This isn’t meant to sound like an ultimatum, and I’m as sorry as anyone that it has come to this but, prime minister, you leave me with no choice: either you resign – or I will.
What choice do I have? Without wishing to pull the wizard’s curtain back too far, there are only two ways to satirise something. One is to exaggerate it, and thereby to make clear its absurdity through magnification. And the other is to defend it, and in so doing show it to be indefensible.
So how, exactly, am I meant to carry on? In the middle of the first lockdown, the one when people really were terrified, when they were dying alone, when newborn grandchildren were held up against the windows of grandma’s house, and funerals were happening on zoom, Boris Johnson invited a hundred people to party in his garden.
That’s the bit you’re meant to exaggerate for comic effect. The prime minister invited a hundred people to a party in his garden. There was, we are told, a long table laid out for drinks and snacks. While this table was being laid out, inside Downing Street a 5pm press briefing was taking place; restating that – by law – you were only allowed to meet one person from another household, outside, and only for exercise.
And has he resigned? No (and here comes the defence bit) because he would, by his own account, prejudice the inquiry he has commissioned into parties in his own house if he publicly admitted to attending the one he organised for fully one hundred people.
It’s my job to point out, for comic effect, any flaws there might be in this. Stress test it for weakness, pick away at its contradictions. It can’t be done.
It should perhaps be stated at this point that it wasn’t definitely the prime minister who organised this hundred strong party in Downing Street. The invitation, to “socially distanced drinks” to “make the most of the lovely weather” were sent by Martin Reynolds, the principal private secretary to the prime minister.
The invitation also begins with the word “we”. So it may be that Mr Reynolds a) decided to invite a hundred people to an illegal party in the prime minister’s garden without his permission or even knowledge (but also invited him, and he clearly attended it) and b) likes to describe himself in the first person plural for no apparent reason.
Either that or the whole thing was Boris Johnson’s idea in the first place.
We should also perhaps explain what’s meant by Johnson having “commissioned an inquiry”. When it looks to every imaginable intent and purpose like the prime minister has broken the law, the kind of inquiry that traditionally goes on involves public evidence sessions, witnesses, and a judge.
This inquiry involves a senior civil servant, Sue Gray, trying to find out how many parties there were in Downing Street and who went to them. It would not undermine or pre-judge her work for Johnson to make clear whether he was at a party in his own garden which he almost certainly organised.
But that won’t happen, not for now, course it won’t. He’s been asked about it, on camera, and all we got was the trademark smirk, and the answer, “All that is a matter for investigation by Sue Gray.”
So that is the holding line, for now. That we must wait for a senior civil servant to establish whether or not I was in my own garden, with my party guests, who I invited, and in the meantime it would be wrong for me to comment.
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That investigation, you may recall, was formally launched by the prime minister, in the House of Commons, and with righteous anger. “I was also furious to see that clip,” he thundered, of his now-ex press secretary, Allegra Stratton, laughing and joking about a different party that she probably didn’t even attend.
If we accept, as most people must surely do, that attending and indeed almost certainly organising, an illegal party in the middle of a pandemic is a bit worse than joking about it, one can scarcely imagine how angry Johnson must currently be with himself.
It’s fair to say that there were people around at the time, cautioning the Conservatives against the potential consequences of electing a clown as its leader, and in turn as prime minister. It may be that these people might not wait for too much longer before seeking to atone for their error. It is, at this point, possible to conclude that the joke has already gone too far.
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