NO SURPRISES

Lib DemIn their former guise as non-Democrats, the Liberals once presided over one of the most celebrated results in by-election history – and it happened exactly 60 years ago, when Eric Lubbock overturned a Tory majority of 14,760 in Orpington and transformed a safe Conservative seat into a 7,855 majority for the Liberal Party. The Tories had been in government for 11 years at that point, yet had already acquired the weary detachment from the electorate that is often a by-product of a decade in office; the familiar whiff of a sex scandal that can accompany such tired longevity was just round the corner, though in 1962 the name John Profumo had yet to become a household one; ditto Christine Keeler. Last night in Tiverton and Honiton, it would appear history was going through one of its routine habits of repeating itself as the Lib Dems inflicted one of the most comprehensive and humiliating defeats on the Conservative Party ever seen at a by-election as former Army Major Richard Foord triumphed over the Tory candidate, wiping out a majority of 24,239 in a seat that had never been free from Conservative hands since its creation. And the by-election only happened because the sitting Tory MP Neil Parish was forced to quit after he’d been outed for watching porn on his phone in the Commons.

On the same night a second Tory seat fell, this time to Labour; Wakefield, one of the ‘Red Wall’ constituencies captured by the Conservatives in 2019, returned to its traditional home. This by-election was also provoked by a resignation connected to a sex scandal; fittingly, the last time a government suffered simultaneous defeat in two by-elections was during the John Major era, which was also the last time such a sleazy collection of reprehensible individuals constituted the ruling Party. Even by past standards of sleaze, however, the case of Imran Ahmad Khan is especially unpleasant; Khan was found guilty of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy, though he didn’t resign his seat until convicted. He’ll be spending the next 18 months being detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure. Considering Wakefield voted Leave in 2016 (as did Tiverton and Honiton in its Mid Devon guise), it was no great surprise its voters spurned Remoaner Labour in 2019; yet a Tory reverting to type is perhaps as predictable an outcome as last night’s results, and Wakefield turned red again whilst Tiverton and Honiton turned orange for the first time.

According to some sources, the Tory defeat in Tiverton and Honiton is officially the largest majority ever to be overturned at a British by-election, one that even exceeds the Lib Dems’ huge victory in North Shropshire last year. However, only the most gormlessly deluded Tory wouldn’t have seen this coming; most Conservative MPs returning to the Shires during the extended Jubilee Bank Holiday were confronted by angry constituents who’d had enough of the leadership, yet only 148 acted on their constituents’ behalf by registering their dissatisfaction with Boris in the confidence vote a couple of weeks ago. With a majority of Tories deciding to keep the PM in a job, it was left to the Lib Dem’s victorious candidate to say out loud what the 148 who voted against Boris declined to. He declared the voters of Tiverton and Honiton had spoken for the whole country by sending out a clear message. ‘It’s time for Boris Johnson to go – and go now,’ said Major Foord. ‘Every day Boris Johnson clings to office, he brings further shame, chaos and neglect. Communities like ours are on their knees. I also have a simple message for those Conservative MPs propping up this failing Prime Minister: the Liberal Democrats are coming.’

Okay, so there’s a slight element of ‘go back to your constituencies and prepare for government’ about that last statement, though in the thick of Lib Dem euphoria, it was probably understandable. This was one hell of a blow inflicted on a sitting administration, with the even-more predictable defeat in Wakefield the icing on the cake. The Liberal Democrats under the leadership of Ed Davey have been fortunate that the far-from enthusiastic response to Keir Starmer’s lacklustre Labour Party has enabled them to reinvent themselves yet again, emerging from the disastrous shadows of Jo Swinson’s Remain crusade and capitalising on widespread disillusionment with the two main Parties; it’s precisely what the Lib Dems did so well under Charles Kennedy, and when the alternatives are as uninspiring as Boris and Sir Keir – not to mention the motley crews assembled on the respective front benches of the pair – it’s no wonder the tide has turned for the Lib Dems again. Considering the likes of Dominic Raab and Michael Gove have smaller leads over the Lib Dems than that which the Tories had boasted in Tiverton and Honiton until last night, perhaps the new Lib Dem MP’s melodramatic warning should be heeded after all.

Boris had wisely kept a low profile during the by-election campaigns in the two constituencies; as with the increasingly-unpopular Ted Heath during the October 1974 General Election, the Prime Minister was noticeably absent from the promotional literature delivered by the hapless footsloggers trying in vain to court votes on behalf of their doomed candidate and attempting not to mention the Party leader on the doorstep. A not-dissimilar policy was tried by Labour canvassers in 2019, as I found out when I made my feelings on Corbyn and his cronies clear when confronted by one at the time. Anyway, Boris wasn’t at home to make excuses; at the moment, he’s in Rwanda, officially to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government shindig, but it’s possible he might be checking out the Kigali B&Bs earmarked for those pesky illegal immigrants. In his absence, the Conservative Party co-chairman Oliver Dowden became the latest Tory to walk a plank Boris refuses to countenance even exists.

Dowden’s resignation is the most high-profile response to two heavy defeats irrefutably linked to the ongoing fallout from Partygate. ‘We cannot continue with business as usual,’ wrote Dowden in his letter, though the PM is unlikely to receive that statement as advice. On the eve of an anticipated wipe-out at the two by-elections, Boris simply said ‘Governing parties generally do not win by-elections, particularly not in mid-term.’ Not the most encouraging message to the troops, but at least one rooted in realism; the Tories were seemingly prepared for defeat, if not what turned out to be the scale of defeat in Tiverton and Honiton. The Wakefield loss was no more of a surprise than the other seat, though tactical voting at Tiverton and Honiton saw Labour lose its deposit. There was also pre-by-election unrest at Wakefield’s Labour constituency branch when the entire committee resigned in protest at their preferred candidate, trade unionist Kate Dearden, being excluded in favour of a candidate parachuted in by the NEC; not that Keir Starmer will be bringing that up as he attempts to bask in the glow of his winner, Simon Lightwood.

When one considers the Labour and Lib Dem perspectives on Brexit, they’ll no doubt adopt a ‘don’t mention the war’ attitude now that two Leave constituencies are in their hands; even without the Partygate revelations, it’s possible the promise to ‘get Brexit done’ that enabled the Tories to triumph in the two seats in 2019 was regarded by voters in Wakefield and Tiverton as a done deal in 2022 and it was time to move on to other pressing issues, such as the cost of living; maybe they figured the Tories couldn’t deliver on that, considering the Tories’ policies in the pandemic provoked it. But it’s hard to escape the undeniable influence of what Boris and his cohorts got up to during the most testing period for the public in post-war British history when it comes to this pair of results. Let’s face it, though, Boris Johnson is a very lucky Prime Minister; he doesn’t have to call another General Election until 2024.

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GRAY DAY

BorisIf gun culture was as prevalent here as it is in the US – yet one more example this week highlighting just how prevalent, of course – I reckon Boris Johnson could probably get away with ‘accidentally’ shooting dead a member of the Cabinet and declaring he didn’t recognise his trigger-happy actions as murder or even manslaughter; he’d no doubt face angry calls for his head at PMQs and still survive as PM, brazenly blustering his way through a denial that those lackeys he hadn’t killed would applaud and support in the face of Opposition outrage. He’d apologise to his dead colleague’s widow and then say it was time to ‘move on’. The incumbent Prime Minister would be able to evade justice because he’s surrounded by deliberately-chosen mediocrities on his own side and confronted by hapless no-hopers on the other, giving him the kind of leeway no other PM in living memory has ever been able to enjoy. I should imagine all of his surviving predecessors are green-eyed when it comes to his good fortune, not to mention envying the apparent apathy of the general public towards his shameless bullshit.

After months of column inches devoted to exposing what Boris did during the pandemic war, Sue Gray’s ‘Partygate’ report – in as un-redacted a version as we could hope to expect – has finally been published, and the forced apologies are in full swing, especially in relation to the way in which some of the menials at No.10 were treated by those present at the restriction-breaking ‘work events’ held during lockdown – though probably no different from how Boris treated his luckless ‘fag’ at Eton. ‘I have been as surprised and disappointed as anyone else in this House as the revelations have unfolded,’ said Boris without a hint of irony in the Commons, ‘and, frankly, I have been appalled by some of the behaviour, particularly in the treatment of the security and the cleaning staff. And I’d like to apologise to those members of staff and I expect anyone who behaved that way to apologise to them as well.’ One might almost imagine he hadn’t been there were it not for the photographs that emerged on ITV News in the days leading up to the publication of the report.

Certainly, from some of the descriptions in the Gray report, a Downing Street concept of a party bears more of a relation to the kind of juvenile bash teenagers indulge in when their parents are out for the evening, the kind where some drink alcohol for the first time and the carpet is consequently exposed to the inevitable end results. Once the grownups are back in the room, cue a major league bollocking from dad, followed by a cleanup campaign by the guilty, with threats of being grounded for weeks echoing in their ears. I suppose the main difference here is that there were no parents to come home and restore order; the more junior civil servants present took their lead from the senior attendees, assuming it was okay to be there and to get stuck in because Boris and chums were doing likewise and exercising little in the way of authority; the image is of unsupervised children being allowed to run wild – like ‘Lord of the Flies’ with karaoke.

‘The senior leadership at the centre, both political and official, must bear responsibility for this culture,’ says Gray, laying blame firmly at the door of Downing Street and those who, in theory, are supposed to be the grownups there. The infamous shindig held the night before the funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh in April last year officially ended at 4.20am, which at least shows the partygoers didn’t merely reserve their contempt for the lower orders whose lives they’d made a misery with regulations they themselves declined to adhere to; the lack of respect towards Her Majesty, which one naturally expects at such a moment, is pretty glaring. However, the first prominent ‘work event’ scrutinised in the report took place on 20 May 2020, a garden party at No.10 attended by around 30-40 people; it was a ‘bring your own booze’ gathering organised by the PM’s-then principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds. Mind you, there is at least an awareness that the party wasn’t strictly legit in a later WhatsApp message from Reynolds to a SPAD, in which the former opined ‘we seem to have got away with it’.

Another much-discussed work event, the so-called ‘Abba party’ held in the PM’s flat at No.10 on 13 November 2020 – one at which Carrie Antoinette was allegedly present – isn’t included amongst the 16 separate gatherings examined in Sue Gray’s report; the bash – apparently staged to mark the hasty exits of Dominic Cummings and Lee Cain – was being investigated by Gray when the Met’s own investigation began, so she suspended her work for fear of prejudicing the police case. The Met are being a tad cagy about this one, admitting there were breaches of Covid regulations yet refusing to reveal how many attendees were fined; then again, it was hardly a unique occasion. The Met investigated 12 work events altogether, issuing Fixed Penalty Notices for eight of them, with 126 fines dished out to 83 people in total. As well as those gatherings already mentioned, there were also get-togethers on 18 and 19 June, 17 and 18 December (all 2020) and 14 January 2021, each resulting in retrospective fines.

‘Wine Time Fridays’ appear to have been introduced at No.10 as part of Boris’s charm offensive in the workplace, which seems like one more manifestation of his deep desire to be liked; were these placed on hiatus in the same way everyone else’s social life had to be during lockdown, I suspect most couldn’t care less if Downing Street staff enjoyed unwinding with a bottle at the end of the working week. That they carried on regardless when it was suddenly illegal to either hold or attend such gatherings is what irks and hurts those who were forced into isolation and alienation by lockdown. The Prime Minister, of course, continues to plead ignorance of his own emergency legislation that outlawed what he regarded as work events. ‘It’s clear from what Sue Gray had to say that some of these gatherings went on far longer than was necessary,’ he said whilst being repeatedly heckled in the Commons, ‘and they were clearly in breach of the rules and they fell foul of the rules.’ Your rules, mate.

Unfortunately, the photographic evidence so far doesn’t really support some of the more debauched descriptions of events at Downing Street, one of which features Boris and Rishi at the PM’s birthday ‘do’; shockingly, jugs of juice and M&S sandwiches can clearly be seen in this outrageous image! The fact the two were fined for being present at what resembles a coffee morning at a church hall perhaps yet again underlines the ridiculousness of the rules and restrictions we were all expected to abide by at the time – ditto Sir Keir and his beer. That none of our lord and masters chose to practice what they preached is one reason why this story refuses to go away in the face of rather more serious mounting issues since. Yes, they were quick to don their masks and visors when out and about in order to set a shining example to the rest of us; but once they were behind closed doors it was socially (un)distanced party time, something we were all told would probably be responsible for the death of granny – when the old dear was actually more likely to meet her maker after Matt Hancock sent her back to the care home.

Naturally, many broke lockdown rules and many remained free from having a police record; others weren’t so lucky. If, as we are occasionally informed, our politicians are only human too, I guess it’s no surprise some of them also broke the rules. Then again, members of the public who did likewise didn’t devise those rules in the first place and didn’t bombard the populace with a steady stream of propaganda, including threats of the dire consequences facing them if those rules were broken. The unravelling of Project Fear is embodied in the Partygate affair, though best not to get too complacent; who knows what treats they’ve got lined up for us re monkeypox, eh?

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THEY FEEL FINE

Boris and RishiAlas, poor Rishi! Remember that period, not so long ago, when the Chancellor would stand beside the PM and the pair together would look like a ‘before and after’ photo from one of those diet ads you often see on the backside of buses? Shagged-out, shabby, flabby Boris struggling to compete with the glowing picture of slim-line, male-model health that was Mr Sunak in his popular prime – the time when Rishi was dishing out the reddies to the furloughed workforce and soaring up the popularity polls as the heir apparent; seems like an aeon ago now, doesn’t it. Rarely can a contender have been so downgraded in so short a space of time as Rishi Sunak. From his badly-received budget to revelations of his wife’s tax avoidance to his fine for breaking lockdown restrictions, the Chancellor has had a terrible few weeks that appear to have left his alleged leadership ambitions in tatters. Obviously, the PM won’t be complaining; even though he himself is carrying the can for Partygate and has also been fined, the electorate expects nothing less from Boris after two and-a-half years. Rishi, on the other hand, offered hope (for some, at least) and is now fighting for Premier League survival in the relegation zone.

Considering some of the plebs who broke the restrictions suffered fines totalling £10,000, the fact Boris, Rishi and the rest of the Downing Street rabble have been punished with a £50 penalty is a bit like me and three receiving a fine of half-a-sixpence if Covid penalties were flexible enough to reflect salaries. Adding to Rishi’s woes (according to some reports, anyway), the Chancellor’s presence at the PM’s No.10 birthday bash in June 2020 was entirely accidental; the unfortunate Sunak was apparently en route to a Covid strategy summit in the Cabinet Room when he stumbled upon the cake being cut – or perhaps Boris deliberately (and craftily) invited him to sample a slice in anticipation of it all eventually coming out, thus ensuring his rival would be beside him on the deck of the sinking ship once the iceberg appeared.

Some say Sunak considered resigning as a result of being fined for breaking rules that a Cabinet he was a prominent member of had formulated without actually following – and there have been the inevitable calls to walk the plank from point-scoring Honourable Members on the Opposition benches. To quit over this might win back a semblance of respect from those outside the Party (the Conservative one, that is), but whether or not it could curtail Rishi’s hopes of one day moving next-door remains debatable. One ‘insider’ has claimed such a move on Sunak’s part would be received as ‘an act of regicide against Johnson’ that wouldn’t go down well with the Party faithful, yet the kind of honour-among-thieves mentality that enables the Tories to project a united front means little behind the scenes; after all, Boris himself was actively building his challenger fan-base when both David Cameron and Theresa May were in peril. Then again, that’s Boris; when it comes to a moral code, he’s perhaps the most shamelessly immoral Prime Minister we’ve had for the best part of 200 years.

The latest apology from the PM walks a familiar path when those caught-out are forced to own up to something they’d have otherwise kept quiet about – unconvincing and trite. It didn’t occur to him at the time that he was breaking the rules the rest of us had no choice but to abide by; well, he was only the head of the Government that introduced them, after all. He also denies lying to the Commons about the Downing Street ‘bring your own booze’ work events, which is a brazen denial in the face of overwhelming evidence; yet this is an age whereby 2+2=5 in so many areas, and we shouldn’t be surprised that a natural born liar should be as adept at contradicting fact as any online male activist who thinks merely self-identifying as the opposite sex means the rest of the world has to regard them as a woman. ‘There was a brief gathering in the Cabinet Room shortly after 2pm lasting or less than ten minutes,’ said Boris of his 56th birthday party. According to the PM, ‘people I work with passed on their good wishes. And I have to say in all frankness at that time it did not occur to me that this might have been a breach of the rules. I now humbly accept that it was.’ Oh, well – job done, then.

Whereas the dependable toadies have sprung to the PM’s defence – Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries, to name but two – it’s telling that some of the PM’s biggest internal critics have toed the Party line in the face of the latest crisis. Critics like Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross, who has previously called for Boris to go. Yes, he even played the Ukraine card. ‘I understand why they (the public) are angry and I share their fury,’ he said. ‘The behaviour was unacceptable. The Prime Minister needs to respond to these fines being issued. However, as I’ve made very clear, in the middle of a war in Europe, when Vladimir Putin is committing war crimes and the UK is Ukraine’s biggest ally, as President Zelensky said at the weekend, it wouldn’t be right to remove the Prime Minister at this time. It would destabilise the UK Government at a time when we need to be united in the face of Russian aggression and the murdering of innocent Ukrainians.’

Of course, it goes without saying that events in Ukraine are a tad more serious; but to evoke them in a statement on this particular subject seems especially reprehensible; it doesn’t excuse one single drop of plonk from No.10’s wine cellar being spilled at the very moment when police drones were encircling innocent dog-walkers or Her Majesty was burying her husband. Boris and his pissed-up posse were mooning the general public at a time when rules devised by them were making the lives of the general public a misery; and it’s only right this needs to be addressed, regardless of whatever is currently happening in Eastern Europe. Over 50 fixed penalty notices have been issued by the Met as a delayed reaction to shindigs in Whitehall at the height of Covid restrictions, and the investigation isn’t over yet. A serving Prime Minister – and his missus – being charged with breaking the law by the police and having to pay a fine is pretty unprecedented territory in recent history, yet the thick skin of the PM remains intact for the moment as the power of his suspected challenger suddenly seems rather diminished.

The Chancellor has been as apologetic as Boris in the light of the fines being issued. ‘I understand that for figures in public office, the rules must be applied stringently in order to maintain public confidence,’ he said. ‘I respect the decision that has been made and have paid the fine. I know people sacrificed a great deal during Covid and they will find this situation upsetting. I deeply regret the anger and frustration caused and I am sorry.’ Whether the electorate will show any sympathy for Sunak when they clearly have little left for Boris remains to be seen. The findings of a snap YouGov poll asking whether or not the PM should resign revealed 57% of those asked responded in the affirmative, as did the same numbers when asked if the Chancellor should follow suit. 75% also agreed the Prime Minister knowingly lied to Parliament about breaking the restrictions.

The usual suspects have lined-up to exploit the situation, including the ever-reliable Keir Starmer and Nicola Sturgeon. But so entrenched is the public’s cynicism towards the utterance of every politician – a state of affairs the politicians themselves are wholly responsible for – that the predictable calls for Boris to quit from the Labour and SNP leaders just feels like further desperate point-scoring. We don’t need them seeking to boost their popularity by saying out loud something we all already know. We’re not as stupid as they think we are.

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THE NINTH LIFE

BorisI’ve been asked the question several times over the past couple of weeks if I think Boris is toast. I’ve only refrained from replying in the affirmative because of the evident absence of contenders waiting in the wilderness for the call to mount a challenge. There’s no obvious Michael Heseltine figure building up support and no Geoffrey Howe moment giving such a candidate the ammunition to strike when the Prime Minister is at his most vulnerable. Right now, the members of the Cabinet appear too mindful of their own perilous positions to stick the knife in with a devastating resignation speech or risk a career by standing against Boris, and of those exiled to the backbenches, none have the political clout or popular appeal that seemed set to hand the reins of power to Heseltine in 1990. Perhaps the fact Mrs Thatcher’s former Defence Secretary famously failed in his bid is at the back of Ministers’ minds as they shuffle uneasily in their seats and watch on as Boris stands in the firing line following the publication of the Sue Gray report into the ‘alleged breaches of lockdown’ at Downing Street.

Certainly, this is the PM’s most testing time since he blustered his way into Downing Street in 2019, ousting an unpopular and ineffective predecessor, neutralising the Brexit deniers by proroguing Parliament and enjoying a brief bask in the glow of a landslide Election victory. Then…well, we all know as to how events (dear boy) took control of the narrative; always tempting to imagine a non-Covid parallel universe in which the damage done by Boris’s multiple personality flaws was minimal due to them not being unduly tested, maybe even a non-Covid parallel universe in which Dominic Cummings remained the Prime Minister’s Mandelson rather than coming back to haunt him as the ghost of parties past. But it was not to be. Boris Johnson faced an unprecedented crisis and, unlike his great hero and inspiration when confronted by the nation’s darkest hour, he blew it. Whatever comedic charm lingered from his days as a refreshing alternative to the production-line politicians so loathed by the electorate was well and truly exhausted and extinguished by the double standards at play during the coronavirus Project Fear.

Interestingly, the majority of the outrage emanating from the ramifications of Project Fear isn’t so much based around the anti-democratic nature of the restrictions themselves – not to mention the extreme manner of their policing; lest we forget, the Labour Party currently indulging in a socially-distanced foxtrot on the PM’s grave repeatedly wanted those restrictions extended even further into the private sphere. No, what has struck a nerve with the British public more than anything in the wake of all the revelations is that the sacrifices they were asked to make and the misery they were forced to endure throughout the numerous lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 were not deemed sufficiently life-saving by those imposing them, those who took to our TV screens night after night to reiterate them in scaremongering, doom-laden language that implied following them was a do-or-die scenario. If the Government didn’t believe in them – and the behaviour of certain Ministers (including the First Lord of the Treasury himself) proves they didn’t – then they took us all for mugs. Well, that’s a bloody great surprise, isn’t it.

After dragging their heels in a fashion contrary to the way in which they vigorously policed the plebs during the lockdowns, the men from the Met have finally got their finger out and are apparently ‘investigating a gathering’ held in Boris’s Downing Street apartment, one that might possibly have breached the laws at the time. As has now become common knowledge, this gathering was no isolated incident within the ivory towers of the PM’s abode and the Met aren’t simply investigating this one non-party; they’re looking into all the others as well. According to the MSM, the Met investigations are responsible for the eagerly-anticipated Sue Gray report being published in an edited format, a bit like a trailer for the movie that remains frustratingly unreleased in its director’s cut. ‘As a result of the Metropolitan Police’s investigations, and so as not to prejudice the police investigation process,’ writes Gray, ‘they have told me that it would only be appropriate to make minimal reference to the gatherings on the dates they are investigating. Unfortunately, this necessarily means that I am extremely limited in what I can say about those events and it is not possible at present to provide a meaningful report setting out and analysing the extensive factual information I have been able to gather.’

A huge sigh of relief coming from the direction of Downing Street, no doubt; but the PM hasn’t been entirely let off even with the slim-line, 12-page version of the report that appeared today. The paragraphs highlighting the ‘failures of leadership and judgement’ that are ‘difficult to justify’ may not name names, but it hardly even seems necessary. Of the 16 ‘events’ Gray has studied, booze looms large as the drinking culture that seems to be endemic at No.10 falls under the spotlight. ‘The excessive consumption of alcohol is not appropriate in a professional workplace at any time,’ writes Gray. History tells us past PMs such as Churchill and Harold Wilson often found solace in a decanter to relieve the stress of the difficult times they governed in, but a quiet after-hours soak in spirits at the end of the working day is a far cry from a pissed-up Downing Street bearing more of a resemblance to a Bullingdon Club pub crawl than the heart of Government. And this at a time when the country beyond No.10’s hedonistic bubble was experiencing extreme personal privations imposed upon it by the same people gleefully ignoring them.

Last month, Boris denied during PMQ’s that a party had been held in Downing Street on 13 November 2020; if the Gray report seems set to contradict this denial, the PM could be accused of misleading Parliament, an offence that might be expected to be accompanied with a resignation. But don’t hold your breath just yet. The Commons having its first opportunity to react to this ‘sample’ version of the Gray report was bound to produce a hostile environment for Boris, with the predictable calls for him to quit emanating from opposition parties. Tory backbenchers have not refrained from joining in, however. Noted anti-Project Fear Conservative MP Steve Baker spoke of the propaganda campaign’s effect on the public, ‘to bully, to shame and to terrify them into compliance’, and there’s also a fair bit of head shaking when it comes to the decision to hold a couple of parties at No.10 the night before the funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh; regardless of one’s opinion of old Philip, the staggering lack of sensitivity as the sovereign prepared to bury her husband is breathtaking.

As ever where shaky ground stood on by Tory Prime Ministers is concerned, a good deal rests with the response of the 1922 Committee and the 54 complaints against the occupant of No.10 that are required to trigger a leadership contest. We haven’t reached that stage yet, and the convenient intervention of the Met with regards to the full, unexpurgated incarnation of the Sue Gray report means Boris can momentarily deflect questions by announcing there will be no complete Government response to questions on the subject until the police investigation is itself complete – and that’ll hardly be this week. In the Commons today, the PM was able to quote from the current version of the report to support his stance: ‘No conclusions should be drawn or inferences made from this other than it is now for the police to consider the relevant material in relation to those incidents.’ Boris added that ‘it isn’t enough to say sorry’. No, it isn’t; yet, what might be deemed enough by those locked out of the Downing Street shindigs doesn’t appear likely at the moment – though we shall see.

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PARTY FEARS ’22

Boris PartySo, it was all ‘technically within the rules’ – I wonder if that would’ve worked as an excuse for two pals sharing a packet of crisps on a park bench when confronted by an over-officious Officer of the Law and told they were engaged in an illegal picnic? Probably not; but then, as we all know, those who invent the rules and regulations don’t live by them while we are expected to. Yes, some of us suspected the pandemic’s Project Fear was little more than a smokescreen for rushing through draconian legislation that would remain on the statute books thereafter as an unprecedented means of a democratically-elected government acting out its totalitarian fantasies, but we were written off as conspiracy theorists, of course. Then again, many shrewd observations of events were received with similarly dismissive contempt as the masses followed the ‘do as I say, not as I do’ mantra of the political class. Indeed, we ought not to forget that HM Opposition enthusiastically pushed for – and demanded even more of – the ridiculous restrictions that few could realistically expect to live under, ones Boris was hardly alone in breaking. But as the star salesman for them, he stands to lose more than anyone else – as HM Opposition knows only too well.

Naturally, we shouldn’t expect the Met to pursue this issue; they may have revelled in their role as storm-troopers for the cause – as did all the Jobsworths promoted to positions of ‘power’ when playing at law enforcers outside supermarkets or at family funerals; but their ultimate taskmasters are above the law and won’t be punished or prosecuted for such flagrant abuse of a law they promoted as a ‘do or die’ policy that they were evidently exempt from, a law that only applied to everyone outside their bubble. Hell, this was obvious extremely early on when Dominic Cummings journeyed Oop North for his impromptu eye-test at a time when even motorists were confined to ‘zones’. It was obvious a little later when Matt ‘goose’ Hancock was exposed as a hypocrite courtesy of some convenient CCTV. And now it’s obvious once again following a string of belated revelations that confirm Downing Street as the capital’s ‘bring your own booze’ Party Central.

In May 2020, a time when the plebs practically required a written excuse to leave their homes and were only allowed to meet one other individual out of doors whilst enduring sixty minutes of exercise, Boris and his gang were having a wine and cheese party – sorry, ‘work event’ – in the garden at No.10; that same month, with restrictions for the rest still being firmly enforced by coppers and Covid Marshals, 30-odd invited guests were enjoying some ‘socially distanced drinks’ in the same swinging location alongside Mr and Mrs Johnson; in November 2020, a gathering in the Downing Street flat hosted by Carrie allegedly took place (Lady Macbeth denies it), whilst a leaving do for a No.10 aide was also held there a fortnight later; but it was Christmas 2020 in Tier Two London that was the real party season for our lords, ladies and masters. The Department of Education had a staff shindig on the 10th; the Conservative Party hosted an ‘unauthorised event’ at their London HQ on the 14th; Boris drew on his past experience presenting ‘Have I Got News for You’ when chairing a ‘Christmas Quiz’ for Downing St staff on the 15th; and some sources also claim the infamous Xmas bash the Daily Mirror finally got round to exposing a year late was held on the 18th.

Under normal circumstances, office events in the weeks leading up to Christmas are par for the course, and there’s no reason to think government departments are any different from endless other businesses up and down the country. Let’s face it, who the hell would ordinarily care if Downing St staff and a few pug-ugly Ministers indulged in a festive tipple and the odd under-the-mistletoe grope? It’s not as if anybody feels aggrieved that they weren’t invited to such a gruesome get-together. But it’s all about context, innit. These were not normal circumstances. When the Downing St Xmas party marathon was in full swing, Tier Two rules stated it was illegal for two or more people emanating from different households to meet indoors. It goes without saying that many ignored these rules in the same way that many had little choice but to support the black-market economy during WWII by buying essential items from street-corner spivs; but taking such a risk when heavy fines and possible prison sentences were the trumpeted punishment was something entered into out of desperation after months of social isolation. What really grates is that not only those who aggressively demanded tougher restrictions and penalties via a media platform were caught out disregarding the rules (remember Kay Burley’s birthday conga across the capital?), but the very people responsible for drilling them into the petrified populace weren’t adhering to them either.

If our lawmakers genuinely believed lockdowns, social distancing, social bubbles, tracking, tracing and masks were the absolute difference between life and death – and repeatedly told us so during their doom-laden press conferences – then why didn’t they live by them in the same way they expected the rest of us to? If these extreme measures were the only life-saving solution, surely those who devised them must have figured they ought to abide by them too? But they didn’t – probably because they didn’t believe it; many didn’t believe it, but while the few partied on regardless the many were bombarded and browbeaten by ‘The Science’ and were threatened into submission by the prospect of astronomical fines and/or an agonising demise without family or friends entitled to gather round their deathbeds. Sadly, the latter fate came to pass for thousands, and it’s totally understandable that some of the most incensed responses to the truth of government double standards have come from those denied the right to be with their loved ones as they breathed their last.

In the Commons yesterday, Boris was faced with little choice but to admit he attended at least one of the Downing St shindigs but continued to deny he did anything wrong, still sticking to the ‘work event’ narrative. ‘With hindsight, I should have sent everyone back inside,’ he said. ‘I should have found some other way to thank them, and I should have recognised that – even if it could have been said technically to fall within the guidance – there would be millions and millions of people who simply would not see it that way…I regret the way the event I have described was handled. I bitterly regret it and I wish we could have done things differently.’ Amidst the pathetic acceptance of this ‘apology’ by Tory toadies ascending the greasy poll, we need to note the distance between event and apology; had none of this come out over a year later, most of us would remain in the dark and Boris would hardly be likely to volunteer the information anymore than Richard Nixon would have voluntarily spoken about anything to do with Watergate had he not painted himself into a corner. There are few apologies as hollow and disingenuous than that of a politician caught out and forced to say sorry.

The notorious old rake Lord Boothby once said ‘the Tory Party is ruthless’ in relation to how it disposes of its leader, and when one thinks of how IDS was ousted before he’d even fought a General Election or, more infamously, how Mrs T was unceremoniously forced out, it’s hard to dispute Boothby’s claim. One wonders if this really is Boris’s ninth life, but there has always been a vocal section of the Party that has never warmed to him and never wanted him as leader, so a chorus of criticism from his own side isn’t exactly unprecedented. At the moment, the PM’s Ministers are publicly backing him, though the 1922 Committee only requires 54 backbenchers to register their complaints to trigger a challenge. At the same time, the internal machinations of the Conservative Party are secondary to the genuine anger felt way beyond the point-scoring circus of the Commons; millions of people made the sacrifices they were asked to make for the greater good, and Boris Johnson wasn’t one of them.

© The Editor

Website: https://www.johnnymonroe.co.uk/

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WHEN IS A PARTY NOT A PARTY?

BorisThe first ‘Christmas song’ hovered into my hearing range before we’d even reached December this year; November had yet to enter its dying days when my ears detected the familiar seasonal strains of a festive dirge in my local branch of Wilkos – though who can blame folk for wishing it into existence earlier than usual? To be honest, people are that desperate to have something to look forward to after the last eighteen months that it’s a wonder ‘Fairytale of New York’ or ‘Stop the Cavalry’ weren’t providing shoppers with a supermarket soundtrack when the initial restrictions were lifted back in the summer. Mind you, one of those tweeted online headlines did catch my eye the other day, one about Boris consulting with the Cabinet over whether or not to cancel Christmas 2021. Who does the fat f**k think he is – God? Or at least Oliver Cromwell? Our PM is evidently so drunk on unlimited powers that he seems to believe he has the authority or right to make such a decision. The ramifications of it would only affect me and thee, mind – lest we forget, it has recently emerged that the one place last Christmas wasn’t actually cancelled was 10 Downing Street. Fancy that!

The official Government line when the Daily Mirror revealed an illegal party was held at No.10 on 18 December last year was that there was no party; yes, people were gathered in the same way people would gather for a party, but it wasn’t a party – oh, and all guidance was carefully followed at the party that most definitely wasn’t a party. In case you’ve forgotten, this was the time of tiers; last Christmas, London was in Tier 3, and the guidance in December 2020 read as follows – ‘No person may participate in a gathering in the Tier 3 area which consists of two or more people, and takes place in any indoor space’. Those were the Health Protection Regulations we were all supposed to abide by at the time, the rules we were constantly being reminded of and were advised not to break because to do so would result in police raids, extortionate fines and the wholesale collapse of the NHS. Government guidance made it even clearer – ‘You must not have a work Christmas lunch or party, where that is a primarily social activity.’ These edicts were issued from on-high and those who delivered them were insistent that we were all in it together.

An anonymous source has told the BBC that at this non-party ‘food and drink was laid on for staff including those from the press office and the Number 10 events team and party games were played.’ Sounds a bit like a party, doesn’t it – even though it wasn’t, of course. The non-party allegedly took place two days after the capital entered Tier 3; earlier that day, the PM had tweeted further warning advice to the general public in reference to a ‘Christmas bubble’, reminding everyone that the day in question marked the start of minimising contact with people from outside one’s own household. And if one happened to live alone, it basically meant no contact with anybody else at all – with any sort of party most certainly verboten. But, as we must constantly emphasise, what took place in Downing Street on 18 December 2020 wasn’t a party, and Boris keeps insisting that no restrictions were contravened despite the fact that restrictions were contravened.

The impression given is that No.10 was this country’s very own Versailles during the depths of the most oppressive lockdowns, with life carrying on along the lines of the old normal rather than the new one. Whilst less fortunate individuals beyond the hedonistic enclave of the PM’s residence were forcibly isolated and many breathed their last without the privilege of family and friends gathered around their deathbed, Downing Street was Studio Fifty-f***ing Four by comparison. Nobody has been reported as recommending the peasants eat cake whilst the political aristocrats partied on, though perhaps Michael Gove might have said ‘Let them snort coke’. The day after the non-party, Boris delivered – with a ‘heavy heart’ (his own words) – the announcement that we couldn’t continue with ‘Christmas as planned’; he was castigated for leaving such a speech till the eleventh hour, throwing the best-laid plans of millions into disarray and provoking a flight from London that resembled the evacuation of Saigon – yet he apparently didn’t consider the rules applied to him and his team. Granted, like most, it’s hard to think of anything less appealing than a party for Tory MPs and their staff; but that’s not really the point.

December 2020 was also the moment at which the police were in their most Jobsworth killjoy mode, actively on the hunt for outlawed social gatherings and relishing breaking up wedding parties or gate-crashing religious services. That very month, Leicestershire Police circulated a video of a raid on a party containing more than 60 people at a house in Leicester and proudly announced the two organisers of it were fined £10,000 each. Meanwhile, the Met had specified that ‘holding large gatherings could be the difference between life and death for someone else’, going on to say that ‘you must not mix inside with anyone who is not in your household or support bubble’. Pretty clear-cut statement from an organisation that now declares it does not ‘routinely investigate retrospective breaches of the Covid-19 regulations’ whilst simultaneously prosecuting an alleged illegal gathering that took place on 18 December last year…at a house in Ilford.

The quartermaster’s stores of American air bases during WWII were notoriously crammed with goods the rationed natives had no access to – with the exception of spivs who did a healthy black market trade through having contacts on the inside. Although US forces were invited guests as opposed to an elite group of British citizens living in luxury, knowledge of how GIs were being spared the privations that the public were suffering must have stoked a degree of resentment at the time. But can that be anything like the resentment so many feel today towards our elected representatives and their shameless hypocrisy? Only a few weeks ago Comrade Mark Drakeford, the Labour leader of the People’s Republic of Wales and one of the most rigid advocates of the toughest pandemic restrictions, was caught on camera doing his bit for diversity by dancing around at a packed Diwali gathering sans mask. Another Labour MP, Zarah Sultana recently declared ‘I feel incredibly unsafe in the chamber…I see most of the Tories not wearing masks’, and then tweeted images of herself having a good time at the MOBO awards, surrounded by people and – you guessed it – sans mask.

It goes without saying that most of these cretins are incredibly stupid people, and were their stupidity restricted to themselves we could all have a good laugh at their expense. But when powers reside in the hands of such idiots, powers that can affect the lives of millions, the joke isn’t quite so funny anymore. The ‘do as I say, not as I do’ rhetoric of preaching without practising is especially grating to those who suffered the most during lockdowns and who are dreading the reintroduction of measures that were responsible for that suffering – measures promoted and policed by political figures not prepared to abide by rules the rest of us were no more keen to abide by but had no say in the matter. Yes, we’re so accustomed to double standards on the part of the political class of all colours that we expect nothing less now, though the whole story of the Downing Street Christmas party-that-never-was is particularly poignant considering just how hard it was for so many in this country when Boris and chums were playing pass-the-parcel. If the PM is seriously contemplating cancelling Christmas again (thanks to the latest convenient variant), I suspect few will – or indeed should – practise what Boris preaches.

© The Editor

Website: https://www.johnnymonroe.co.uk/

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