Shall we start by saying it’s got nothing to do with hypocrisy. Nothing at all. The Downing Street Christmas party is not about there being one rule for them and another for everybody else, however screamingly obviously true that might be. It is about straightforwardly outrageous and almost certainly criminal behaviour.
Last year, when the former Conservative MP Charlie Elphicke was jailed for sexual assault, it was not routinely pointed out that, having been an elected MP, and having sworn an oath of allegiance to abide by the law, his three counts of sexual assault were therefore also acts of hypocrisy. To do so would be absurd.
And likewise, at the very height of the pandemic, in the middle of its very bleakest moment, when 514 people who might not have seen their families for a month have died that day, and millions are frankly terrified, when those in power say, “Bollocks, we’re having the Christmas party anyway”, hypocrisy is so far down the charge sheet that it doesn’t come into it (even though there is no suggestion of any crime as serious as Elphicke’s).
Dominic Raab is the actual justice secretary. The best he could do at the weekend was to say that, actually, as it had happened almost a full year ago, the police policy is not to investigate it. Kit Malthouse is the policing minister. The best he could do on the radio on Monday morning was say, “I am not an investigator”, and repeat that he’s been told that no rules were broken, and that you’d have to ask someone else.
Who else can they ask? The prime minister. He was in Liverpool, dressing up like a police officer, but not one with sufficient power to investigate or even deny the blatantly obvious crimes that have been happening in his own house. There is, of course, no suggestion Johnson himself was at the drinks party. He, in all likelihood, was upstairs, in his gold-wallpapered flat which, at the time, he was actively hoping to find a way to make somebody else pay for. Picture that, if you can somehow bring yourself to do so. It is as grim as it gets.
It is not exactly hard to imagine what happened. The offices of Downing Street have been busy all through every lockdown. Come 18 December last year, it hardly seems beyond the realm of reason that someone might have suggested that, you know, we’re all here together all day anyway, what harm would a few beers do? A few nibbles? A Secret Santa? Maybe a quiz? It might be, you know, strictly speaking, against the rules, but what harm, what actual harm, can it do?
There are only two alternatives. One is that nothing anything like a party ever actually took place. Nobody seriously believes this. Nobody has bothered to deny it. The other is that dozens of 10 Downing Street staff are all stupid enough to believe they were not breaking the rules. That they weren’t doing anything wrong. Nobody seriously believes this either. No one is stupid enough to believe they’re that stupid.
So what harm can it do? Well, was it not in September 2020, before the full lockdown restrictions that absolutely nobody believes have not been broken were introduced, that pubs were ordered to close at 10pm? At the time, it was somewhat sarcastically pointed out that the virus doesn’t just go home at 10 o’clock, to which Boris Johnson, in the House of Commons, had the following to say: “What we have seen from the evidence is that, alas, the spread of the disease does tend to happen later at night after more alcohol has been consumed. This is one way that we see of driving down the R without doing excessive economic damage and that’s the balance we have to strike.”
It turned out, of course, that the balance didn’t quite work, and the pubs would be shut down altogether, but the secret late licence in 10 Downing Street carried on as before.
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This is not a case of so-called “gotcha” journalism. When the Scottish chief medical officer, Catherine Calderwood, personally advised on and oversaw lockdown rules for Scotland and was then caught having driven to her second home in Fife, she resigned. She had been a hypocrite, but she had almost certainly visited no medical harm on anybody else. She resigned as a point of principle.
When Dominic Cummings did the same, he didn’t resign, even though by his own account as read out in the Downing Street garden, his family required medical attention in Durham from NHS workers who should never have come into contact with them, because they should have stayed in London. He and his family could actively have spread Covid.
What very obviously happened in Downing Street, a week before the most lonely, miserable Christmas most people can recall, wasn’t a mere act of hypocrisy. It was reckless, dangerous and outrageous, and it cannot be allowed to just quietly go away.
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