Tories face outrage over Covid lockdown party video

Relatives of those who died during the pandemic vent their fury at video – a legacy of Johnson’s chaotic tenure

Archie Mitchell
Political correspondent
Monday 19 June 2023 12:57 BST
Partygate video ‘shows Tories dancing, drinking and laughing at lockdown rules’

The Conservative Party is facing fresh outrage following the release of video showing people partying at its headquarters during lockdown. The video shows attendees drinking, dancing and appearing to joke about Covid restrictions at a time when indoor socialising was banned.

Two of those at the party, held in the basement of Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ) in London in December 2020, were in Boris Johnson’s resignation honours list. The Metropolitan Police said on Sunday that the force was “aware of the footage” – published by The Mirror – and are “considering it”.

Ruth Carney, whose father died alone in hospital in May 2020, said it was insulting that Tory staff could be drinking and dancing after she had not been able to be with her father at the end. “Then ... they’re having a party and dancing. I’m fuming, I’m extremely angry, I absolutely cannot believe this – it’s like some kind of joke,” she said of the video.

Ms Carney, a TV and theatre director, waited with him in hospital in April where it took nine hours for him to get a bed, describing scenes there similar to a “warzone”, with NHS staff desperately “scrambling” to save lives. Ms Carney later caught Covid and then a secondary infection, so she was isolating in their garden annexe when she received a call from the hospital, telling her he had died.

“I wasn’t even able to touch or hug my mum when my dad died,” she said. “I had to tell her through a door. It was horrendous.”

The shocking footage comes after The Independent revealed the full extent of boozing, debauchery and blatant Covid rule-breaking inside No 10 under Mr Johnson.

A former Downing Street official who worked throughout the Covid crisis said Mr Johnson was “happy” to have his staff drinking and oversaw a culture of endemic rule-breaking so widespread that it put No 10 at odds with the rest of the country.

The party at Tory HQ was organised by the campaign team for Shaun Bailey, who was running for London mayor at the time, and was awarded a peerage in Mr Johnson's resignation honours list last week. He does not feature in the video but has previously apologised for attending. Ben Mallet, a former aide to the ex-prime minister who was awarded an OBE last week, is shown chatting to guests in the latest footage.

Ruth Carney with her father Peter, who died in hospital in May 2020 (Ruth Carney)

Ms Carney said that the detail about the honours “is really rubbing salt in the wound”.

She aded: “How dare he be allowed to do that? I’m sure there are people on there who are worthy and should be honoured but do they really want to be honoured on his list? It’s tainted with blood.”

Michael Gove, the housing secretary, apologised for the party on Sunday, callling it “indefensible”. He told the BBC the footage was “terrible” and would leave people feeling “extremely angry”.

However, when asked whether Mr Bailey and Mr Mallet should have their peerage and OBE respectively blocked, he said: “No, I don’t think that.”

Mr Gove said: “The decision to confer honours on people was one that was made by Boris Johnson as an outgoing prime minister.

“Outgoing prime ministers have that right. Whether or not they should is a matter of legitimate public debate, but they do at the moment.”

MPs will vote on Monday whether to accept the findings of a highly critical report that found Boris Johnson repeateadly lied to parliament over Partygate (PA Wire)

The footage came amid a growing crisis for Mr Sunak’s government as it faces the ongoing row about Mr Johnson’s honours – as well as four crunch by-elections and as the PM is expected to dodge a Commons vote on Monday on whether to endorse a highly critical report into Mr Johnson that found he lied and deliberately misled parliament over the Partygate scandal.

Mr Gove refused to say whether he believed the prime minister should back the report, saying how they would vote is a matter for “each individual” MP. But former Conservative minister Justine Greening urged MPs to “get behind” the committee’s work and recognise that political leaders cannot be “allowed to get away with” misleading the Commons.

Senior Tory MP Tobias Ellwood called on the prime minister to take stock of the tumult around the party and to overhaul his cabinet. “This mini crisis should be turned into a major opportunity,” he told The Independent.

Mr Ellwood said: “The prime minister should begin with an overhaul of his cabinet with bold policy announcements on the economy, Brexit [and] Ukraine.”

He called for Mr Sunak to be “less fearful of right wing backlash” and address issues that would “secure wider national support”. Mr Ellwood also urged the PM to distance the Conservatives “from the populist, divisive approach of the recent past”.

Mr Sunak has also faced calls to scrap the list with such honours “spitting in the faces” of those like the family of Ms Carney who suffered through lockdowns.

Rishi Sunak is struggling to shake the scandals of his predecessor (PA Wire)

Labour MP Sir Chris Bryant, chairman of parliament’s committee on standards and privileges, said Mr Johnson’s honours list was “discredited” and should be scrapped.

He told The Independent: “Going ahead with Mr Bailey’s peerage will be like spitting in the face of the many millions who stuck by the rules to their cost. It’s a discredited list from a disgraced politician and Mr Sunak should cancel it.”

Meanwhile Tory MP Sir Robert Buckland said those implicated in the video should consider declining the honours by saying “thank you, but no thank you”. “The option of declining the honour is very much one that would seem to be a sensible course of action to take,” he told Times Radio.

And Labour MP Karl Turner said Mr Johnson is a “proven liar” and called for the prime minister to “grow a backbone” and block his honours list. “There are people on that list receiving honours that were literally boozing it up when the country was locked down unable to visit loved ones as they were laid dying. Sunak is effectively approving the honours of liar Johnson’s list of cronies,” he said.

The video itself, said to have been taken on 14 December, 2020, showed for the first time staff joking about “bending the rules” at their Christmas party. At least 24 guests were reportedly at the gathering.

Last year, the Met Police decided to take no action over the gathering, saying that a much-published photograph showing Mr Bailey and a number of revellers was not enough evidence to “disprove the version of events provided by attendees”.

Mr Bailey quit as chair of the London Assembly’s police and crime committee when the photograph emerged.

A Conservative Party spokesperson said: “Senior CCHQ staff became aware of an unauthorised social gathering in the basement of Matthew Parker Street organised by the Bailey campaign on the evening of 14 December 2020. Formal disciplinary action was taken against the four CCHQ staff who were seconded to the Bailey campaign.”

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