedly asked to bring gifts for Secret Santa, suggesting that the party was in no way spontaneous, but was planned in advance. Any suggestion of such a party was denied by the government, although strangely if it did happen then no rules were broken. On the 7th this year ITV would release leaked clip showing Downing Street staff in a mock press briefing joking about a party having taken place, and downplaying it as just “cheese and wine” or a business meeting. One of those in the video, Allegra Stratton who was the then PM’s spokesperson would resign the following day, albeit only for the video and not because of any party that may have taken place.
The video released by would change the government’s tone in a confusing manner. At Prime Minister’s Questions, Boris Johnson would continue to deny that a party ever took place, but also announced an investigation by the Cabinet Secretary Simon Case would take place. How can you investigate something that didn’t take place? The investigation would later be expanded to cover the parties on the 27th November and December 10th.
The Metropolitan Police on the 8th would refuse to carry out their own investigation, specifically in regards to the party on December 18th. The Met claimed they had a policy against retrospectively investigating breaches of Covid regulations, as well as there being a lack of evidence. In terms of there supposedly being a lack of evidence, the Met only considered the video released by ITV and correspondence to them asking for an investigation. Not forgetting that the point of an investigation should be to find evidence, for which the Met should have no trouble given that they guard Downing Street and No.10. Even the The Telegraph claim to know who attended (although they won’t say who). Furthermore, on the Met’s policy against such investigations, The Guardian has been told that the Met currently has ongoing investigations into other events around the same time.
The decision by the Met not to investigate therefore appears to be a conscious choice. There have been some suggestions that the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Dame Cressida Dick, was ‘returning the favour for not being sacked’. This year her contract was extended until 2024 in the face of widespread criticism, having been accused of ‘presiding over a culture of incompetence and cover up’ in an open letter.
The parties and their response has lead to discontent within the government and the Conservative Party. With suggestions that Boris Johnson could likely face a vote of no confidence. This is especially true after the announcement of new Covid restrictions, the prospect of which has always been unpopular within the government. Furthermore, the government was originally supposed to hold off on any announcement of restrictions until next week. This has led to suggestions that the restrictions are a ‘dead cat’, intended to draw attention away from the parties.
The North Shropshire by-election which will take place next Thursday will likely make clear how damaging the parties have been for the government, and more importantly, Boris Johnson.